Free Time

Hung, drawn and Portered

Gail Porter

As a young woman working in the toxic media environment of the 1990s and early 2000s, Gail Porter ran the gamut of objectification and exploitation – until she developed alopecia and lost her hair within the space of a few months. Dropped like a hot brick for no longer conforming to beauty norms, Porter was left destitute and suffering poor mental health, but has fought her way back to sanity, stability – and now a new, wildly successful one-woman show fresh from the Edinburgh Fringe. She chatted to The Moment to tell us more...

First of all, tell us about the new show, Hung, Drawn and Portered. How did it come about?
Things for me haven’t always been great – I’ve been homeless, I’ve been sectioned… You know, standard stuff! But everything got back on its feet and every day I’m just grateful to have a roof over my head. I know what it’s like to be lost and thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, how am I going to get through the next week, let alone the next month?’ So, when I went to the Edinburgh Festival, John Bishop and Tony Pitts were doing a show called Three Little Words – where a guest picks three words at random and they have to fill an hour talking about it – and asked me to appear, as one of the guests. Well, they couldn’t shut me up! I kept saying, ‘Oh, and another thing!’ – we were having so much fun! We were laughing and the audience was laughing, it was great. Afterwards, John said, ‘I think you should do this,’ and I thought, ‘He’s right!’ I knew it was going to be terrifying, but here I am – as I said, I’ve been through quite a lot and I’m still standing, and I don’t really like telly work anymore – I don’t even watch that much telly, do you?

Gail PorterI’m always exhausted by about eight o’clock, so not really!
The only thing I’ve been tempted by recently is that thing everyone’s talking about, The Traitors – partly because Claudia Winkleman is always wearing such lovely clothes!

She’s flying the flag for amazing women over the age of 40 being on prime time TV as well, isn’t she?
I know! Sometimes I just think to myself, where are all the amazing women who used to be presenting stuff ten, 20 years ago? I have female friends in the media who are very clear that once you get past a certain age, you’re gone. You have to figure out a different way to make a living. So that’s another part of my choice – I thought, ‘I’m gonna do comedy!’

You faced the issue of double standards between men and women in the media whip-lash fast when you lost your hair. How do you feel now, looking back on that – for yourself and as a wider issue for women?
I think… using that FHM incident as an example [Gail was photographed partially naked during a photo-shoot by FHM, a now-defunct men’s magazine, who then projected the image onto the side of the Houses of Parliament without asking her, as part of a publicity stunt] – it felt odd at the time. They were saying, ‘Oh, try this dress, now put this bikini on,’ and then: ‘Oh, now we’ll just take a picture of your backside.’ I naively thought, ‘What’s the worst that could happen?’ and… Yeah… The next thing I know, I’m getting a phone call from my mum saying, “Your arse is on Big Ben!” I didn’t get paid for the full shoot, I didn’t know what they were going to do with the picture – everyone went quiet on me and I just dealt with it. Yes, the picture was my fault, but it was really bad of them to do it without just even asking me, because obviously I would have said no. But it is nice to be able to talk about it now, and even to see the picture – I think, ‘Oh, that’s what my arse used to look like!’

These days, I just like to go out with my mates – if there are red-carpet things I avoid them, because I did that back in the 90s and I hated it then. When I was young I just wanted to work, to do telly stuff like Top Of The Pops, to have fun – but there was so much of being slagged off or objectified in the press. I thought, ‘This is not me.’ So now, I don’t read the papers, I just put on the TV to see the news and what’s happening, and then I turn it off again – because I don’t want to be that person who’s reading those things, that I used to have to put up with.

Gail Porter

You speak very openly about what’s happened to you, and what you’ve faced in your life, and you also do a lot of work for various charities. You strike me as someone who almost feels as though she has a responsibility to other people, to help them if they’re in the same position you found yourself in
I would say, one hundred percent. I remember feeling so lonely when I was homeless, when I wasn’t getting any work, I was becoming bankrupt, I’d lost my parents… So now I think: ‘You’ve got to give it back. You’ve got to be there. You have to show up,’ so I do as much free charity work as I can afford – without becoming homeless again! Lots of people do get in contact with me when they’re not feeling great, and I can’t answer everyone but I can point them in the right direction, tell them: ‘The Samaritans are great for this, Centerpoint are great for that.’
And that’s what makes me feel I’m very lucky to be involved with these charities, because I can point people in the right direction. I know, because it can happen to anyone.

I’m intrigued to see that you recently got into the realm of the paranormal! Was that fun to do?
Someone I know worked on a series called Dead Famous in America about 14 years ago, and she asked would I be interested in getting involved. I met Chris Fleming, who’s the show’s resident psychic, and the idea was that it would be kind of like The X-Files, where I’d be the sceptic and Chris would be the believer. We were doing things like going to LA looking for Marilyn Monroe or Frank Sinatra – it was such a blast!

Are you Team Sceptic or Team Believer?
I’m in the middle. Chris and I did America for years, then we came back here and did Spooked Scotland and I loved every second of it, but now… I actually do think there may be things around us, whether it’s a presence in a building, or in your home…

Is that because of something you’ve experienced?
After I did Spooked Scotland I did have to phone Chris. I told him that every night – at around two-thirty to three o’clock in the morning – my bedroom door opens and my cat goes nuts. And it’s not just once or twice, it’s every single night. And Chris said, “You know that’s the witching hour…” Then, I was up in Kinross, in Scotland, a psychic there told me I had a spirit attached to me and that was why my door was opening every night. I said, “How do you know my door opens every night?” and he replied: “Because the spirit just told me.”

Oh, that is very creepy! Is it still happening?
Yep – every night! But apparently the psychic in Scotland says it’s looking after me, so I’m not scared anymore…

Gail Porter – Hung, Drawn and Portered

Wednesday, 24 April 2024
The Key Theatre, Peterborough

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