From Behind the Mask is my true, honest and soul searching account of my life both before, during and since the Paddington train crash. I relate the circumstances of my confusing early life, growing up in 1970s England and then working as a young person in Margaret Thatcher's era of yuppies with filofax's before the train crash happened. I recount my memories of the actual crash and then move onto the aftermath of the crash, how I dealt with my injuries, campaigning for a safer railway network with all the trials and tribulations that came with it and my Post Traumatic Stress Disorder to, finally, rebuilding my life to where I am in the present day.
I felt that if I was going to write an autobiography it was important to be completely honest with the reader. This involved looking deep within myself and I had to acknowledge and show my bad personality traits as well as the good. It would have been easy for me to gloss over the worst parts but I have made a concerted effort to tell it exactly as it was, even when it has been uncomfortable for me or depicts me in a bad light.
I think it also shows the huge difference between the person I was before the crash to the person I am now. I am a much more considerate, softer and kinder person than I was before and my attitude to life has changed drastically because of my experiences.
I am hoping that if there is anyone sat reading it, thinking that life has beaten them or it's too tough and they think that they can't carry on, my words may offer hope and solace, showing them that life really can and will get better - you just have to keep battling on.
What are your strongest memories of the Paddington Rail Crash?
That has to be the crash itself. I was conscious throughout and can recall every single, little detail. When it was happening it was as if time slowed down. Although it must have been over in seconds it felt as though it lasted for ages and I think your senses are heightened when you are in danger so everything is etched into my memory.
I still suffer occasionally from flashbacks and within these I can see, feel, smell and hear the crash happening again. It is almost as though it is physically happening again. Because it is so clear and vivid to me I have done my best to put all these feelings into my description of the crash in the book, although I don't think words can ever quite adequately describe the intensity and the sheer terror of what was happening to us.
What prompted you to write your story?
I was asked to write it quite a number of years ago but didn't feel I was ready to do so until after the 10th anniversary. Finally catching a train again in 2009 made me feel that I had completed the journey that had been interrupted by the crash and I was better able to assess where I was in relation to my recovery and in my attempts to re-build my life.
I did sit down and write but the first draft of the book came out very wooden so I pushed it away for a couple of years. Looking back over it in 2012 I realised I had written it very much in the third person and had not dug deep enough into my feelings and emotions at any given point in time to offer readers a true insight into my personality. It meant that I chucked away that first draft and started again but this time I have poured everything I have into it and I am very proud of the result. I hope that the care, honesty and personality I have breathed into this book will very much show and make my story come alive.
Why do so many think that they already know your story?
There was so much media coverage once I started campaigning with the Paddington Survivors Group (PSG) that people probably think they know all there is to know. Because of the mask, and being dubbed 'the Lady in the Mask', I became the focal point for TV channels, newspapers and the radio.
I was surprised that the coverage went on for so long - it lasted for years! The media interest was so helpful in pushing our campaign forward and keeping rail safety issues in the public eye that I am grateful for that publicity as it kept the rail companies and government on the ropes and ensured that PSGs demands were met.
However, because I was PSGs chairwoman and figurehead I had to be careful not to let any of my personal feelings, opinions or observations show. I literally had to bite my tongue as if I had voiced any such personal thoughts it would have completely kyboshed any hope we had of getting the rail safety changes pushed through.
For the same reasons I also kept my private life as quiet as possible so effectively people only saw the 'public' face of Pam Warren.
From Behind the Mask has lifted these self-imposed restrictions from me. There was so much going on behind the scenes, so many shenanigans, sad and happy events that From Behind the Mask has allowed me the freedom to tell everything, which I do, so you now get me 'warts and all'.
Why was your childhood such a confusing time for you?
As I explain in the book, I could never get the truth out of my mother as to where I was born or what my biological father was like. I have never met my real father and, because he is dead, will never get a chance to do so. This left a huge piece missing from my life which I felt acutely when a child – this made me feel very much an outsider. I was also housed with relatives at the age of three while my mother worked so I did not see her at all during the week which, for a young child who doesn't understand why, was confusing and upsetting.
Add to this I was baptised Roman Catholic, have a Hindu family on my mother's side and was adopted and raised in a Church of England family… is it any wonder I was further confused during my formative years!
What were your biggest highs and lows of having a career in the 80s?
The biggest high was definitely the money. The country seemed to be swimming in the stuff and making it was easy if you were clever and worked hard. I owned my first home at the age of 19 and was a partner in a financial advisory firm. I was changing my company car, which tended to be BMWs or Mercedes, every year. Champagne was considered the drink of choice rather than a luxury item and I ran around in designer suits. Exotic expensive holidays were considered normal and maxing out your credit card was fine as it was easily paid off.
Conversely the biggest low was when the recession hit in the late 80's. My lifestyle vanished almost overnight. Credit cards had to be cut up, cars sold, holidays forgotten and 'economy' and 'careful' became my new way of life. My firm also went under and I only narrowly avoided bankruptcy when company creditors called in their debts. However, though a huge low, it taught me valuable lessons which have stood me in good stead since.
Why do you think you found the strength to power through and come out of the other end?
Now this is a question I have often wondered about. Is it down to nature or nurture? The honest answer is I don't know.
I certainly thank my mother as her genes run through me and it is from her I believe I get my tenacity and fortitude. My stepfather has also been a huge influence as he has taught me the value of logical thinking and standing up for what you believe to be right.
Maybe the rest lies dormant in all of us. I was just an ordinary person, no different to anyone else, minding my own business on that day in October 1999 and I was thrust into an extraordinary situation when these strengths then showed themselves. The human brain is a truly remarkable machine, one we understand very little about, and I am continually amazed at its capacity for dealing with horrendous situations, helping us when we most need it and ensuring we survive as best we can.
Whatever the reason I just thank my lucky stars that I had enough of whatever it is to bring me to such a lovely, content place now.
What is next for you?
As much as I can cram into my remaining years! The adage of 'life is too short' was brought into sharp focus for me when I nearly lost mine and I have every intention of making sure I make every day count. My ongoing health problems mean I can't go back to a 'normal' life so I seek out the things that interest me and, if it helps others along the way, then so much the better. My biggest joy is when I do something that brings a smile to someone's face.
I now work on short term projects but very much work so I can play. I love to travel and hope to see as many countries as possible around the world. My family and friends come before anything else and material possessions are no longer as important as they once were and I try not to take life to seriously.
Though I will never be able to get rid of the train crash entirely, I refuse to allow it to define me or who I truly am. I like the person I am now, I'm comfortable in my own skin and I think post-crash Pam is a much nicer person than she once was.
Let's put it this way - the next time I have to meet my maker I want to be able to look back on my life and say "Wow! Now that was fun!"
Pam Warren’s new book From Behind the Mask, published in hardback by Biteback, is out now