'I have never known what it is like to smell'

Laura Wilson was born without a sense of smell. [Photo: Laura Wilson]
Laura Wilson was born without a sense of smell. [Photo: Laura Wilson]

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Up until the age of 13, Laura Wilson kept a big secret from her friends at school. While her peers drowned themselves in intoxicating perfumes such as Britney Spears’ Fantasy, Impulse and So…?, she could never tell one scent from the other – or smell them at all.

“If someone at school said “Oh that smells amazing” I would just nod my head in agreement. But I had no idea.”

Laura is one of 6,000 people in the UK who are born without a sense of smell, a condition known as anosmia. Others lose their smell following an accident, much like football manager and I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here contestant Harry Redknapp who recently confessed to losing his sense of smell following a car accident.

Although Laura realised early, at the age of three, that she couldn’t smell anything, she was accused of attention-seeking by her incredulous parents.

“It’s such an uncommon condition that no one believed me – so instead I pretended I could smell. It was easier,” says Laura, 24, from Leeds.

However, by the time she entered her teenage years, Laura started to panic about how much she was missing out on: “Smell is a big part of everyone’s life. And I had no idea what it was like.”

Finally, Laura was able to acknowledge that there was something wrong with her. Her mother later told her she used to spray deodorant and home fragrances behind her daughter’s back to see if she would notice – but she never did.

However, a series of tests – including one to widen one of Laura’s nostrils, due to her having breathing problems – failed to resolve the problem.

“I got excited because I thought I could finally smell, but it wasn’t meant to be,” she says.

However, the operation wasn’t a total failure – it finally allowed her to breathe properly – and resolved a serious snoring problem.

Fast-forward 10 years, and Laura has come to terms with her condition. “I’ve never known what I was missing – so I try not to let it get me down,” she says.

Despite lacking a sense of smell – which is said to be integral to taste – Laura is still a real foodie. She’s opened Vital Cafe, a Leeds-based vegan Caribbean cafe with her boyfriend.

She’s unable to tell the difference between the way different herbs, fruits and vegetables taste, although she is able to distinguish between textures.

However, she still has the occasional slip-up.

Last year, she cooked her boyfriend an Indian coconut milk curry complete with sides of naan and lentil daal. But he ate barely a spoonful of the meal before telling her the coconut milk was off.

“I couldn’t even taste it,” she says.

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