Saturday 24 August 2019

Gail Porter: 'They told me I'd be crazy to go into TV'

An education in the life of Gail Porter, television presenter

Gail Porter, 31, has presented Top of the Pops and The Big Breakfast. Her naked image was projected on to the Houses of Parliament as a stunt by FHM, and her recent autobiography is entitled Laid Bare. She is launching Positive Women, Positive Lives, an exhibition of photographs opening today at Dray Walk Gallery, Brick Lane, London E1 and organised by the international charity ActionAid.

When I went to Brunstane Nursery in Edinburgh, I remember screaming on the first day and my mum crying as she drove away. After that, nursery was fine and I absolutely loved school - primary and secondary.

At Brunstane Primary, which was next door to the nursery, my favourite teacher was Mrs Nisbit. She was really strict and made you work really hard. I liked that; when she was happy, you felt that you'd earned your Brownie points.

They still had the belt then and she used to hit boys. Not me; I was quiet and studious and didn't like to upset any of the teachers. The others used to call me "Snobby" and say: "Let's get Snobby to swear!" Fortunately I had some "snobby" friends.

I took part in all the after-school clubs: young orni-thologists (there were only about three of us and we used to draw feathers) and martial arts - I'm now a second dan (black belt) in kickboxing and in karate).

Portobello High School is a huge, mixed comprehensive. There were all the stories about having your head thrust down the toilet, but in the first year you were in a separate annex. It was very exciting: lots of boys - and science labs; I'd never seen a Bunsen burner.

I was quite good at biology and chemistry, which I did at O-level. I loved English; Mrs Chapman, who was rather strict, was my favourite English teacher. Later she pinned up a number of newspaper cuttings in which I was quoted as saying that she was my favourite English teacher.

Maths was a struggle, and I had a private tutor. I kept asking questions: "Why do you need to know the angle of that ladder leaning against the wall? I'm going to hire someone if I need a ladder!" Yes, ideas above my station: snobby!

I got nine O-levels. In the sixth form, we did "highers" in a year and I got three out of four: A in English, B in politics, C in maths. My father thought that accountancy would be useful (I don't know what for; I get someone to do my accounts now) but I didn't even get a grade in it.

In the year after highers you do "Sixth Form Studies"; I did mostly English and politics. We put on the musical Grease and I was Sandy, the lead. The headmaster was a bit dubious about this - "Why can't you do Calamity Jane as we do every year?" - but Mr Leslie and Miss McRoberts were pioneering music teachers and we rehearsed this raunchy musical every day.

I did a year at Telford College in Edinburgh, studying communications, television and radio, and then two years at West Herts College for an HND in film and photography. For a couple of months I did a quite intense course in studio production management at the National Film and Television School, Beaconsfield.

My careers teacher at Portobello High had told me that I'd be crazy to go into television in London. He was a "Mr Sensible" type, and said that I should be a lawyer. I remind him of this whenever I go back to the school, and he says: "Oh, shut up!"

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