Gail Porter be­came a UK house­hold name in the 1990s but the pull of Portobello still re­mains strong for the tele­vi­sion pre­sen­ter, model, ac­tress and writer


Gail Porter loves to meet up with old friends on a Portobello home­com­ing

My ear­li­est mem­ory of Portobello Beach is from when I was quite young. My lit­tle brother and I were mak­ing a sand­cas­tle with a lit­tle plas­tic spade and he hit me over the head with it. I re­mem­ber cry­ing my eyes out and my mother say­ing ‘oh, just get over it’. I ended up go­ing home from the beach with

‘When I was grow­ing up Portobello was my life, we were a close knit fam­ily ’

a mas­sive black eye. My brother did say he was sorry and that he didn’t mean it. We did mar­tial arts to­gether when we were kids. It was one of the things our mum and dad made us do and I ab­so­lutely loved it. I have three black belts in karate and my brother has seven; he is bril­liant at it. It’s al­ways good to have a lit­tle bit of mar­tial arts be­hind you. I think some of the kids at school thought ‘she knows how to de­fend her­self ’ so it was nice to have that as a way of mak­ing sure you looked af­ter your­self. I did put it to­wards my daugh­ter, I told her I was a ninja, but she just looked at me and said ‘no, I’m not do­ing that’. My nick­name at Brun­stane Pri­mary School was ‘snobby’ Porter. I was one of those kids that, when the teacher asks ‘does any­one knows this?’, I would put my hand up, and say ‘me, me, me’. I was a lit­tle bit an­noy­ing. I loved that school and the teach­ers were won­der­ful – they re­ally make the dif­fer­ence. My favourite teacher was Mrs Nis­bet. She was strict and ev­ery­one hated her, but I adored her. I liked the fact that she was so strict be­cause I knew I would learn more from her be­cause I was so scared.

My par­ents were lovely but also rather strict. We were not al­lowed to wan­der off, but we were happy. My mother would take us down to the ar­cade at the end of Portobello Beach. Her favourite game was the one where all the lit­tle heads pop up and you have to hit them with a ham­mer, so we would play that. Mum also used to take us swim­ming in the Portobello open air pool, which sadly is no longer there. I gather the in­door pool at Portobello

now has Turk­ish baths, a jacuzzi and a sauna and steam room. My mother would be turn­ing in her grave, she al­ways wanted us to be hardy and brave the out­door pool.

My grandpa, Ho­ra­tio Wal­ter Stan­ley Twiddy, my mother’s fa­ther, used to take me to S. Luca Ice Cream in Mus­sel­burgh for a knicker­bocker glory. He was my best friend and the most amaz­ing per­son. When I got mar­ried in 2001 at The Witch­ery, we had lots of lovely food at the wed­ding, oys­ters and another fish dishes. My grandpa stood up and said ‘can I just have ice-cream?’ I said, ‘Grandpa I love you more than any­thing in the whole world, so you can have what­ever you want’. So he had three dishes of S. Luca’s ice-cream: vanilla, choco­late and straw­berry, and that was his din­ner.

When I was grow­ing up, Portobello was my life. We were a close-knit fam­ily and we stuck to­gether. We weren’t that posh. Once we went to Se­ton Sands and I was so ex­cited. We stayed in a car­a­van near the beach and played scrab­ble. My best friend had one of those old mu­sic cas­sette play­ers that you put on your shoul­der and we would walk around Se­ton Sands play­ing Madonna think­ing we were re­ally cool.

‘We would go to Portobello Beach, all the naughty boys were there and we would hang out with them’

‘On my first date at Gor­don’s Trat­to­ria, the boyfriend went out the win­dow but Gor­don and I be­came best friends’

I love mu­sic and I can play the pi­ano but I tend to leave that to my daugh­ter now. She’s 14 and re­cently passed Grade 5 so I’m in­cred­i­bly proud of her. She’s also learn­ing to play the gui­tar. I bought a 1964 Gib­son Hum­ming­bird years ago from the Rolling Stones, which used to be­long to Ron­nie Wood. I oc­ca­sion­ally strum it and look at it but leave the play­ing to my daugh­ter.

English was my best sub­ject at school and all I wanted to do was read and write. I went to Portobello High School which was mas­sive, it had so many pupils. Mrs Chap­man was my English teacher – I used to get picked on quite a lot, so she looked af­ter me. I couldn’t have got t hrough high school with­out her. Mrs Chap­man talked me through ev­ery sin­gle book we stud­ied. We read all the usual things like Shake­speare but my favourite book was Per­fume by Pa­trick Suskind, which is a beau­ti­ful story.

When I was a lit­tle older my friends and I al­ways went to Portobello Beach. All the naughty boys were there and we used to hang out with them. We didn’t re­alise how naughty they were. I al­ways think I had a naughty up­bring­ing but I didn’t. I thought I was cooler than I was.

On my first ever date, a gen­tle­man in­vited me out to Gor­don’s Trat­to­ria on Ed­in­burgh’s Royal Mile for din­ner. The date didn’t go that well – the boyfriend went out the win­dow – but I met Gor­don that night and we’ve been best friends ever since. He looks af­ter me. If I come up to Ed­in­burgh and I’m feel­ing a bit down, he’s the per­son I go to as he makes me feel spe­cial and makes a love heart pizza for me. He doesn’t have to, but he does, so that’s very spe­cial. His daugh­ter Daniela is also a good friend now too.

As well as mar­tial arts, I was also into run­ning. I would reg­u­larly run from Portobello to the ru­ins of St An­thony’s Chapel in Holy­rood Park, a dis­tance of al­most four miles. On the first of May, my friends and I would run up Arthur’s Seat to rub our faces in the morn­ing dew.

I’ve been in train­ing for the past four months for the Lon­don Marathon in April which I’m run­ning in aid of Macmil­lan Can­cer Sup­port be­cause my mum died of can­cer, as did my grand­mother and great-grand­mother – a triple whammy. I’m also tak­ing part in a 100 kilo- me­tre cy­cle ride called Women V Can­cer: Ride

the Night in May for peo­ple who have can­cer. So I’m run­ning and cy­cling ev­ery sin­gle day.

I’ve al­ways wanted to write, but for some rea­son, I ended up in­volved in tele­vi­sion. It first hap­pened be­cause I used to babysit for a friend of mine, a TV di­rec­tor, and he said to me; ‘kids love you, just go for it and au­di­tion’. I couldn’t think of any­thing worse, but I went for the au­di­tion and I got the job. So I ended up work­ing in chil­dren’s tele­vi­sion which was great be­cause I do love kids. But I’ve al­ways loved writ­ing and read­ing more than any­thing else.

I’m fin­ish­ing another book at the mo­ment which is due to be pub­lished at the end of this year. I had a ghost writer help­ing me with the first one, Laid Bare: my Story of Love, Fame and Sur­vival, but this one I have writ­ten my­self. It’s about men­tal health and is a lit­tle bit dark, but not de­press­ing, so hope­fully it’s go­ing to be good. I want to help peo­ple with men­tal health is­sues by be­ing a pos­i­tive role model.

I thought what Theresa May said re­cently about tack­ling the stigma of men­tal health, par­tic­u­larly for chil­dren, is quite good, but I’m not en­tirely sure. I’ve had to deal with this all my life and peo­ple say th­ese things but of­ten don’t fol­low through, so it would be nice to see some­one take some ac­tion.

Al­though I no longer live in Scot­land, I would come home in a sec­ond but be­cause my daugh­ter and my ex-hus­band live in Lon­don,

‘When I got mar­ried at The Witch­ery, we had lots of lovely food and my grandpa stood up and said “Can I just have ice-cream?” So he had three dishes of ice-cream’

I can’t move. Dur­ing the photo shoot for this ar­ti­cle, it was lovely to bump into my old friend Lu­dovic ‘Ludo’ Rizza at Gor­don’s Trat­to­ria. We met when I was 15 and we used to go to var­i­ous clubs to­gether. I miss not see­ing my friends, who I speak to ev­ery sin­gle day, my home and my brother. What I miss most about Portobello and Ed­in­burgh is ev­ery­thing.



Im­ages: Bub­ble fun on Portobello Beach in the win­ter sun­shine.

Above: Gail at Portobello Beach by the Prince of Wales foun­tain. Right: Near The Witch­ery, where Gail got mar­ried, over­look­ing Ed­in­burgh’s Vic­to­ria Street. Be­low: A baby Gail in the arms of her mother, San­dra.

Above: Gail with her friends Lu­dovico ‘Ludo’ and Daniela, Gor­don Scott’s daugh­ter, in Gor­don’s Trat­to­ria on Ed­in­burgh’s Royal Mile. In­set: The love heart pizza Gor­don makes spe­cially for Gail.

Im­age: Gail in the oak-pan­elled din­ing room of The Witch­ery by the Cas­tle where she was mar­ried in 2001.

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