Abbie Quinnen had to face many obstacles this year due to one moment that changed her life.

Abbie sustained third-degree burns in her head, neck and shoulder while filming a video about her boyfriend, ex Strictly dancer AJ Pritchard.

A large amount of her hair was lost, along with part of her right side, and she suffered from recurring nightmares that led her to take refuge in her bed for many weeks. She didn’t know if the scars would ever fade, whether she would work again, or if her adored AJ would still love her. After all, at first she didn’t even recognise herself in the mirror.

She was then trolled by social media, as if things were getting worse. Yes, a burns victim — trolled.

Abbie Quinnen, 24, (pictured) suffered third-degree burns after being injured while filming a stunt for TikTok almost a year ago

Abbie Quinnen (pictured), 24, was injured in a TikTok stunt almost one year ago. She sustained third-degree burns. 

She should have died, one troll suggested. Another said she would be like a waxwork model. But the one that really got to her read, ‘Don’t go near your niece and nephew. You’ll scare them.’

‘I remember it so vividly and thinking, “Oh my God, of course I can’t see them. What happens if they see my scars?” I remember dressing really carefully when I saw them and not taking any clothes off, so I didn’t scare them. It was awful.’

It is hard to imagine how difficult it is to claw one’s way back to normality after serious burns injuries — the pain, the endless treatments, the scarring, the shattered confidence — especially if you live in the public eye and your career as a dancer, singer and actress is based on your body and gorgeous looks.

It also can’t help if your famous, handsome boyfriend has a lot of passionate fans who haven’t always been the most supportive.

Abbie, 24, just feels fortunate right now. To be alive. The NHS saved my life. The fact that her burns on her face are not as severe as those on her arm and neck, and the kindness of her family, friends and Strictly host Claudia Winkleman.

But mostly she is grateful for AJ, who has been by her side every step of the past 11 months — every hospital visit, appointment and dressing change.

‘He laid out my 27 tablets and fed me. He’s very OCD, so he was particularly good at that!’ she says. ‘He’d set timers to wake up every two hours in the night to clean my wounds. And every single doctor’s appointment, he comes with me and holds my hand.’

Abbie's top half was engulfed in a fireball after she attempted to help with a stunt which involved cutting a glass bottle in half using a rope dipped in a flammable chemical. Pictured: Abbie after the accident

Abbie was left with her top half in flames after trying to assist in a stunt that involved cutting open a glass bottle using a rope and dipping in flammable chemicals. Abbie following the accident 

He supported her for several weeks while she wept and cried, and tried to make it as happy as possible. He gave her food and assured her that he loved them, no matter her appearance.

And, crucially, he persuaded her to see the NHS counsellor who saved her: ‘I wouldn’t be where I am today without her,’ she says.

AJ was found downstairs, utterly distraught, by her mother a few months after the accident.

‘He was really bawling. It was a kind of howling. I’d never seen him like that. He’d been so strong around me but he wasn’t coping at all. He couldn’t unsee what he’d seen. He also had demons of his own and needed to be helped. He needed to see a therapist to talk it out and, finally, he agreed.’

Because AJ felt guilty and was also able to see Abbie’s pain.

My crotch is plasticP top was melting into my skin 

The reckless stunt they had planned to post on TikTok had been his idea — a daft prank to entertain the millions who watch his videos.

It was an idea to break a glass bottle by coating a rope with a flammable chemical and wrapping it around the bottle. Then, light a fire. Abbie had stopped by to give a touch of glamour to Abbie’s drab gym gear.

But, within seconds, the bottle shattered and Abbie’s top half was engulfed in a fireball. To put out the flames she first jumped to the floor, and then pulled out a blanket to protect her. Next, AJ rushed from the kitchen and poured water over her.

‘It was minutes but it felt like hours, I was panicking so much,’ she says, her eyes huge at the memory.

Abbie said she didn't recognise herself in the mirror after the accident and refused to see AJ. Pictured: Abbie with AJ in September this year

Abbie claimed that she couldn’t see AJ in the mirror because of the accident. Abbie and AJ September 2012.

As her skin melted and her hair burned right up the side of her head, she felt no pain: ‘I think my body went into shock. I felt just a bit of heat.’

She recalls her fear of being burned or dying from smoke inhalation. She was blinded by panic when AJ took her off of her body.

‘The plastic from my crop top was melting and getting stuck in my skin, going deeper and deeper,’ she says, eyes brimming now as she speaks. ‘We had to get it off.’

To add to the trauma, they had to drive to A&E: there were no ambulances because of the pandemic.

AJ held Abbie’s hand all the while and spoke to her in order to maintain her consciousness. Abbie was then taken to intensive medical care thanks to Covid. Finally, the pain came — ‘it was indescribable’ — along with the anxiety.

AJ was in the kitchen laughing, kind of howling 

‘I didn’t know if I’d have my face back or if I’d be able to dance again. Performing is my whole life,’ she says. ‘Or if AJ would still love me. I thought, he’s never going to love me like this. I asked him, “Will you still love me?” I just didn’t know.’

It was four days before she could look at herself — and, even then, she couldn’t have done it without a ‘totally brilliant’ NHS therapist by her side.

‘I didn’t recognise myself in the mirror. I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t stop crying, I couldn’t speak. I was in shock, it wasn’t me. I refused to see AJ; I just couldn’t. I sent him away.’

The wound was infected and she needed to be bandaged.

This was only the beginning. Ahead of her lay dressing changes every two hours, multiple skin grafts — two with donor skin, to stem infections — and endless laser therapy and micro-needling sessions to reduce scarring. It is likely that the treatment will continue for many years.

Abbie became afraid of everything from the kettle to any depiction of fire on TV, to naked flames. Pictured: Abbie after the accident

Abbie became afraid of everything from the kettle to any depiction of fire on TV, to naked flames. Abbie shortly after the accident 

However, mental healing is often more difficult.

She spiralled after she returned home from a week-long stay in the hospital.

‘I’d have the TV on all night. I was afraid to go to sleep because of the nightmares,’ she says. She was crying the whole day and went to bed. ‘I was bedbound for weeks. I didn’t get up or go downstairs. I just shut down.’

There could be no physical contact — ‘we couldn’t even have a hug, it was so painful’ — and she felt needy, particularly when AJ was filming for Hollyoaks and had to leave her.

‘I’d beg him not to go and say, “I need you, I need you,” but he had to work,’ she says.

She would push him away at times, fearing losing him. ‘He just looked after me and took no notice. Thank goodness!’ she says today.

It’s amazing to get back on the stage 

She became afraid of everything from the kettle (‘the heat!’) to any depiction of fire on TV, to naked flames (‘I still don’t use candles’). It was so hard for her to miss work.

‘I’ve been training as a dancer since I was three years old,’ she says. ‘I love entertaining — my job is about people seeing me and getting my body out.’

Instead she slept in her bed, slowly losing seven stone. She was unable to leave the house until March two months later.

‘Even then, I was petrified someone would see me and scream.’

The rest of the time, she sat around doing nothing for the first time in her life, suddenly worrying like mad about other health issues — checking for moles and examining her breasts obsessively.

Abbie said AJ (pictured together) still struggles when he sees her in a down moment, but she doesn't blame the accident on him

Abbie stated that AJ (pictured together), still has trouble when he looks at her in a down moment. But she does not blame him for the accident 

‘It gave me a stronger sense of mortality,’ she says. ‘I know bad things can happen.’

Although her friends were eager to assist, they weren’t all able to know what to do. But Claudia Winkleman did.

‘She was one of the first people to get in touch,’ says Abbie. ‘She was so kind.’

The presenter’s daughter Matilda, then eight, suffered severe burns in 2014 when her Halloween costume caught fire, and she was treated by the same surgeon as Abbie at the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital burns unit.

‘Claudia was amazing, saying, “Go to this person”.’

‘She was so, so supportive and told me to call any time,’ says Abbie. ‘Her daughter had several operations. Three operations was too many for me. I don’t know how Matilda coped.’

Abbie’s family were great, too. But AJ took the brunt.

This must have been very difficult. It was hard. His hot, flirty girlfriend, was suddenly a vulnerable patient.

‘I know he struggles still, especially when he sees me in a down moment,’ she says. ‘But I don’t blame him one bit — it was just a freak accident.’

Until then, their life had been ‘pretty much perfect’.

She had first met AJ two years prior when she was performing on Get On The Floor. At the end of the run, AJ asked the entire cast out for dinner — and paid for it —just so he could see Abbie again and ask her out.

‘We’ve been inseparable ever since,’ she says. ‘We had a great life performing, everything was going so well and then this happened.’

Abbie (pictured) is back working again as part of the ensemble cast in panto in Southend-on-Sea, Essex

Abbie (pictured), is now back in the panto cast in Southend-on-Sea.

It is testament to their strong relationship and his kindness, as well as the support they received. ‘Thanks to the therapy, we were able to talk and laugh and cry about it,’ she says.

Numerous relationships could have ended. She insists that they are now closer than ever. Invincible, even.

‘He is my whole world,’ she says, starting to weep. ‘I love him so, so much and in a funny way the accident has shown me how much he really does love me. He saved me.’

Life finally started to move forward, even though it was slow.

Abbie learned to wear a different style, hide her mesh vest that she wears 14 hours per day. She has put some weight back on, come to terms with the two years with no sun to protect her skin — ‘Oh my God, I love the sun’— and tried to embrace the thousands of messages of support she has received and ignore the trolls.

Nuture Nourishing skin treatment oil has greatly helped her heal scarring.

She is also back in action, this time as part of an ensemble in Southend-on-Sea’s panto.

‘It feels so amazing to be back on stage after so long. I really feel like I’m starting to get my life back.’

Which is why, together, the pair of them do all they can to raise awareness for burns charities (especially the burns unit at Chelsea and Westminster Hospital — they ran a half-marathon to raise money for it), and reach out to anyone else in the same situation.

To look at Abbie today, you wouldn’t know what she has been through because her face has healed completely. But then she lifts up her long blonde hair — ‘extensions, after mine burnt’ — and shows where part of her right ear is missing. These scars are all along her neck, and extend to her right arm and shoulder.

They are now nearly a year old and have mixed feelings. She is proud in a strange way of their achievements.

‘They show I’ve survived something awful. I used to worry about spots, for goodness’ sake! Now I’m grateful my body is working as it did. It just has a few marks on it.’

  • Abbie Quinnen collaborates with Nuture skincare