BY WENDY LEIGH The Scottish Sun Published: 24th December 2012
TROUBLED TV star Gail Porter has opened her heart for the first time about her battle with depression and alcohol.
Gail spoke exclusively to The Scottish Sun after a gruelling three-month stint in a South African rehab clinic.
She said: “I learned about how stupid I am and how selfish I’ve been, thinking about myself more than other people.
“The brilliant counsellors really kicked me up the arse and I learned so much about myself. I realised that I had lost control of my life. My mum died of lung cancer aged 60 and I missed her terribly.
“And when I lost all my hair due to alopecia, I started asking myself questions like, ‘Did I do something terrible in a past life? Did I do something really awful?’
“Part of the problem was whenever I had white wine, I started crying and crying and in the end everyone got bored with me. Drinking did make my depression worse.
“But everything changed during my three months in South Africa where I was in rehab with drug addicts, people who had been through trauma and people who were also depressed. Their stories were so harrowing, they put my life in perspective and made me realise how lucky I am.” Gail, 41, first suffered with depression as a teenager and has since been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. She has suffered a nervous breakdown and been sectioned. Alopecia has also left her bald. Three months ago, when Gail decided to cut all ties with London life and commit to the spartan rehab centre, she was a broken woman.
She also left behind her beloved ten-year-old daughter Honey, who lives with her father, former Toploader guitarist Dan Hipgrave and his wife Lynsey.
But today, sipping only tonic water, Gail is all smiles. Polite and charming, she tucks in to lunch then proudly displays a small blue card proclaiming that she hasn’t touched alcohol for 90 days.
She says: “I think I did have a problem with alcohol for a while but I couldn’t touch a drop in rehab and it didn’t bother me at all. In fact, the counsellor said my problem was more depression than alcohol.
“I’m still ashamed of myself for getting so down. After all, I’m Scottish, and I should be stronger than that.”
Gail’s hard-won battle against her demons came at a price. She says: “When I arrived at the rehab centre and the big gates closed behind me, I felt as if I was going into prison. I was terrified.
“My room there, which I shared with two other girls, had bars on the window and for the first month I wasn’t allowed to use my computer, watch TV or talk to any of the men on the programme. I was banned from even looking at them, or saying ‘thank you’ if one of them held the door open for me.
“My day started at six in the morning and then there were chores and breakfast. We had lectures and classes and groups all day long. I found that difficult and, for the first month, I didn’t say a word.
“Everyone thought I was a bit odd because I didn’t bond with any of the others. But I didn’t want to get close to anyone in case I got hurt. And during trauma counselling, I kept silent. In the end, I was told that if I didn’t open up and talk, I would have to go back to Britain.
“I did say a little about my feelings, but it was difficult because I’m Scottish and we’re very private.”
One of the most difficult aspects of Gail’s time in rehab was the separation from Honey.
She says: “I missed her terribly but her dad and his wife Lynsey, love her to death. I can’t thank Dan enough for his support. He was totally amazing and stood by me 100 per cent. He and Lynsey were brilliant.
“Honey and I talked on Skype three times a week and those talks were the highlight of my life in rehab. Honey knew I was really sad and her dad had told her that I had gone away to get some help.
“She is brilliant. When I lost my hair, I said to her, ‘I am so sorry I don’t look the same as other mummies any more.’
“But she didn’t want me to wear a wig so said, ‘I don’t want you to look the same as other mummies… ’ ”
Apart from missing Honey, Gail spent a great deal of her time in rehab writing a children’s story and a novel which she says is a mixture of Girl, Interrupted and Trainspotting. She says: “I read the children’s story to the people in rehab and they all loved it. They asked me why I hadn’t done anything with it before and I said, ‘Because I’m rubbish’. But now I’ve got my confidence back and I am going to have my books published.”
Apart from writing, and looking forward to her chats with Honey, Gail says her time in rehab was tough. She adds: “I had nightmares most nights. I didn’t sleep much and even sleepwalked once. Luckily, the door was shut as I was heading for the pool!
“I missed Honey and all my friends and family so much, and I missed having anyone to cuddle. So I used to go out in the garden and cuddle this goat instead!
“He was black and white and was my best friend there.”
Now Gail is back from rehab, she is moving into a new flat, recording voice-overs and doing stand-up comedy.
She attends AA meetings on a regular basis and sees a lot of her friends but is spending Christmas alone because Honey will be with her father and his wife.
Gail says: “Honey is going to be with her daddy for Christmas but I am going to see her. In a way, I’ve always been very childlike myself. I don’t think I’ll ever grow up properly. My dad calls me Peter Pan.” Gail’s other main focus in life is to find love again. She says: “I was thinking of joining a computer dating site. I haven’t signed up yet but I do know what kind of man I’m looking for. More than anything, he has to be funny.
“He has to be taller than me and I’d like him to be older because I’ve always gone out with younger guys. But I don’t think I could do bald because if we put our heads together, we could start a fire…”
Ideally, Gail’s on the lookout for a man who works hard but he doesn’t have to be made of money. She says: “It would be good if he had a job but he doesn’t have to be a millionaire. He just has to be able to take me to dinner or to a gig.
“I’d love him to look like Ryan Gosling too, or Oliver Platt, who is very fat but is in my favourite TV programme, Huff.”
Now she is back from rehab and feeling happy and healthy, Gail is loving life.
She adds: “I can’t thank everyone enough for helping me through this horrible time. I shouldn’t have got myself into such a mess but I came out at the other end.”