Gail Porter: 'All sorts of obstacles can hit anyone at any time'
- Deborah Chu
- 23 July 2021
The TV broadcaster and recent BAFTA winner speaks about mental health and human connection ahead of her Fringe By The Sea appearance
'I hope that my story brings a bit of joy and happiness to anyone that has struggled with their mental health in any way at all,' says Gail Porter, as she prepares for her event at this year's Fringe By The Sea. And who amongst us has not had moments of darkness, especially over this past year and a half? Porter has known them especially well.
The Edinburgh native first catapulted to national attention in the 1990s as a BBC children's show presenter and a host on Top Of The Pops; by the time that decade had ended, the sky seemed to be her limit. Subsequent years, however, were less kind, beginning with a nude photoshoot for FHM that was projected onto the Houses Of Parliament without her knowledge or consent, leaving her devastated. Already grappling with anorexia, Porter's mental-health struggles grew, followed by her developing alopecia, experiencing self-harm and bankruptcy, amongst a host of multiplying challenges.
But now, standing on the other side, Porter very much views her story as one of hope and resilience. 'I never thought that I would end up without a penny in the bank. Divorced, bald, bankrupt, homeless and sectioned under the mental-health act: all that was not on my wishlist! But it did happen, and all sorts of obstacles can hit anyone at any time. So I'll be talking a lot about struggles, depression, hope, and light at the end of the tunnel. And it was a long blooming tunnel!'
Early last year, she collaborated with the BBC on Being Gail Porter, a documentary in which she revisited the extreme highs and lows of her life thus far. The work earned her a BAFTA, and as chuffed as she must be by the accolade, she's prouder still of a hard-won fight to piece her life back together, and the strides that society has made around open, honest discussions of mental illness. 'I think we're talking about it a lot more than when I was younger,' she reflects. 'I wasn't ashamed to let people know how I felt. I was a bit apprehensive about how it would be judged, but the more we talk, the most people can actually say, "you know what … I thought I was the only one". We're getting there.'
One reason why she's now sharing her story in person is because she understands first-hand the importance of human connection in getting through difficult times. With the NHS suffering under the twin pressures of the pandemic and chronic underfunding, Porter suggests that people need to step up and fill the gap in institutional support. She's an ambassador for the Samaritans, which she credits as getting her through some of her lowest points. 'Sometimes it's nice to talk to a stranger that doesn't know your name but is happy to listen. And believe you me, I have talked for hours with them. No judgement, no questions, just listening to you.'
During the pandemic, Porter leaned on her daughter, Honey, and her love of the outdoors. 'I still have my wobbly days. We all do. But all I would say is, if you're struggling, phone someone you love. I know social media gets a bad rap but the amount of people I talk to on there who are suffering and reach out, proves there are good people out there. We all have different ways of dealing with our issues. You have to choose the best for you. And feel free to hug me in the street if you need one!'
Gail Porter, Belhaven Big Top, North Berwick, Friday 6 August, 2.30pm, £10.