By Tui Benjamin
A teen who didn’t leave her bedroom for TWO YEARS due to crippling anxiety believes dressing as a Disney princess saved her life.
Hannah Barker, 17, now performs in front of thousands of people every year as an array of Cosplay characters in intricate costumes she designs herself – and even runs her own business.
But for two years the teenager was housebound and couldn’t go to school or even come out of her bedroom without suffering from severe panic attacks, which she first developed aged six.
The Disney obsessive’s first word was ‘Tigger’ and she has spent thousands of hours hand-making intricate ballgowns – despite the fact she will never be able to be an ‘official’ Disneyland princess due to being just 4ft 11in because of spinal condition scoliosis.
Creative arts student Hannah, from Colchester, Essex, said: “I have been obsessed with Disney my whole life, ever since I was a baby.
“Being a princess saved my life. I suffer from severe anxiety and struggle to even talk on the phone or answer the front door. I missed a lot of school because of my mental health and there were two years when I couldn’t even leave my bedroom without having a panic attack.
“Being a princess was the thing that completely pulled me out of that. I have no idea where I would be if Disney didn’t exist – I don’t think I’d actually be here today.
“It dragged me out of a really dark and painful time of my life. When I’m me I’m not confident to be anywhere, but when I put on that costume I completely become the character and want to do them justice. It lets me put on an act when I don’t want to be myself.
“It’s like a form of escapism for me. I become someone everyone loves and respects, someone who is inspiring and people look up to.
“When I went to my first Comic Con dressed as Elsa I had people queuing to take a picture and compliment me. After suffering so much with anxiety and being bullied, it really changed the way I felt about myself.
“It just felt right and that was the day I realised that was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.
“I know whoever I run into when I’m dressed up, it will make their day. I’ve made thousands of people happy and that means the world to me.
“As me I still can’t get on the bus by myself, but in character I have happily got up on stage and performed in front of thousands of people and felt completely comfortable.
“Maybe it’s a weird way of coping with it and not something people would usually consider, but making these dresses keeps me sane.”
Disney-mad Hannah has been obsessed with the brand since her mum bought her Winnie the Pooh accessories as a baby and her first word was Tigger.
As a tot her nan bought her an Ariel costume which set off her lifelong love affair with dressing up as Disney princesses.
But the teenager first began suffering from panic attacks aged six and bullying at school meant for two years between 2012 and 2014 she was housebound and could not leave her bedroom.
The ‘official’ princesses who greet and interact with guests at the Disneyland theme parks have strict appearance criteria and must be at least ___ tall – something 4ft 11in Hannah, who has scoliosis, will never achieve.
But the teen, who became interested in Cosplay in 2014 aged 15, now regularly attends comic conventions in character – even performing on stage in front of thousands of people.
Hannah made her first costume last March aged 16 – a handmade Rapunzel gown featuring 1,000 crystals and a eight metre long wig light-up wig which took her more than 200 hours to complete – and it was then she realised she had a natural talent for dress-making and costume design.
She is currently working on her most ambitious project yet, a huge Cinderella dress featuring a skirt made of eight metres of fabric in six layers and with a bodice containing 5,000 individually-stitched rhinestones.
She has made five dresses so far and has spent thousands of hours working on her fantastical creations.
Hannah, who is also studying performing arts at college, set up princess performance company Events Ever After with best friend Lydia Rose, 22, before she had even sat her GCSEs.
The venture, which is not affiliated with Disney but is inspired by fairytales, sees she and Hannah dress up to perform at children’s birthday parties and events as well as hospital and charity visits.
Hannah was inspired to set up the company after her mum persuaded her to dress up as Frozen’s Elsa for her sister Katie’s fourth birthday in September 2014.
In future she hopes to pursue a career in musical theatre design alongside building her business and developing a fairytale castle people can visit to try on her designs.
Hannah, who has won awards for her costume, said: “When I was suffering from mental illnesses I shut myself off from my creative side. I never thought then I’d be making ballgowns now.
“But the Disney characters inspire me and touch me in a way nothing else ever has – I love them.
“There have been times I have been depressed, but sitting there for hours stitching thousands of individual sequins by hand puts my mind at ease. It feels like home to me.
“Disney gives me inspiration for everything I do. Making the dresses is so painstaking and time consuming, but it is like therapy.
“I decided if I was too short to be an ‘official’ princess I would just have to do it my way. Princesses had touched my heart my entire life and I wanted to bring that magic to others.
“I want to bring children who might not be able to afford to go to Disneyland the same magic Disney brings them.
“When I look into some of the children’s eyes I can tell they will never forget, it is something they will remember forever.
“It is bringing something magical into real life that is so special to me. I just want to make the world a more magical place.
“At Events Ever After we are very much our own brand – we don’t use the princesses’ names and take inspiration from Disney while paying respect to the originals.”
For more of Hannah’s designs search Hannah Barker Art and Events Ever After on Facebook or follow @hannahbarkercosplay on Instagram.