Being Gail Porter, BBC Scotland, BBC iPlayer, presented by Gail Porter.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m000df09/being-gail-porter

‘I’m no longer a pretty girl,’ Gail Porter says in a conversation she’s having with an old friend, but she’s also speaking to the viewer.

We judge so much by appearance. And she’s right. She’s no longer young and she’s no longer pretty. Alopecia has robbed her of her trademark blonde hair. In 1999, she was one of the most well-known presenters on telly. Her naked image was projected onto the Houses of Parliament. FHM magazine sold out. She remembers herself being one of the top ten hotties, but with her usual candour notes that she didn’t win. She wasn’t voted number one. Sometimes when you scratch the surface, you get more surface.

But Gail Porter is no longer a pretty mess, she’s just trying to get by. We go back to her roots, off Portobello in Edinburgh. An idyllic upbringing, sorta. Right on the beach, but mum and dad were always fighting. She was a pretty girl and got work as a children’s presenter. Anorexia was her fall-back positon. But watching these clips a different kind of girl emerges, vibrant and funny and a natural in front of the camera. She was the real deal.

Moving to London was a natural stepping stone. Everybody loved her. She even got to present Top of the Pops. That brought her a boyfriend, the lead singer of Hipsway, and a much loved child. But she suffered from post-natal depression—and depression in general—she was sectioned in 2014. Mental Health patients are hiding away at the back of the hospital she was admitted to in London.  And she admitted to being homeless and sleeping on a park bench.

The tabloids fed on her fall from fame. Her alopecia and drunkness. She also cut herself. Serious self-harm. Make-up girls were familiar with these wounds and worked out how best to hide them when she had work presenting. When the phone stopped ringing. When she had no work and no home. There’s no way out. A self-fulfilling prophecy of doom. But here’s the thing, she’s no longer pretty, but Gail Porter is lovely. She’s self-depreciating and honest. That little girl that never quite grew up has retained her childlike wonder. The media sucked her in and spat her out. But Gail Porter is still Gail Porter. I wish her all kinds of well.  

Wasting Away: The Truth About Anorexia, Channel 4, 10pm

mark austin.jpg

http://www.channel4.com/programmes/wasting-away-the-truth-about-anorexia

My mind went blank and I started to type Alzheimer’s into the search box of Channel 4’s programmes. In a way that’s instructive. You can just start again, wipe out what went before and retype. We are learning about Alzheimer’s. I can throw in phrases like amyloid plaque. Perhaps do a simple drawing of what it means in a cave of dendrites. But I don’t really know what it means, not yet, although my mum had it. In a way the truth about anorexia is a lie, because it assumes there is a simple truth based on subjective experience. The smoking gun is, as with Alzheimer’s the resources we allocate to the NHS and, in particular, the cinderella Mental Health services, which traditionally has been the poor man of the care sector, both in terms of the money spent on it and empirical outcomes.  Mark Austin uses the analogy (which I’ve frequently used myself) if you break a leg you phone an ambulance and get admitted to hospital. The analogy breaks down when the surgeon comes round and says something along the lines of things they (might) say in mental health services: ‘we think we’ve fixed your broken leg. You might need to hop a bit, and it might be sore, with one leg shorter than the other, but that’s the best we can do. Don’t call us back and expect miracles of mobility’. In other words, empirical outcomes in the mental health service are, at best, dodgy, but it’s nobody’s fault but your own.

We need somebody to tell us this is a very bad thing. Who better than his Royal Highness Prince William with his stiff upper lip, wobbling slightly. No common man need mention American socialite Wallis Simpson, of you can never be too thin, or rich, fame. And the truth about anorexia is there is no common man here, no one truth, but lots of fake news. Jeremy Hunt, who favours privatising the NHS, but is Secretary of State for Health, for example, tells us there’s ‘no quick fix’ but by 2020, 95% of young people with mental health issues will be able to see a professional (psychiatrist, presumably a British psychiatrist, and not one of those foreigners we’re trying to exclude) within four weeks and within a week if there case is urgent. I thought every case was urgent, but what do I know, I’m not a health-care specialist. We see here, as we see everywhere else, cases being flipped and weighed and found wanting and parents travelling hundreds of miles, where their daughter or son, finally finds a place in some private hospital in Edinburgh. I wish somebody would explain that truth to me. How it profits rich folk to take care of sick folk, but it still works out cheaper for us all.  Poorer folk with, in modern parlance, mental-health issues always find somewhere closer to visit. It’s called Her Majesty’s Prisons.  We’ve got Princess Diana the godmother of anorexia, looking pretty chic in culled archive images. The largest epidemic in every sense is, of course, the flip side of anorexia, obesity. The poor man’s disease. No need to mention Stephen Hawkin’s criticisms of Tory privateers and implicitly Jeremy Hunt’s stewardship of our NHS.  Now we can start talking truthfully about black holes.

Ask yourself a simple question, if I stopped eating tomorrow, who would notice and who would care? Does it matter? Do I matter?

Roxane Gay, Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body is a better place to look for questions of toxic imagery and culture than this programme.

‘Every body has a story and a history’.

‘The story of my body is not a story of triumph. I don’t have any powerful insights into what it takes to overcome an unruly body and unruly appetites. Mine is not a success story. Mine is simply a true story.’

Upper, middle-class, ITV newsman, Mark Austen and his daughter Maddy go on a journey in which they seek to explore the boundaries of anorexia and the health service, postcode lottery, in the less than United Kingdom, but only take us to NHS Theresienstadt.