Gail Porter: 'A lot of things have happened to me - but I'm still here'

The former TV presenter opens up about her rollercoaster life in her stand-up debut Hung, Drawn and Portered.

When I met Gail Porter on Portobello beach, everyone wanted to chat to her.

The ice cream seller, the woman behind the desk at Portobello Baths, tourists, dog walkers and families. And she had time for all of them.

As I left Gail, she was going for a “wee go on the waltzers,” and was very excited to be back in Edinburgh.

There’s just something about her. Even if you’re not a hugger, you’ll want to give Gail the biggest cuddle within moments of meeting her. And it’s not just because she has really been through it, but because she is a genuinely lovely person.

After bouts of depression, self-harm, a breakdown – at one point being sectioned – and becoming homeless, life really has dealt her a rubbish hand at times. yet she has kept going.

Now, she is using these subjects as material for her first ever stand-up show at the Edinburgh Fringe.

“It covers all the weird things that have happened in my life from getting sectioned to losing my home to sleeping on a bench to doing Big Brother because I had no money. Losing my hair.

“I know it doesn’t sound funny but you can bring in lots of amusing stories about your family or your friends and how we all rally together and we are still standing, still here.”

It seems humour is what gets Gail through the hard times.

“I get so nervous before every show thinking am I making people smile, are people enjoying it.”

And they are. Her show, Hung, Drawn & Portered is getting rave reviews, but is, by its nature an emotional rollercoaster, rather than a laugh-a-minute comedy.

It’s a different direction for the 52-year-old whose face you would see regularly in the 1990s and early 2000s, on big TV shows such as Top of The Pops and Alive & Kicking.

“When we did Top of the Pops, it was so much fun. It wasn’t a proper job. Big Breakfast wasn’t either.”

In 1999, Gail’s popularity led to a nude image of her taken from a cover of ‘lads’ mag’ FHM being projected on to the Houses of Parliament without her consent.

“I knew the photo had been taken but they didn’t tell me what they were going to do with it. Then I saw on the news that they’d projected it on to the Houses of Parliament.

“My mum phoned me and said ‘what have you done now!”

Did it put the TV star off working in the industry?

“Yeah it did a bit. It was very misogynistic at the time,” she said.

“At the time you don’t really realise and think it’s all fine but then you get a bit older and think oh, they completely took advantage.

“It is what is. I never have regrets about anything because life’s too short.”

But when Gail was diagnosed with alopecia in the mid-2000s, after already suffering with mental health problems, her TV work dried up. But, does she miss it?

“I always loved TV but I never thought I would make a living out of it. But to be honest now, there aren’t many things I watch that I think ‘I would love to present that.’

“I would rather be doing what I’m doing now; doing the stand up, meeting people all the time, changing things every day. It’s more exciting.”

As well as her new career in stand-up, Gail spends a lot of her time campaigning to raise awareness of those facing homelessness as well as working with mental health charities.

Before she goes, Gail gets a bit teary as she offers some advice.

“I cry a lot, I get upset a lot about things but when you get through it you think, ‘do you know what? I did that and I’m still here.’

“I just try and be as positive as I can and make sure I ask for help. Ask your friends, pick up the phone.

“The amount of friends that said to me, ‘why didn’t you call us?’ But now, I’ve learnt my lesson.

“I think most people are going through something but so many keep it to themselves.

“Whereas me, I tell everyone everything. I feel like if I can help somebody then I’ve done something good.”

You can see Gail in Hung, Drawn and Portered at Assembly George Square Gardens until August 28 at 7pm.

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