After meetings at 10 Downing Street and with London mayor, bus attack victim Melania Geymonat is ready for life out of the spotlight
A horrifying homophobic attack catapulted Melania Geymonat into the international spotlight – but now she is eager to start a new life out of the headlines.
The 28-year-old, who was left bloodied with a busted nose after the assault by a gang of youths on a London night bus, said: "I'm really much more than this story."
On Tuesday (July 9) Melania left Bishop's Stortford – to where she had moved from Takeley while working as a Ryanair flight attendant at Stansted Airport – for a fresh start in Barcelona. She qualified as a doctor in her native Uruguay and will now study to become a surgeon in the Catalan city.
She said: "I need to go back to normal – I'm not used to this attention."
Before she left, she had a meeting on Monday with London mayor Sadiq Khan about the dreadful events at the end of May and how the capital should tackle the 55% increase in reported hate crimes since 2014.
Five youths aged 15 to 18 have been questioned on suspicion of aggravated grievous bodily harm and robbery, and released on bail. Metropolitan police inquiries are ongoing.
When she visited the Indie office in North Street four days before the mayoral meeting, Melania said that she would be pressing Mr Khan with her concerns about the ages of her attackers and how to ensure young people were educated about tolerance and diversity.
"For me, one of the most disturbing things is that they are teenagers," she said. "If they were older, then for me it's easier to understand.
"We are not living in this perfect society with five monsters. If you punch someone, you know it's not correct, but there are so many other stages of violence that go unnoticed."
Just two weeks ago, she intervened when she saw two drunken men harassing two women in Camden.
She has already been to 10 Downing Street to talk to Prime Minister Theresa May's ministerial team. "The idea is to discuss how we are approaching these kinds of issues."
In the early hours of May 30, Melania and her 29-year-old American girlfriend Chris were taunted on a bus about being gay by a gang who demanded that the women kiss. When they refused, the couple were attacked and robbed.
In the immediate aftermath, Melania asked another passenger to take a picture of the pair's injuries. After she and Chris posted it on their Facebook pages, it went viral and their trauma became headline news across the globe, covered by media organisations in the UK, United States, Australia and India.
She was acutely aware that other hate crime victims were not given such a platform to highlight bigotry. "I'm really not used to speaking to media, but we felt like we had a moral duty to speak about this because people are paying attention."
The story was picked up back home in Uruguay. While Chris has never publicly revealed her surname, to preserve some degree of anonymity, Melania has had to come to terms with her private life being made public.
She said: "My country is really small, with a population of three million or something. From one day the whole country knows I go out with girls.
"I was always out, it was never a secret, from the first day, from the first girl I dated. But my parents are from a conservative town. I told them some years ago and my father was not comfortable – his decision was to avoid the subject."
One positive outcome of the aftermath of the attack is open support from her dad. In fact, Melania and Chris's decision to speak out about the misogyny and lesbophobia they faced prompted an outpouring of support.
Melania said: "In my case, I felt like in the first place it was aggression towards women. It was like being seen as some sort of entertainment."
Online card company Moonpig launched a crowdfunding appeal with a £1,000 donation and has raised more than £7,400, while another fund set up by flight crew has topped £4,500.
Melania said: "I'm really speechless about all the support and help we have been given."
The attack has not dented her belief in humanity. A practising Buddhist, she said: "I'm really optimistic about people."
After the incident, she was contacted by a Latin American support group for women and an organisation which gives legal advice to victims of hate crime.
She was also grateful for the prompt medical attention she and Chris, who had an injured jaw, received. Melania needed a general anaesthetic so her busted nose could be manipulated back into shape and considers the result an improvement.
The attack has not poisoned her view of her home for the past six months. She said: "If I had not been in the UK it would have been far worse. In London, there are cameras everywhere so it's all recorded.
"In every way for me, if this happened in [Uruguayan capital] Montevideo it would not have been worldwide and probably those guys would not have been caught.
"The UK was the perfect country to have this episode."
Melania took a sabbatical from her medical studies to backpack around Europe. After stints in Italy and Spain she decided to top up her funds by joining Ryanair as a cabin crew member.
She joked that before studying medicine she spent a year on an aeronautics course and her time with the airline had satisfied that interest.
Her year abroad has cemented her belief that medicine is her vocation. She is also a playwright and has acted, but while she will always write, life in the spotlight on stage is not for her and performing will be just a hobby. "Part of this gap year was defining where I wanted to go," she said.
She previously worked in a bar in Barcelona during her travels so has friends there and has decided the city is the best place to continue her career and put the trauma of May 30 behind her – although she has no regrets about speaking out in support of other marginalised groups afterwards. She said: "Barcelona is like home for me."