“Foundation”’s Emily Stott Opens Up About Life with a Cleft

…and her latest endeavor

Emily Stott headshot

Emily (Em) Stott is a British actress of stage and screen, who recently rose to international prominence for playing Oreen on the Apple TV+ series Foundation. She was also born with a cleft.

She wanted to share her story with you, including why she’s so thrilled about getting involved with Smile Train. As we work to #InspireInclusion this International Women’s Day, Em inspires us each day as proof that there’s nothing women with clefts can’t achieve.

Smile Train is very close to my heart... and face! I had my first cleft surgery when I was 10 days old. Can you imagine how tiny I must’ve been? Though I had surgery so early, my cleft still affected my hearing quite badly. Although it is a lot better now, my right ear has never been 100%.

Em as a baby, before cleft surgery
I love this pic so much because I’m clasping my little right ear as things must’ve sounded a bit strange to me but I couldn’t communicate it

As a child, I was quite unaffected by my cleft. I was aware I had it, but it didn’t bother me, and I was a very playful, mischievous, and outgoing child with a huge imagination. As soon as I hit middle school, things started to change. I started getting bullied, and my confidence dimmed. I became very shy, and looking back at it now, probably depressed.

Because of the bullying, the main challenge for me was not being able to understand why I couldn’t have a ‘normal’ lip. I tried to draw over my mouth with lipliner, but of course I looked daft, and I couldn’t wear makeup to school anyway. But what I didn’t realise was that if it wasn’t my lip, it would’ve been something else about me because kids will always find things to bully other kids about. 

Em as a school-aged girl, after cleft surgery
This is me in school. I was a cutie, but look how I’ve still got a little notch on my upper lip

I don’t think you can ever really get over the bullying you experience in school, but that’s okay because it shaped me into who I am now and made me stronger and prouder of who I am than ever before.

I had another surgery at 18, where they aimed to build my smile up to have more of a ‘cupid’s bow’ at the top and fill in the little gap I still had when I closed my mouth. It is the smile I still have now!

After having so many surgeries growing up, I am so grateful for the doctors and surgeons that rebuilt my mouth and helped me with my speech and hearing.

Emily Stott headshot
My professional headshot. You can see me in "Foundation" (AppleTV), "Trying" (AppleTV), "Vera" (ITV) and "The Midwich Cuckoos" (Sky) | Credit: Jon Cottam

Having been born with a cleft, I feel a big responsibility and a lot of drive to work even harder at my job. I’ve faced personal challenges and barriers in feeling “other” when I don’t get roles, but this has only fuelled me. I’d love for us to get to a place where we see people who are cleft-affected in the public eye more often, so people understand what clefts are and what it means to have one, and that future children with clefts will know that this is definitely a career path they can go down. As it is today, I think there is still a lack of awareness and understanding of clefts and how being born with one can affect your life in so many ways, especially when left untreated.

That’s why my biggest supporter and influence, my mum Val, and I participated in the Winter Walk Half Marathon in London in late January as a charity fundraiser for Smile Train UK!

I’ve fundraised before, but usually in a way that doesn’t involve too much strain, like passing charity buckets at the end of shows and bake sales. So the Winter Walk was certainly a challenge for me. I thought it would be a special thing for me and my mum to do together and work towards (and I thought it might be easier than running a half marathon — I don’t love sport), but I learnt that prepping for a big walk actually takes double the effort and requires a strong understanding of what your body needs over long periods and how best to look after yourself over that time. It requires a slow, sustainable focus and repetition, so you really need to warm up properly and think about what snacks or drinks you need on the journey to keep energy levels up.

My mum and I don’t live in the same area, so we had to remotely prepare. She added more and more time onto her dog walk with Pippin each day, and I tried to walk to most places around London instead of getting the tube.

The walk went so well! We had a great time, and the weather was perfect. Most importantly, we raised well over $5,000 for Smile Train! We’re thrilled; everyone has been so kind.

Em and her mother showing off their medals after the Winter Walk
My mum and me showing off our new hardware!

I am so proud to have been born with a cleft lip. It’s my favourite thing about myself, and if there’s anyone out there who’s cleft-affected and being bullied or having a tough time at school, stay strong! Take it on the chin, let it fuel you, and don’t let them dim your light! 

Join Em and Val in supporting Smile Train this International Women’s Day.