Meeting India's Poorest Children Made Me Realise Losing My Hair Isn't So Terrible; GAIL PORTER EXCLUSIVE
Byline: From CLAIRE DONNELLY in Delhi
F ROM the moment Gail Porter walked into a glitzy TV launch party last Saturday, sporting a shocking red mohican haircut, the rumour mill has been in overdrive.
Is she battling cancer? Is she having a nervous breakdown?
Today, the 34-year-old TV presenter, who is in Delhi to lend her support to the charity ActionAid, is happy to put the record straight.
No, she doesn't have cancer. But she is suffering from stress-related alopecia, which has resulted in her dramatic hair-loss.
Her blonde locks have been falling out for weeks, and she recently decided to shave off most of her thinning hair rather than end up shedding clumps in public.
And, no, she is not having a nervous breakdown. But she is battling back from one of the toughest years of her life.
If further proof is needed that Scots-born Gail has got her act together, you only have to look at her laughing and joking with the street children of Delhi.
Seeing the work that ActionAid is doing with these desperate kids, is also helping the mum-of-one put her own life in perspective.
"In a way, shaving my head feels like a new beginning to me," says Gail, who got involved with ActionAid after sponsoring a seven-year-old boy through the charity's adoption scheme.
"It's me saying goodbye to everything that's been going on. I have had my share of stress this year and I just want to start looking forward now. People say, 'Gail hasn't done anything for ages', but it's because I've been in America. If you don't push yourself around on British television everyone says your career is finished.
"I mean, give me a break. I've got a three-year-old daughter, I've been going through a divorce, I've been working with charities and going to America every two weeks. Oh, and I've lost my hair. So I've had a lot on my plate.
"I'm not on the edge of a nervous breakdown, or anything like that, I've just had a lot on. Fingers crossed, there is no more bad luck around the corner. I've had my share - now I'm moving on."
Knowing that her bald appearance would cause a stir, Gail went public in a big way at a LivingTV launch party.
She downed a few glasses of champagne for Dutch courage, and rubbed a rosy eye-shadow on to her few remaining tufts to create a daring mohican effect.
"I didn't want to go at all," she admits. "But I thought, 'If I don't do it now, someone will catch me at some point'.
"I walked into the make-up room and everyone went really quiet. They didn't know how to react. There was a moment where I thought, 'I can't do this', but I took a deep breath and got on with it.
"The other thing I didn't want was people thinking I had cancer - if I'd tried to hide they might have jumped to that conclusion.
"There were so many photographers there and I was terrified. I was in tears at one point, but it had been a long night and I'd had enough by then. I just wanted to go home.
"They were quite shocked because I didn't tell anyone what had happened. But they've all been very supportive and said I looked great."
Gail has certainly had a tough 12 months. On top of struggling with post-natal depression and the battle to shift the weight she gained when she was pregnant with her daughter Honey, she has also gone through a messy divorce from musician Dan Hipgrave.
In March, she even tried to kill herself. She was found by Dan after she'd swallowed more than 30 painkillers, but later said that the suicide attempt was just a "cry for help".
Since then, things have started getting better. Her LivingTV programme, Dead Famous, has been a hit on both sides of the Atlantic, and 11 months ago she found love again with 31-year-old cameraman James Lloyd.
Then, just when she thought she'd finally turned the corner, her hair started falling out in great clumps. It was an agonising decision, but those trademark locks had to go.
"We shaved it off in a graveyard in America - could it get any weirder than that?" smiles Gail.
"I'd been filming a trailer for my programme Dead Famous and I asked the make-up artist to do it for me. As she did it, she made me watch so I could get used to it.
"Then James did the very last bit which I thought was a really caring way to do it. He said, 'Shave it off. You're still you and I think you're beautiful'. Now he says I'm a mixture of Pebbles from The Flintstones and Tank Girl.
T HE doctors don't know when or if my hair will come back, I'll just have to wait and see. It's weird because I can feel some of it growing back, but in other spots there's still nothing there.
"I was so worried that Honey would be scared. but she just came in and said, 'Hey, mummy, I love your funny head'. Now she comes up and cuddles me and kisses my head.
"When we are out shopping the first thing she says to people is, 'Hello, my mummy's bald'. She's hilarious.
"Lots of people who go through it hide away or wear hats, so if my coming out like this has helped one person, then that's great."
Gail certainly had no adverse reaction from the street children she met on her four-day charity trip to India with ActionAid. "In our culture people worry too much about appearance and what other people are going to think," she says.
"The children we have met here with ActionAid don't care about that. They are far too busy living from day to day.
"They accepted me straight away. As soon as you show them any affection they clamber all over you - it's great."
With James, Gail has been visiting some of the diverse projects funded by ActionAid. These include shelters for homeless children and support groups for youngsters who have to work to feed their families.
They also toured "rag pickers" sites - areas where children as young as five sort through mounds of stinking rubbish to earn less than a euro a day.
"I've never seen anything like that in my life," recalls Gail. "I didn't know that places like that existed. To see people living like that...
A S a mum it makes you think even more. Some of these kids are Honey's age. They should be out on bikes and playing with their friends, but they're living like this.
"It makes you realise how lucky you are. It's the luck of where you're born.
"When we got out of the car, the stench was awful. But by the time we finished you were used to it - like the kids are. Still, we can go home and have a shower, but they can't.
"It breaks your heart yet they are so cheerful and full of life. It was a really humbling experience to meet them. I thought I'd be in tears during the whole trip but I haven't been because the kids are so lovely and uplifting.
"I'm going to make the effort to come back every year and see how the work ActionAid is doing has helped them. Despite everything that was going on in my life, I never thought about not coming out here with ActionAid.
"I sat down and thought, 'Right, my hair's fallen out but James has been great and it's not the end of the world.
"I've still got my health and I've got work to do. This trip has made me think I've got nothing to worry about. It puts everything else - and my problems - in perspective.
"It's been a really up and down year. James and Honey - and my friends - are the ones who've got me through this. I still have my moments, but 90 per cent of the time I feel fine.
"I've got a lovely boyfriend, a great career and a beautiful daughter. I think that makes my life look pretty good, don't you?"
FOR more information about ActionAid's work, or to make a donation, visit "their website at www.action aid.org.uk
MISSION: Gail with our Claire; SMILES: Gail with her cameraman boyfriend James; UPLIFTING: Meeting the street children of Delhi; MOTHER'S PRIDE: With beloved daughter Honey; Pictures: TONY SPENCER; A CLOSE SHAVE: Gail's red mohican; Picture: TIM ANDERSON…
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Publication information: Article title: Meeting India's Poorest Children Made Me Realise Losing My Hair Isn't So Terrible; GAIL PORTER EXCLUSIVE. Contributors: Not available. Newspaper title: The Mirror (London, England). Publication date: September 17, 2005. Page number: 30. © 2009 MGN LTD. COPYRIGHT 2005 Gale Group.
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