Katie Purvis


By Jeremy Miles

She's a thirtysomething actress who has appeared in movies like The Return of the Jedi.

With her winning smile and bubbly personality, it's not surprising that Katie Purvis turn heads wherever she goes.

Except for one thing. People stare at her not because of her career or cheery character but because she's a dwarf.

Katie, who stands just three feet 11 inches in her stockinged feet, says she has long become used to the fact that while her normal-sized contemporaries attract admiring glances she is regarded by many as an object of curiosity or, worse still, pity.

"It's quite hurtful, but you get used to it," she told me during rehearsals for this year's Bournemouth pantomime Snow White, in which she plays one of the Seven Dwarfs.

"I have come to terms with the fact that a lot of people don't see me as a woman, they see me as a dwarf. I'm afraid it's just the way it is."

Katie is philosophical about her decision to use her size to support an acting career. "If I didn't do it then someone else would, but it wasn't an inevitability. I could easily have done something else."

However, the call of the stage was in her blood. She comes from a family of pint-sized performers - her father was the late Jack Purvis, the cabaret partner of Kenny Baker, who played R2D2 in Star Wars. She was Kenny's bridesmaid when she was just three years old.

Her grandad, meanwhile, was the variety artiste Billy Purvis. "Don't laugh but he used to dress as a dog and appear with Arthur Askey," she says, smiling at the absurdities that so often accompany her chosen profession.

While her dad had roles in both the original Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back and Katie played an Ewok in Jedi, she says her parents were quite right to urge her to go to art college and learn skills that she could fall back on if acting didn't work out.

She went on to train as a theatrical costume maker.

So far the world of showbuisness seems to be treating Katie pretty well, although she stresses that she has a very happy and satisfying life away from the stage and screen.

Like many dwarfs she is married to a normal-sized man (five foot eight) and she is the mother of three children.

Like the other six dwarfs, who will be appearing in Snow White alongside Marti Webb, Katie was employed through a specialist agency.

They range in height from Sharon Stringer, who is just three feet five inches tall to the relatively towering form of Robert O'Donnell, who is four feet seven. Somewhere in between come Katie and the other four actors - Stephen Boyd, Mark Sealey, Ross Marshall and Audrey Wilson.

"There are 26 forms of dwarfism," says Robert, who has a degree in sociology and history and originally trained as a jockey. He also has a five foot 10 inch wife.

He tells of the constant battle for acceptance that is part of his everyday life.

"People staring, pointing and laughing - it can be difficult but you just have to accept that many people react in that way because they're embarrassed or they just don't know how to react."

What annoys him most is those who assume that limited size equals limited intelligence.

"In fact statistically 70 per cent of dwarfs are above average intelligence."

Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs opens at the Pavilion Theatre, Bournemouth, tonight. It runs until Sunday, January 11.

© Jeremy Miles 2022