A fashion model and champion for the disabled, Mills lost her leg just below the knee when she was hit by a police motorcycle seven years ago. But you’d never know — with her brightly painted toenails on both her real leg and her prosthetic, it’s hard to tell the difference. On 20/20 this Friday, she reveals to Barbara Walters the astounding details of her life’s story.
A Horrible Childhood
BARBARA WALTERS, ABCNEWS Two years ago, many of us grieved with Paul McCartney at the loss of his wife Linda to cancer, but now there is happiness back in his life. Television viewers in Britain saw the evidence for themselves this week, the Beatle legend professing his life for the beautiful blonde woman by his side.
HEATHER MILLS I love him.
OFFSCREEN VOICE Can I ask you the same question.
PAUL MCCARTNEY Yeah. I love her, too.
BARBARA WALTERS Who is this woman who has won the heart of Paul McCartney? Her life story, as you will hear now, is as dramatic and nearly as improbable as his. Meet
HEATHER MILLS (From music video) It’s funny how you take things for granted in life and never think about them until they happen to you or someone you love.
BARBARA WALTERS (VO) This is
HEATHER MILLS, model and champion for the disabled in her music video. She lost her left leg just below the knee when she was hit by a motorcycle seven years ago. But you would never know. With her brightly painted toe nails on both her real leg and her prosthetic, I couldn’t tell the difference.
HEATHER MILLS I surprised a few people, unless it falls off in hot weather.
BARBARA WALTERS Oh dear. Does it?
HEATHER MILLS Sometimes it gets really hot, or if I go swimming.
BARBARA WALTERS You go swimming with the artificial leg?
HEATHER MILLS I’ve tried it with the leg. Normally I don’t. But I caught a wave so fast and it just went (makes popping sound) popped off. But it floated, so we found it.
BARBARA WALTERS Heather, you have no self-consciousness?
HEATHER MILLS No. It’s just, you know, I have just got a leg missing. Nothing else. I have still got my heart. My brain.
BARBARA WALTERS If you’re comfortable, then other people are comfortable?
HEATHER MILLS Exactly.
BARBARA WALTERS Yeah.
(VO) HEATHER MILLS is a tough and spirited fighter, who writes her own rules, and in doing so, has defied the odds. At the age of 27 she described her real life drama in her autobiography entitled, “Out On A Limb.” (OC) Let’s go back to the beginning. Your childhood reads like something out of a soap opera. Describe your childhood to me.
HEATHER MILLS As far back as I can remember, I remember my father being a very aggressive, you know, dominant man.
BARBARA WALTERS Was he abusive?
HEATHER MILLS Yeah, he was very violent, very, very violent.
BARBARA WALTERS You said you were afraid that he might even kill you and your mother. What did he used to do?
HEATHER MILLS He threw her through a window. And he just used to beat her black and blue.
BARBARA WALTERS Did he beat you?
HEATHER MILLS Yeah. He was crazy. He was a crazy guy.
BARBARA WALTERS When you were nine years old, your mother left the family, your brother, your sister, and you, and went off with an actor.
HEATHER MILLS We didn’t hear anything from her for about four years.
BARBARA WALTERS My word!
HEATHER MILLS And so for four years I sort of brought the family up.
BARBARA WALTERS So you grew up very quickly.
HEATHER MILLS Yeah. I—I don’t remember being a child.
BARBARA WALTERS When you were 13, your father was arrested, went to jail. Why?
HEATHER MILLS He borrowed so much money and never paid it back.
BARBARA WALTERS So here you were, no father, no mother?
HEATHER MILLS Mm-hmm. And mother arrived, turned up after not seeing her for years. And she said you can either come to London and live there or go in a home. So we were all shipped down to live with her and her boyfriend. But he had been married three times before, so he didn’t want any kids around. And he said, either Heather goes or I go.
BARBARA WALTERS So she kicked you out of the house? No money, no parents, 13 years old. What did you do?
HEATHER MILLS I went to a fair.
BARBARA WALTERS A carnival?
HEATHER MILLS Yeah, you call it carnival here. But the fun fair. And there was a guy there who introduced me to the boss. And they said, ‘Well, OK, you can have a job.’ So I lived there.
BARBARA WALTERS (VO) After six months, she says, she left the fair and began to live with the homeless around London’s Waterloo Train Station. She was now 14, alone, and living in a cardboard box.
HEATHER MILLS I stole clothes and I stole food to survive, which I don’t recommend. One day I remember being asleep next to this cardboard box, and I could hear the sound of water. And I could smell something strong. And I sort of woke up and felt that my hair was damp. And this tramp was just peeing next to my head. And I just thought, ‘That’s it. I have got to get out.’
BARBARA WALTERS This childhood, this really horrendous childhood, what effect does it have on you today?
HEATHER MILLS I think we all have certain amounts of anger in us about things that have happened in our life. And I’m just very, very lucky that I turn the anger into a positive energy.
BARBARA WALTERS (VO) Her determination to make something of her life led to a modeling career when her boyfriend secretly entered her photograph in a contest. Heather won, but landing work was an uphill battle.
HEATHER MILLS I went to every agency in London, and they all said, ‘Forget it, you’re too tall.’ ‘You’re too short.’ ‘You’re too fat.’ ‘You’re too thin.’ ‘Your boobs are too big.’ ‘Your boobs aren’t big enough.’ You know, it was that kind of thing. Any time I was challenged and told that I couldn’t do something, I would absolutely have to prove the opposite. And—and I did. I started to do really well in modeling.
BARBARA WALTERS You modeled all over Europe?
HEATHER MILLS Yeah.
BARBARA WALTERS (VO) Although she was a successful model, she still had no relationship with her mother. When Heather turned 21, her mother died. (OC) Had you reconciled with her by that time?
HEATHER MILLS I had, but only two weeks before she died.
BARBARA WALTERS Your father is still alive.
HEATHER MILLS Yeah, I don’t speak to him. When I had my accident, he called the hospital. And all he said was, ‘Can I have a new TV and video?’
BARBARA WALTERS (VO) Heather’s father has denied physically or emotionally abusing his wife and daughter. He says he’s proud of Heather, but Heather, who felt isolated from the love of her parents, seems to have looked for love much of her life. She thought she had found it when at 21 she married Alfie, a successful businessman, who had been her boyfriend for six years. She became stepmother to his two sons, although their marriage would soon come to an abrupt end. (OC) One year later, you went to a ski resort in Yugoslavia, fell in love with a ski instructor named Milosh (ph). Left Alfie and moved in with Milosh. Now...
HEATHER MILLS Sounds simple, doesn’t it?
BARBARA WALTERS (VO) Life was anything but simple for Heather and her new love. The year was 1991, and the former Yugoslavia was on the brink of war.
HEATHER MILLS Lived in a tiny little shack, little room.
BARBARA WALTERS And he was nice?
HEATHER MILLS He was fantastic. Lovely, lovely man.
BARBARA WALTERS Heather and Milosh were living in Slovenia when four months into their relationship, war broke out. They escaped to England together, though they eventually split up. For the next two years, Heather says she used her modeling income to aid innocent victims of the war. (OC) During the war in Croatia, you kept flying back and forth from London to...
HEATHER MILLS Driving back and forth.
BARBARA WALTERS Driving back and forth.
HEATHER MILLS Thousand miles.
BARBARA WALTERS Bringing aid to refugees, many of them amputees.
HEATHER MILLS Yeah.
BARBARA WALTERS I mean, talk about an amazing thing to happen.
HEATHER MILLS Fate again. At this time I hadn’t—still hadn’t lost my leg.
BARBARA WALTERS And yet you were working with amputees?
HEATHER MILLS Yes.
BARBARA WALTERS August 8th, 1993, you were 25 years old, single. Walking to Kensington Gardens in London with a boyfriend. And suddenly, your whole world changed forever.
HEATHER MILLS Yeah.
BARBARA WALTERS Typical London weather, Heather.
HEATHER MILLS Well, it wasn’t like this the day I had my accident. It was beautiful sunny day.
BARBARA WALTERS (VO) Heather and I were recently in London together. She took me to the place where she was walking that summer day in 1993 with her then-boyfriend, about to cross the street.
HEATHER MILLS And I—I came up to this curb. Two police cars came flying by at 80 miles an hour.
BARBARA WALTERS Why were all the police and the motorcycles streaking down the street?
HEATHER MILLS Because Princess Diana lived in Kensington Palace which is across the road there. And she’d accidentally given a false alarm. This—a—a red double decker bus just like this one that’s coming by now, was actually parked, and it was blocking my view. You can see how big they are, so I couldn’t see behind it.
BARBARA WALTERS And behind it was the...
HEATHER MILLS Behind it came the police motorcycle. Took another step, police motorcycle came, chopped my leg off. I flew that way, just over there. The leg...
BARBARA WALTERS Across the street?
HEATHER MILLS Yeah.
BARBARA WALTERS So you’re lying there?
HEATHER MILLS Yeah.
BARBARA WALTERS The leg is here?
HEATHER MILLS Yes.
BARBARA WALTERS The cars are going by?
HEATHER MILLS The cars were going around the leg. Going, ‘What on earth is this in the middle of the road?’ And there was blood everywhere. I’m just lying over there watching my leg, thinking, ‘What on earth is it doing over there?’
BARBARA WALTERS You were unconscious for three days?
HEATHER MILLS Mm-hmm.
BARBARA WALTERS When you awoke, did you know that your leg was gone?
HEATHER MILLS No, I felt that my leg was still there. I was more concerned about my pelvis. But my sister came in and she said, it was very difficult for her, cause she said, ‘Heather, you know, you’ve lost your leg.’ And I was, ‘Never mind my leg, what about my pelvis? This is really painful.’
BARBARA WALTERS You didn’t sob? You didn’t—you didn’t cry? You didn’t say, ‘My life is ruined’?
HEATHER MILLS I—I...
BARBARA WALTERS This young, beautiful woman who had been a model?
HEATHER MILLS I cried later on when I was, you know, tried to get up and forgot my leg wasn’t there and—and took a step and went straight onto the stump. That was agony. I also thought I was a swimsuit model. They can shoot just above the knee, so I immediately went into what the solutions would be, which is how I think of everything.
BARBARA WALTERS (VO) Her solution was to cash in on her accident by selling her story to the tabloids. She says she made nearly a quarter of a million dollars.
HEATHER MILLS It was purely selfish and survival. I thought, ‘Why should I give them a story?’ You know, ‘I need to start earning some money to survive.’
BARBARA WALTERS You became a celebrity.
HEATHER MILLS Yeah. What came from that were thousands of letters from the public motivated and inspired by somebody who could just lose a limb and get on with it.
BARBARA WALTERS (VO) Getting on with it meant being able to resume an athletic lifestyle. Heather, herself, has five prosthetics for various occasions. This is her with her skiing leg. She also has prosthetics for tennis, jogging, and one she used to learn to Rollerblade. What she also learned, she says, was that there were some 75,000 amputees in the UK, most with extra prosthetics that no longer fit. She launched a campaign to redistribute thousands of spare limbs to amputees who had none. One year after the loss of her own leg, Heather returned to Croatia during the middle of the war to offer limbs to those in need.
HEATHER MILLS I think the first child that we fitted, Martina, moved me the most, because here was a young girl who had lost her leg from a land mine and some of her fingers. And her parents were very poor, so they could never afford to pay anyone to make a limb. I was just very gentle with her. And when I showed her my leg, she just felt that, you know, it wasn’t such a bad thing. There was a young man who was an ex-soldier. He had lost his leg from a land mine, and he was really, really depressed. I just sat next to him and showed him that my injury was the same as his. We both had our legs missing, same leg, same position, same amount of residual limb left. And I was just explaining to him that he could still ski and Rollerblade and do all those things.
BARBARA WALTERS Do you think that your accident, your losing your leg, happened for a reason?
HEATHER MILLS I definitely lost my leg for a reason, without a doubt. There is no way. I mean, now people are walking that wouldn’t be walking had I not lost my leg.
BARBARA WALTERS (VO) So far her organization has given away 27,000 limbs, many of them going to land mine victims. Like Princess Diana before her, Heather’s passion is today aimed at ending the death and devastation caused by the more than 60 million land mines buried throughout the world. Recently, she joined forces with “Adopt A Mine Field,” a campaign that not only raises awareness, but is dedicated to the dangerous work of clearing mines. And through her charitable work, she started a romance that she never expected, with Beatles legend Paul McCartney. (OC) You were a presenter at a charity benefit, and a man named Paul McCartney was there. And he was evidently very impressed with you. Did you meet him that night?
HEATHER MILLS No, I didn’t meet him.
BARBARA WALTERS Had you been a Beatles fan?
HEATHER MILLS No. I didn’t know anything about it.
BARBARA WALTERS Really?
HEATHER MILLS Oddly, at all. I liked “Wings.”
BARBARA WALTERS After this, he telephoned you. Were you amazed? Did you say, ‘Oh, come on, you must be kidding?’
HEATHER MILLS I thought it was a joke, so I didn’t return the call. And then I found out that it was, that he was interested in the charity.
BARBARA WALTERS You and Paul McCartney made a video together.
HEATHER MILLS It was called “Voice,” and it was a message of giving people with disabilities a voice and hearing them and understanding them. And then at the end, my leg comes off so people get the message that you can’t always tell or see your disability.
BARBARA WALTERS Paul McCartney agreed to sing on this?
HEATHER MILLS He did. I never asked him, because I was looking for some gospel singers. And I couldn’t find any on time. And I said, ‘Do you know anybody?’ And he said, ‘I’ll do it.’ PAUL MCCARTNEY (At the UN) I’d like to now call upon all the people of the world to call for a total ban on land mines.
BARBARA WALTERS (VO) Since then McCartney has joined Heather in her humanitarian work. PAUL MCCARTNEY (At the UN) Ladies and gentlemen, Miss
BARBARA WALTERS (VO) Two months ago they appeared together at in Geneva at a UN conference on banning land mines.
HEATHER MILLS (At the UN) I feel that we’re all here in life to make a difference.
BARBARA WALTERS Paul McCartney has said that you two are an item.
HEATHER MILLS Mm-hmm. He’s my boyfriend.
BARBARA WALTERS He’s your boyfriend.
HEATHER MILLS Mm-hmm.
BARBARA WALTERS What does that mean?
HEATHER MILLS He’s my boyfriend like—like any other couple. He’s lovely, wonderful guy.
BARBARA WALTERS Is it very hard trying to have a relationship with the kind of scrutiny that you and he are under, especially...
HEATHER MILLS It is.
BARBARA WALTERS ...especially when you’re...
HEATHER MILLS It is because I’m a very sort of open, say what I think, honest type person. And now I have to be much more guarded and protect the privacy of him and his family. I have to respect that, because it can be tabloid headlines the next day.
BARBARA WALTERS You have been married once, you have been engaged three times. Do you think you have a problem with long-term relationships?
HEATHER MILLS If you think I’m 32 and I have only ever had five boyfriends, I think I’m pretty good. And I’m just a true romantic, you know. I—my friends always say, ‘You’ll never find that knight in shining armor.’ I’m very romantic and very generous, and I dream about finding somebody like that.
BARBARA WALTERS Have you found your knight in shining armor?
HEATHER MILLS I’d like to think so. I’d like to think so.
BARBARA WALTERS We’d like to think so, too.