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.