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August 2011



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Gail with her daughter Honey, then aged 11 months, in 2003

By Lara Gould

Last updated at 8:55 AM on 15th August 2011


Just after 8am on a spring morning in April, television presenter Gail Porter crouched under a tree on London’s Hampstead Heath and sent a text message to her boyfriend that read: ‘I can’t carry on. I feel suicidal.’


Hours later, the former pin-up girl – whose image was once famously projected on to the side of the House of  Commons – was being bundled into the back of a police van and taken to a psychiatric unit where she would  be sectioned and forcibly held for nearly a month.


The 40-year-old star’s personal  troubles – which have included a battle with the eating disorder anorexia, post-natal depression, being diagnosed bipolar, an acrimonious divorce from her musician husband in 2004 and being left bald by the hair loss condition alopecia – have been well-documented.


But in a searingly honest interview, Gail, a single mother who rose to fame on Saturday-morning children’s television in the Nineties and who was at one time among the highest-paid women on television, today tells how she hit rock bottom four months ago.


It’s a fall from grace almost unimaginable when compared with the fame she once enjoyed.


After being taken to the Royal Free Hospital in North London, Gail’s mental welfare was deemed so unstable she was placed under a 28-day section order which forced her to remain as an in-patient at the Grove Clinic, the hospital’s psychiatric wing, alongside paranoid schizophrenics and violent patients on suicide watch.


Three months after her release, and talking about her ordeal for the first time, the star is still shaken and emotional. She says she has turned a corner in her recovery after leaving hospital and embarking on an intensive counselling programme at The Cabin, a private rehabilitation centre in northern Thailand, which she completed last weekend.


But despite her positivity, her darkest moments still haunt her as she recalls the heavily medicated weeks in hospital with nothing to pass the time except a single television shared between the unit’s 50 patients and cups of instant coffee.


‘The worst part about being sectioned was the lack of structure,’ says Gail. ‘There was no treatment programme – we were just locked in the unit and basically forgotten about.


‘When you are suffering from depression as badly as I was, you genuinely believe you will never come out of a place like that.


‘It felt as if I was in the film One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. I had been forced into this place with some very, very ill people and we were left to our own devices and to fend for ourselves.


‘I had no idea how long I had been in there because each day followed exactly the same pattern as the last.


‘In the morning I was woken at 7am. We would have cereal for breakfast in the common room then the nurses came round with our medication. I was given 5mg of diazepam in a little pot to swallow to keep me calm. I didn’t even know what it was but there was no point complaining because you had to take what you were prescribed.


‘That was followed at lunchtime by clorazepate, an anti-anxiety drug, and in the evening another 5mg of diazepam and 7.5mg of zopiclone  for insomnia.


‘It seemed to me that the nurses didn’t really know what to do with us so it was easier to give us lots of drugs so we were calm and quiet.


‘In three weeks I saw three doctors for ten minutes each. Each time all I was asked was, “How are you feeling?” I told them I felt depressed, they wrote it down and a week later another one came back.


‘There was no treatment programme and nothing to do. It meant patients just focused on their problems instead of getting better. My ex-husband came to visit me and said recently, “You got madder every day you were in there. You were dosed up to your eyes with nothing to do.”


‘I kept myself to myself but there were some very ill people in there. The woman in the room next to mine would get up at  3am every morning and flush the toilet in her room for three hours and talk into the cistern. She said it was her contact to God.


‘Two patients believed they were Jesus and on another occasion a male patient burst into the common room naked because he said he was better.


‘I was desperate to get out but because I had been sectioned it was illegal for me to leave the hospital. I honestly believed I would never leave.’


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