GAIL PORTER

THE SCOTTISH TV PERSONALITY TALKS HOMELESSNESs, HAIR LOSS AND THE HOUSES OF PARLIAMENT

Gill Sherry

Gail Porter has had more than her fair share of ups and downs, most of which she talks about in Hung, Drawn and Portered, her new ‘meet & greet’ tour that includes a date in Stewarton on Sunday 9th June.

“It’s a bit of a life story,” Gail confirms. “Growing up in Scotland, things that happened at school… things that hopefully some people can relate to… and touching on lots of funny bits and pieces. And then losing my hair, losing my parents, losing my home. I’m trying to make it as funny as possible but trying to make people think at the same time. So, it’s a story… and then I get everyone dancing.”

Dancing?

“Well, hopefully,” she says, “if everyone’s up for it. Most people are. Sometimes people get a bit shy, but nine times out of ten, everyone’s up on the stage by the end.”

It sounds like the perfect way to end what is, no doubt, a very emotional evening for Ms Porter.

“I do cry occasionally,” she admits. “It’s a very personal show. But I get everybody else involved as well.”

Having done 30 shows back-to-back in her home town of Edinburgh last year, she’s getting used to telling her story and, in turn, making her audience laugh. So, should her impressive CV now include comedian as well as TV presenter, model and actress? She says not.

“A storyteller, maybe. And I was never a model.”

A certain 60ft nude image of Gail projected on the Houses of Parliament springs to mind. However, I don’t ask her about that controversial photograph (yet). Instead, I ask how it all began.

“I was working behind the scenes for years. I was assistant editor, runner, pretty much anything they wanted me to do… making teas and coffees, picking up dry cleaning. One time, there was a kids TV programme that they were auditioning for. I think I was in my early twenties. I went along for this audition and I got called back… then I got the job. It was a live TV show. I didn’t really plan that one! I didn’t plan anything to be honest.”

The show was called Totally Interactive Game Show (T.I.G.S.). It was screened from October to December 1995 after which Gail returned to making teas and coffees.

“Then there was a show called Fully Booked. I ended up getting that, and it kind of took off from there. Nothing was prepared for, it just kind of rollercoastered. It went well for a while. It went t**s up for a while. It’s now doing okay for a while.”

Now that she’s mentioned the ups and downs of her career, I take the opportunity to ask about ‘that’ photograph. Her answer is preceded by a knowing laugh – she knew the question was coming.

“I was doing lots of shows,” she tells me, “and they’d say ‘do you want to do a quick shoot and we’ll talk about doing an interview?’ That’s what we did in the 90s. I just rocked up, I wasn’t a model. I’d get a phone call saying ‘they want you to turn up on Friday for a shoot for Esquire or FHM.’ Then it just got more risky and I got into trouble and stuff.”

Despite arriving at the photo shoot with her mum, Gail still found herself agreeing to a nude photograph.

“They said ‘can we take a picture of your backside?’ and I thought, where’s the harm in that? No-one’s going to see it. I didn’t think anything else of it until I saw it on the news.”

The image was projected on the Houses of Parliament without Gail’s knowledge or consent. It was used as part of a marketing campaign encouraging people to vote for Gail in the FHM Sexiest Women Poll.

I can’t resist asking if she won.

“I didn’t even get a copy of the magazine! I didn’t even know it was for a competition! I think it was the biggest selling FHM they’d ever had, because of the controversy, but I didn’t make a penny.”


Twenty-five years ago, Gail was understandably upset by the experience. How does she feel about it now?


“I’m 53 now and I think, who else has done that? And I’ve got more important things to worry about.”


You’d be forgiven for thinking she’s referring to her alopecia but her hair loss is no longer a concern.


“I’ve had it for 19 years. It did start to grow back but it just grew back in patches. Now nothing grows back at all, I don’t need to shave anything! No hair grows on my entire body which is fantastic, it’s so easy.”


It certainly sounds as though she’s embracing being bald.


My friend made me a wig but I’ve only worn it twice. I’ve got it as a back-up, like a hat. It’s nice to know it’s there but I like being bald, I’m quite happy with it. I’m so used to it, it’s just me.


It’s an entirely selfless attitude and one that leads me to ask about her involvement with numerous charities.

“I’m still involved with TogetherCo down in Brighton. They’re trying to combat loneliness. They have lovely dinners and they organise people to go and sit with elderly people who might not have family. And I’m working with Prince William on Homewards. We’ve just finished filming a documentary. I’ve been going around talking to different councils and people that are in shelters. It’s very upsetting. And I work with Centrepoint as well.”

As an animal lover, Gail is also an ambassador for the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SSPCA), as well as working with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA).

The documentary she refers to should reach our screens later this year. Which reminds me, didn’t she win a BAFTA for her last documentary, Being Gail Porter?

“Yeah,” she laughs. “Weird! I’ve shared it with everyone, it goes everywhere. It wasn’t a single effort, everybody worked so hard on it. And we all go through ups and downs. So, yeah, I’ve taken it to the local takeaway… and the laundrette had it for a bit.”

The documentary covered everything from the infamous photograph, to losing her hair, losing her mum, realising she could no longer afford to pay rent, and then getting herself back on her feet.

There were, however, happy times along the way. Working on Top of the Pops and Wish You Were Here…? for instance.

“How can you complain about being sent on holiday, or meeting all these amazing bands and singers? The Top of the Pops crew were amazing. It was like a big family. It wasn’t a job it was just pure enjoyment and fun.”

Gail Porter’s life has been both colourful and controversial, but she’s happy to share her story if it will help others.

“I’ve been through so much, but it’s nothing I’m ashamed of. I don’t care what anyone thinks of me. I’ve been through it, I’m not going to hide it, there’s no point. I take every day with lots of gratitude. And if I can say something that maybe resonates with somebody or makes people feel less alone…”

You can purchase tickets to see Hung, Drawn and Portered in Stewarton from www.eastayrshireleisure.com. And, in case you were wondering, Gail finished eighth in the 1999 FHM Sexiest Women Poll, the title that year going to a certain vampire slayer…