Charity campaigner, actor, and model Bernadette Hagans lost her lower right leg to synovial sarcoma at age 22. But since her amputation surgery in October 2018, Hagans achieved more: launching a modeling career, landing a role in a BBC crime drama, raising over £500,000 ($651,493) for charity, and placing third in Miss Northern Ireland.
“I sometimes think it does take you to face death to say life is so short,” Hagans said in an interview with Sunday World.
Hagans became the first amputee to compete and land a place in the Miss World qualifier. In an interview with Mirror, Hagans said that her experience “teaches people that just because someone looks different doesn’t mean they are any less. A person is so much more than how they look.”
Hagans wore a prosthetic leg that can be adjusted for wearing heels with just a push of a button. She is also known to change the color of her prosthetic leg monthly at a car wrapping company in Belfast, Northern Ireland. And during the beauty pageant, Hagans customized her prosthetic limb to match her gown.
After the pageant, Hagans collaborated with Irish artist Terry Bradley to design a prosthetic limb wrap. “[So] if anyone wants one for theirs, they can have a Terry Bradley leg or arm,” she said.
Besides placing at Miss Northern Ireland, the biggest prize for Hagans was winning the Beauty With A Purpose category in recognition of her fundraising efforts. In 2021, she helped mediate a £500,000 lottery grant for Clic Sargent’s Young Lives vs. Cancer. Besides being an ambassador for the aforementioned charity, Hagans also works with The Boom Foundation and is closely involved with the Cancer Fund for Children.
She also regularly visits schools to help young people facing the same life-changing surgery as herself. A documentary released in 2021 follows her friendship with an 11-year-old boy who underwent amputation due to cancer in 2020.
When he went back to school, the other children didn’t know how to react. So Hagans paid a visit to talk to the kids through her experience and help them understand his situation. “By the end of it, everyone was happy to ask him anything. Then they couldn’t wait to help him design his next leg,” Hagans said.
Besides charity work, Hagans landed her debut acting role in a BBC crime drama, Hope Street. Although it was her first time acting, she shared that everyone on set made her feel comfortable, which could be why she caught the acting bug. Hagans shared enjoying acting so much that she looks forward to future acting projects.
In between acting projects, Hagans is busy with her modeling career. So far, she has starred in campaigns for Kurt Geiger, River Island, Asos, and Primark. She is managed by Zebedee Management, a model agency that specializes in representing people with disabilities.
Hagans uses her platform to promote body positivity and encourage people to let go of their insecurities and do what they want to do. On TikTok, people worldwide create videos of her alongside photos of their own prosthetic limbs, complimenting her openness about life as an amputee.
While her experience encourages other people, the kind words Hagans receives from others strengthen her, especially on difficult days. In an interview with the Belfast Telegraph, she shares that she daily suffers from phantom limb pain. “It’s just something I have to live with.”
However, Hagans is determined to live her life to the fullest and show others that anything is possible. “I’m getting to do so many different things and finally getting a chance to live.”