Daniel Gerrard and Addictionhelper.com help Gail Porter into long term recovery read more below
I put on a brave face but I’m upset and need help … so I’m quitting Britain for three months of radical rehab.
TV presenter Gail Porter on her bid to conquer her demons
Brave face … alopecia sufferer Gail Porter is going on a rehab programme in South Africa
IN the past seven years TV presenter Gail Porter has seen her marriage break down, battled alopecia and depression and even been sectioned.
It seemed like she was moving forward in the past 12 months, writing a book about her experiences and volunteering in a charity shop
But in an exclusive interview with The Sun, Gail has revealed she is quitting the UK for South Africa where she will spend three months on a revolutionary rehab program in an attempt to finally conquer her demons.
Gail, 41, will live in spartan accommodation in the Cape Town facility, where she will be treated for alcohol addiction and depression.
She will be shut off from her friends, her family and her phone.
The only computer use allowed — and her only communication with the outside world — will be Skype calls to her nine-year-old daughter.
But despite the hardship Gail is about to undergo, she is determined that this time she will change her life.
She says: “I’m terrified. I’m scared to death. But I also think this is the happiest I’ve ever been. I think this is the best thing I could do to get me out of the state I’m in.”
Gail’s traumas in the past few years have been well documented.
The former Top Of The Pops presenter, whose naked image was famously projected on to the Houses of Parliament by a lads’ mag in 1999, married Toploader guitarist Dan Hipgrave in 2001 and gave birth to their daughter Honey the following year.
However, the pair announced their separation in 2005. In the same year Gail lost all her hair.
She suffered from depression as a teenager in Scotland and was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
Last year she was sectioned under the Mental Health Act after doctors wrongly feared she was suicidal.
Tiny with huge Bambi eyes, Gail cuts a fragile figure as she sits in the garden of a hotel in north London on the eve of her departure for South Africa.
Fluctuating between smiles and tears, she said: “I’ve always had an addictive nature. It isn’t just drinking. I’m addicted to everything, even to cleaning.
“Recently, I’ve put on a brave face in the media but the truth is that I’m really upset and I need help. So I’m off to try to sort my head out. Not my hair, but my head.”
Gail’s sudden attack of alopecia was a dreadful blow for such a glamorous TV presenter — but she does her best to laugh at her baldness.
She said: “I try to cope with everything through humour. But not a day goes by without someone in the street laughing at me or pointing at me.
“The other day, a little kid in the bus pointed and yelled, ‘You’ve got no hair!’ So I went, ‘I left it on the bus. It’s on the C11 and I can’t find it.’ ”
Despite Gail’s courageous attempts to poke fun at her situation, deep down she has been hurt by people’s reactions to her condition.
She said: “When my hair fell out, I thought there was no coming back to TV for me. As much as everyone said they would stick by me, no one did.
“I don’t get the programmes I used to and that depresses me.”
Gail’s tendency towards depression wasn’t helped by her divorce from Dan or her later break-up from guitarist boyfriend Jonny Davies.
In recent years she has also lost two grandparents, her uncle, her dog Missy and, worst of all, her beloved mother Sandra, who died aged 60 of lung cancer. She said: “I felt lost because I didn’t have my family but I didn’t go insane or bonkers.
“I miss my mother a lot. She taught me to be myself and to get on with things — apart from having tattoos. She despised that.”
One of the tattoos Gail’s mother hated so much is on her arm — an image of a beautiful woman with long hair and a fabulous figure.
For despite Gail’s haunting beauty, she clearly is not happy about the way she looks.
She said: “I’m going to come out of the rehab with an Afro, I’ll be 22 years old again and seven stone… only joking.”
But her sense of humour cannot mask her anguish.
Talking about being sectioned last year, she said: “It was reported that I made a suicide attempt. But that isn’t true. I wouldn’t, in a million years, try to kill myself.
“I took an accidental overdose of painkillers, then called the doctors myself.
“I was very depressed, I was trying to sleep but I didn’t want to kill myself. That’s why I called the doctor and told him that I’d taken too many painkillers, and ended up in hospital.” Gail has great respect for the medical profession. She said: “I’d be a nurse in a minute. Today, now.
“I did a TV programme five years ago in which I was part of a team of nurses in Barnsley Hospital.”
“I’ve never been happier, just to help people and be there for them. Some of it was horrific, though, like the time I held the hand of a man who died of cardiac arrest. I would give up TV and the bright lights tomorrow if I could become a nurse.
“When I was seven, my father cut off part of his fingers and I turned up at the hospital dressed as a nurse and tried to help him.” Now, though, the shoe is on the other foot for Gail, because in South Africa she will be the patient.
Her journey into long-term rehab began with a meeting with Daniel Gerrard, a “family interventionist” and founder of Addictionhelper.com.
He said: “I am so proud of Gail and her continuing perseverance to recover. She has made a 100 per cent commitment to the program.”
That commitment means that Gail will spend a month getting up at 7.30am, going for a beach walk, cleaning, attending lectures, trauma groups and 12-step meetings. That will be followed by two more months of a less intensive program.
But despite her optimism, Gail knows that the road ahead will not be easy. The hardest thing will be the separation from her cherished daughter. She says: “Honey’s father is looking after her. He’s brilliant and he’s got a great wife, so we’ll get through it, but it is going to be really hard for me to be separated from my daughter.”
“I just told her that Mummy is not feeling well. But she knows. She’s nine and she’s not stupid. And at least we’ll be able to talk on Skype.
“I haven’t taken any teddy bears or lucky charms into rehab with me. Just lots of pictures of my daughter and a necklace with the initial H on it. No security blanket whatsoever.”
Security is clearly something Gail sorely lacks in her life.
She says: “My dad really supports me. He knows the trouble I’ve gone through and is on the phone every day. But I’ve chosen the wrong men in my life. I’m a bit needy now and want someone to look after me.”Perhaps I should try sugardaddy.com — just joking!
“The truth is I do think, ‘Someone, please look after me, if only for a minute.’ But if I felt stronger, then I would look after myself. Wanting to be stronger is one of my reasons for going into rehab in Cape Town.
“A while ago, I went to see this famous trichologist and he told me that if I chilled out my hair might come back. And I’d love that.”
She laughs for a second, then turns serious.
“Deep down, I’m not really funny. I’m really upset. But I am totally committed to getting better, and I honestly believe I will.”
Highs and lows of TV beauty
AFTER failing to become a Blue Peter presenter, Gail landed her first presenting job on ITV Saturday morning kids’ show Fully Booked, in 1997.
Spots on Top Of The Pops and the Movie Chart Show followed, as did work for Virgin Radio.
Gail was already a successful presenter on numerous shows when a naked picture projected on the Houses of Parliament made her a household name overnight – and she was soon a popular pin-up on teenage boys’ bedroom walls.
In August 2001 she married Toploader guitarist Dan Hipgrave and she gave birth to their daughter Honey just over a year later.
But her world fell apart in 2005 when she revealed she had separated from her husband and was suffering from the distressing hair-loss condition alopecia areata.
She refused to wear a wig or hat, opting instead to raise awareness of the problem.
As well as writing her book, the 41-year-old is still working in television – and remains a firm supporter of the Little Princess Trust, which helps children suffering hair loss.
The Sun Wednesday 1st August 2012