Chris Packham is a busy man. As well as regularly gracing our TV screens – he took part in the recent Blue Planet Live BBC series which examined the impact of ocean pollution – the wildlife expert is an active conservationist, photographer, writer, filmmaker and campaigner.
When the 57-year-old is not on the road or protecting animals, he’s a vociferous opponent of the badger cull and a leading figure in the call to ban driven grouse shooting, Chris is being recognised for his outstanding achievements – he was awarded a CBE in the 2019 New Year Honours List for his services to nature conservation.
The naturalist, who lives in a 1730s thatched cottage on the edge of the New Forest with his gorgeous dog Scratchy, recently joined forces with E.ON Energy to help people keep their pets warm and cosy while being energy efficient.
We caught up with the Chris to find out how he relaxes at home.
Chris Packham chats to Relax Ya Self To Health
Chris, you have an incredible loving bond with your miniature poodle Scratchy. How old is he?
He’s 16 on May 29. I think I can speak for him when I say he’s at his happiest when he’s with me and I’m at my happiest when I’m with him. He sleeps on my bed. I like waking up in the morning and having my face licked. Both dogs [Scratchy’s twin brother Itchy died two years ago] did. I liked to know they were there and hear them snoring.
Growing up, did you have pets?
Absolutely anything that I could get inside the house – wild animals that I could find like grass snakes and lizards. When I was in my teens, we had foxes, badgers and owls. I grew up on the edge of Southampton in a suburb. It was relatively close to the edge of the city so I could always get out into the countryside.
Apart from Scratchy, do you have any other pets?
My partner Charlotte [Corney, with whom he’s been for 12 years], lives in the Isle of Wight and has a zoo. She’s got tigers and lions which are friendly. She also has two giant rabbits, Otto and Obella who live in the bathroom. She brings them to mine. They’re fantastic and really good fun. She absolutely dotes on the rabbits.
What’s your garden like?
Three acres around the house which is given over to wildflowers. It gets cut once a year. I don’t have a pond in the garden, it’s been something I’ve been meaning to do for a long time. There’s lots of deer and rabbits here so I can’t really grow too much. There are large compost heaps everywhere, masses of bird boxes – the barns have got swallow nests in boxes. The birdfeeder is completely smothered in goldfinches, greenfinches, grey tits, marsh tits, and long-tailed tits. There are sparrowhawks in the woods, and I feed the foxes at night.
Are you a good cook?
I’m not great. I can make some basic vegetarian pasta. It’s palatable. When you’re cooking for yourself and two poodles you don’t put in too much effort. I used to do all the cooking when Charlotte came here but she’s taken over recently and she’s making an effort to cook properly which neither of us did. I’ve been doing Veganuary this year and she’s made a couple of excellent Veganuary meals for me.
How do you relax?
In the woods [near his house]. There are a couple of trees that are really easy to climb for a 57-year-old man. There’s also a very big, beech tree that’s the best one in the wood. We [Chris and Scratchy] go and sit under it. It’s our tree, our place to go. It’s a grounding experience. When you sit next to an organism that’s 650 years old it puts you in your place. I think that’s quite important. Very often human beings think that they are more important than they are. You only have to sit under a tree like that and start thinking about what’s happened during the course of its life to realise the part we play is genuinely quite insignificant really.
You’re passionate about the environment. What do you do at home to minimise your impact on the planet?
I have an 850-year-old very open plan farmhouse in France. Heating it is not something I do casually. My neighbour said you’ve got to get a smart meter. It was a complete revelation. It really makes you think about the energy you’re using. Energy management is something I’m red hot on. It’s not because I’m mean, it’s because I like to maximise efficiency when it comes to anything and energy is one of those because of the impact that it has both in and outside the home. A smart thermostat allows you to control and monitor your heating wherever you are, using your smartphone. But it’s not just good for setting the temperature for your pet. It will help you save money and the planet, by making sure you only have the heating on when you need it, and at the right temperature.
Are you a spiritual person?
I’m not but I do like the fact that there’s a cycle of life and essentially we all get recycled. I’m not a man who ever wants a tombstone. I think when your job’s done, your job’s done. The plan is the boys [Itchy’s remains are kept in cold storage in a barn alongside the cottage] will be cremated, then I will be. We’ll all be mixed together and chucked out in the woods. Parts of us will together grow into a tree, and the tree will be eaten by a caterpillar, the caterpillar will be eaten by a blue tit and the blue tit might get eaten by a sparrowhawk and we’ll become part of that cycle of life which we so enjoy walking through. Some people say its morbid, but for me, that seems to be ultimately romantic.
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For more celebrity interviews check out our chats below:
Joe Wicks, aka ‘The Body Coach’, lives just outside Richmond with his fiancée, Rosie Jones, and their eight-month-old daughter Indie.
The fitness guru and Instagram sensation – he has 2.5 million followers – and best selling author (he’s sold more than three million books) recently teamed up with recipe-box company Gousto, to create a range of quick and easy meals for busy people.
The boxes contain fresh ingredients and simple recipe cards to take the stress out of cooking and there are four new dishes to choose from each week.
We caught up with Joe, who just four years worked as a personal trainer running boot camps, to find out how he relaxes and why he thinks sleep is sacred.
Joe Wicks talks sleep and his top relaxation tip
What’s the first thing you do when you wake up? I get up between 7.30am and 8am and do a workout. I bought my semi-detached townhouse near Richmond two years ago and turned the living room into a home gym. It has a treadmill, weights, kettlebells, a spin bike and a wireless speaker. I used to be somebody who hated getting up but I’m better now.
Talk us through a typical day. After working out, I’ll do an Instagram recipe video. Depending on the day I’ll do photo shoots, interviews, or emails before coming home and doing another recipe, and then just chill with Rosie and Indie – maybe watch a film together.
You split your time between London and LA. Which is your favourite? Both, they’re my two favourite places in the world. I go to Santa Monica in the Autumn and return to the UK in time for Christmas and the New Year because that’s the busiest time for me. I love the weather, the exercise, outdoor fitness and training on the beach in LA and the river and park in Richmond. We like to take Indie for walks around Richmond Park.
Why did you decide to create recipes with Gousto? We share the same mission of getting the whole of the UK cooking and enjoying fresh, delicious food that fits around busy schedules. I’ve always said that you can’t out-train a bad diet – and eating fresh, home-cooked food is fundamental to keeping you and your family healthy. Since becoming a Dad it has become even more important for me to cook healthy, tasty meals which keep my family nourished. Time pressures shouldn’t mean that your diet has to suffer.
You’re very energetic. Do you need much sleep to function? Sleep is one of the most important things. It’s so important for your motivation, your energy levels for exercise and attitude towards the day. I can’t wait to go to bed. It’s the best thing, I love it now. These days – since having Indie – we’re in bed by 9pm. Sometimes she sleeps through the night. My favourite thing to do is lie in bed with her and have a cuddle when she wakes up. She sleeps next to us in a cot and she’s really smiley in the morning.
Do you dream? I’m a big dreamer. I’ve always got dreams going on in my head.
You’re on the road a lot. Do you enjoy it? I love travelling and holidays but I also love being able to cook food in my house and am definitely quite a homely person.
Tell us more about your kitchen. It’s in the basement. It’s neutral with white brick tiles and a nice long worktop. I’m always messing around in it and like to have quite a bit of space when I cook. I do my Instagram videos there. I tend to do most of the cooking, but Rosie and I have started creating recipe-box meals together where we do a few steps each, which is quite fun.
What’s your go-to relaxation method? I listen to really nice acoustic, chilled guitar or Mellow Magic. Indie loves that.
Joe Wicks range for the recipe-box company Gousto is available now. Meals start at £2.98, with free delivery seven days a week.
If you enjoyed this interview you might like to read our other celebrity chats here:
Irish model Alison Canavan is naturally radiant, bubbly and has boundless energy.
She first hit the catwalk at the age of 15 and has lived and worked all over the world including London, Paris, Germany, New York, Australia and South Africa.
To observers, her life might seem carefree and glamorous but it hasn’t always been easy for the single mother-of-one who struggled with her mental health and addiction for many years.
“Since becoming a mum to my eight-year-old son James I now try and love my best life for both of us,” she tells Relax Ya Self To Health. “I am a daily meditator and consciously practise gratitude for all I have. I see the world differently these days and I love that every day I get the chance to make better choices and create the life I truly want to live.”
Here Alison, who is now a health coach, master NLP practitioner, mindfulness teacher and author of Minding Mum, opens up about her journey and shares the techniques that help her live a happy and balanced life every day.
How would you describe your personality in three words?
Strong, resilient and caring.
You have a great positive mindset. How did you develop this?
I’m a great believer in living your best life but my mindset wasn’t always that way. At 15 I entered the world of modelling and although it was an amazing experience for a young girl, I struggled with anxiety, depression and loneliness at times. That was 25 years ago and the world has changed a lot since then. Today we talk about mental health and we are making great strides towards bringing these issues to the surface for healing as a collective.
What’s your motto or mantra in life?
Every day is a chance to start again and change is possible for everyone
Why is it important to listen to your body and invest in yourself as a person?
Because the relationship you have with yourself is the longest and most secure you will have in this lifetime. Everyone else will come and go from your life including friends, family and children. So, my question is, does it not make sense to work on the most important relationship first and then the rest will follow?
What happens on a silent meditation retreat?
I have done many silent retreats as I am a mindfulness teacher and the experience is always profound. You go on a deep inner journey of excavation and discovery. If we want true peace and contentment in this life, I believe, we must show up and do the work within ourselves. The Vipassana retreats are done in noble silence which means, no eye contact, talking or even hand gestures. Having recovered from addictions and mental health problems using meditation as one of my tools, I’m acutely aware of the power of going within. In fact, I believe it’s the only way to really heal emotional pain and move into a life of freedom and peace.
What sort of emotions and unpleasant feelings arose?
As my retreat approached I felt anxious as I knew there was deep-rooted pain ready waiting to come to the surface given the right time and space to do so. I didn’t have to wait long as on the first day I reacted very physically to the practice and had to leave the room as I was going to both throw-up and pass out. As I sat outside – pale as a ghost – the course coordinator assured me that this was very a very normal reaction and that afternoon the teacher did too. As human beings, we all have pain and suffering it’s simply a part of life. However, we become very good at suppressing experiences and emotions and hope they won’t rise again and cause us any trouble. This is something I did for many years I pushed everything down and thought that I didn’t ever have to face it or deal with it again.
How did repressed emotions affect your wellbeing?
During the 20 years of depression, anxiety and addictions that followed I never connected my emotional pain to my problems and neither did anyone I went to see. Instead, I got handed tablets and hoped for the best. This is like cleaning the outside of your kitchen cupboards every single day so that when you have visitors your house appears to be gleaming, clean and bright. However, if someone were to open your cupboards the stark truth would shock them. Inside would be dirty and food would be rotting and this is what suppressed emotions look like in your body. They are giving off toxic fumes that manifest as emotional problems like over or under eating, depression, anxiety, stress, sleep issues, addictions and much more. We fail to connect the dots and we outsource our power to external sources hoping that they can fix us and heal our pain. My greatest learning from a week of Vipassana was that only you and you alone can heal your pain and there is no escaping the work if you want to get well or live better. You need to feel and deal with your pain to truly heal.
How can people start to heal?
There are many paths to do the work but if you feel called to meditate and feel you would benefit then I think it’s a very valuable thing to do. We live in a world that’s moving so fast so we really need to slow down and create some space so that we can see clearly where we are and where we want to go. Otherwise, we miss life as we are always either living in the past or the future.
What are you doing work-wise now?
Today I teach mindfulness meditation where I have been trained as a UCLA mindfulness facilitator from The Semel Institute of Neuroscience and Human Behaviour. I am also a health coach and a master NLP practitioner. I run a successful private practice as a health and wellness coach and deliver motivational talks on health and wellbeing, all over the world, specialising in mental health and addiction. In 2017 I created ‘The Full 360’, which is a full day event where people come and experience what real wellbeing means. It’s a day where you are encouraged to join the dots between body, mind, spirit, the environment you live in and we also look at your relationships to yourself and others. I am deeply passionate about looking at our wellbeing from a whole – istic perspective! We keep separating ourselves and treating different aspects of us separately which only leads to further disconnection on the inside and out.
Talk me through a typical day.
Every day is different for me which I love. I write for various newspapers, do TV and radio interviews, I teach and coach people. I also organise my events and travel quite frequently too. I’m blessed to have the support of a great mum as I’m a single mum myself. I wake early and meditate and then when James wakes we have breakfast. I live by the sea so I love walking him to school to get fresh air first thing in the morning. Then I usually return back to the office or go out to meetings. I try and pick up James when I can and we spend the afternoon doing homework and catching up. I teach meditation a few nights a week but from home which is wonderful.
How do you balance work and family life?
With great difficulty at times and with a lot of support and help. I have also been studying for the past few years which has been extremely challenging at times but I always knew I the back of my mind that I was doing it to create a better life for myself and my son. I try as much as I can to be off the phone around James and when I’m with him to actually be with him and not always distracted.
What tips do you have for busy mums?
I used to buy into the myth of having no time. We all do because we are taught that if we are busy and our kids have 10,000 activities that we are worthy and have a purpose. I became very ill this year on a trip to London and it helped me to re-evaluate the busyness epidemic. I have met a mum of 11 who is not stressed at all! Sometimes we put so much pressure on ourselves (at least I do) to be an amazing mum, employee, friend etc but what I have found is that if we let go of expectations and start to actually become more present and enjoy life, things get easier. Everyone has some time they can take for themselves even if its 60 seconds three times a day to stop, breathe and be. It’s so important to show up for yourself because you can’t authentically do it for your family otherwise. A happy mum = a happy family. Be easy with yourself as a mum and know that you are doing your best and that’s all we can do in this life. The most important part is to have fun along the way.
How do you manage stress?
Through meditation, exercise, eating great food and connecting with those I love. Every day is different but every day I do all of these things!
What stress warning signs have you learned to recognise over the years?
When I start to crave bad food and feel sad, when I’m not sleeping great and not able to concentrate. Through the practice of mindfulness, we learn to accept things as they are and this gives us the ability to be with whatever is happening for us at that moment.
Are you able to share some of your stress-busting tips?
Stress is basically wanting to be there when you are here. Use your breath. Meditation is such an important gift in my daily life and when I start my day from a conscious perspective I can handle anything that comes my way. Eat well as sugary and processed foods contribute to stress and anxiety. Eat lots of colourful and fresh seasonal produce and cook at home as often as possible. Move your body. Most of us are far too sedentary and need to move more. Getting outside and connecting with nature helps us to remember who we really are. Get back to the community – studies show us that people who have the best connections and relationships are the happiest and live the longest. We come into the world wired to make connections with one another and the very foundation of our sense of self is built upon human interactions, presence and in-person exchanges.
What’s your idea of a dream holiday?
Travelling is one of my great loves and I love active holidays and also relaxation trips. Travelling with my eight-year-old is also fun and we love city travels and plan to go on a safari soon!
Are you an ‘overthinker’ or laid back?
I’m a mixture. From years of mindfulness practice, I have become less reactive to life but I’m also an ideas person and I can drive myself mad going over and over ideas in my head.
How has your attitude to life changed over the years?
My life has very little similarities. Back then I was a party girl enjoying the high life of the fashion industry which you soon learn is not all it cracked up to be. Our lifestyle is a choice, which is something I was completely unaware off years ago. Today I choose to live consciously and very differently. I eat healthy, exercise and meditate alongside valuing those around me and honouring my environment and nature. Today I am content and can really feel the richness life offers when we choose to wake up. I believe that we are learning till the day we die so I try to remain open and curious and willing to learn.
What does your diet look like?
My diet is pretty good. I try and avoid processed food and eat a lot of plant-based meals, with a large variety of colour. Food is information for our body, mind and soul so it’s important we don’t give it the wrong fuel or it will get sick and we will create a dis-ease within ourselves and our body. I love juicing, wheatgrass and soups, stews and herbal teas.
What are your favourite exercises?
I love yoga, Pilates and walking. Movement is really important to me and there is nothing better than getting out and connecting with nature.
What are your three top tips for finding balance in your life?
Top and tail your day with gratitude and start your day by connecting with yourself and setting an intention for your day. Be present when in the presence of others. Let go of any stresses and strains before you go to bed as the energy you go to sleep in is the energy you wake up in. Get between seven and nine hours sleep a night for optimal health.
What’s been the most important life lesson you’ve learned to date?
To trust my own instinct and live from the heart Alison runs a monthly membership programme for those interested in mindfulness where she holds online live meditations and coaching calls among other things. For more information click here.
If you’re an Andy Murray fan there’s a chance you’ll recognise his fitness trainer Matt Little.
The 41-year-old, who is affectionately known as ‘Treacle’, has worked with the former world No.1 and two-time Wimbledon champion for more than a decade.
Ahead of The Championships, which start on Monday and run until 15 July, Matt tells Relax Ya Self to Health how he landed his dream job, the antics he gets up to with Andy and why it’s hard to stay healthy on tour.
Matt, thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to speak to us. You’re a fitness expert and Andy Murray’s coach in this department. How did you get the job?
I started working with Jamie [Andy Murray’s brother] the year he won the Mixed Doubles with Jelena Jankovic in 2007 and met Andy vicariously through that. We chatted a little and then met again at Nigel Sear’s 50th birthday party [Nigel is the father of Andy’s wife Kim]. We had an hour-long conversation. A couple of months later I started working as a junior member of Andy’s team.
Why is your nickname Treacle?
When I first started working with Andy Murray and the team, I used to play upon the fact that I had a bit of a cockney accent. So I’d walk around all day calling everyone else treacle. The guys thought this was very funny and somehow it ended up as my nickname. My mates from home think it’s hilarious that I’m called Treacle, but now I also think its strange when someone calls me Matt. I guess you could call it an identity crisis. [LAUGHS]
Did you always want to become a tennis strength and conditioning coach?
By the time I’d reached the age of 16, I knew I wanted a career in tennis and knew I wasn’t going to be good enough to make any sort of a living playing it. I especially enjoyed the physical side. I used to be a member of Sutton Junior Tennis Centre and every Sunday we’d do the bleep test and boxing training with a chap called Johnny Langley. I absolutely loved it. So I set about getting the right qualifications. I started working with juniors, volunteering and getting a few low-level kinds of jobs with more national level players. Except by my mid-twenties, I’d hit a bit of a plateau and wasn’t getting any further up the ladder.
You work with ATP players – namely Andy – but have trained others too. How did you get your foot in the door?
I decided to go to Australia for a year and shadow the best tennis players and coaches out there. Before I left the UK, I wrote to all the state tennis centres and ended up working for Western Australian Tennis. I went to Melbourne, then Sydney and basically just did that for a year. As luck or fate would have it the coach who employed me in Perth had a British wife and came over to the UK to work for the LTA. When I got back from Australia he was already working at the tennis academy at Loughborough and suggested I apply for the job. I started working with the British juniors there for around five years and then moved to the National Tennis Centre at Roehampton to work with the better senior players. It’s hard to believe I’ve worked in tennis for 20 years.
What’s it like being part of Team Murray?
My role has changed a lot. When I first started ten years ago I was more of an assistant tennis strength and conditioning coach so I was helping Jez Green [former fitness trainer] implement the programme on the weeks he wasn’t there, throwing in a few ideas and bits and bobs myself but mainly worked as an assistant. When Jez moved on in 2014 my role switched quite dramatically because I went from being one of the least experienced in the team to one of the most experienced. My role’s quite broad now. I manage Andy’s off-court training as well as writing and delivering his programme and manage the support team.
Do you ever play tennis with Andy?
Occasionally, yes. It’s more for humiliation than anything. He will call me out on the court in front of the fans because he knows I love to play, give me his racket which weighs about ten kilos [laughs] and hit second serves to my backhands so I shank balls out of the court. My backhand is my worst shot. When we first started working together a lot of funny stuff happened. We’d play football tennis over the net and the loser had to do a forfeit. There are about 2,000 horrendous forfeits I can list! One involved wearing a pink velour tracksuit to an exhibition and stripping in front of the crowd. Another involved a naked ice bath.
How would you describe your personality?
I’m not particularly fiery or confrontational so I suppose I’m like the glue that sticks everyone together. Often people think that to work in elite sport you have to be quite confrontational and edgy all the time but I’m actually the opposite and it’s actually served me well. I think if I had been like that I wouldn’t have been with Andy Murray for ten years, that’s for sure.
What’s your favourite motto – especially for those considering careers in tennis?
“Slow down to get ahead.” There are no shortcutsto success. It may happen for a lucky few but when they reach the top they don’t know how to handle it or what to do because they haven’t trodden the right journey to get there. I’m currently writing a book about it.
Many people would love to be Andy Murray’s coach be it on the fitness or tennis side. What advice would you give?
A lot of the young fitness trainers I speak to say they want to work with Andy Murray or that level of player. I’m like you’ve got two years experience, how on earth are you going to survive working with a player of that calibre? You need to do ten years of working with juniors and lower level seniors, making mistakes, and dealing with travel. You need to learn the job before you work in the top job. I think the real issue today is that everyone wants the top job yesterday. You can learn to be a fitness trainer in a couple of days if you watch enough YouTube clips, that’s not the deal. The deal is learning the people skills, the soft skills to deal with lots of situations that get thrown at you. It’s not about the exercises you give someone, anyone can write a programme for somebody, that’s the relatively easy bit.
You’re often pictured laughing with Andy Murray…
We’ve got a very similar dry sense of humour. We like Will Ferrell and The Office. Now we’ve got to the stage where if something funny happens or if someone says something a bit odd we only have to look at each other to know what the other is thinking.
You’re in good shape but is it hard to eat well while working on the road?
Yes. Eating out regularly means there’s the temptation to have a starter whereas if you’re at home you’d just cook yourself one dish. The waiter always brings a bread basket before you eat when you’re starving, so that’s nails in the coffin. You’ve got to be really strict with yourself. There’s also free food in player lounges all the time – little biscuits, coffees and you just boredom eat. You could have up to four lattes in a day at a tournament when it’s raining and you’re sitting around.
So what’s the secret of staying trim?
My routine is to try and be consistent – that’s the thing most people get wrong. They train for two hours one day and then don’t go back to the gym for another two weeks. I’ve tried to recently make sure I do something pretty much every day. At one point my body wasn’t changing because I wasn’t eating the right things when I left the gym. I’ve now switched the lattes for Americanos and gone gluten-free. I noticed massive changes in my body weight almost immediately because I’d been training hard and built up that level of fitness. As soon as I ate the right things the weight and body fat dropped off me. Within three to four weeks I looked completely different.
Have you ever had any health issues?
I constantly have a bad back but I know exactly what goes wrong when it goes wrong. It happens when I put weight on and when I get stiff. Over the last year, I’ve spent a lot of time in the car commuting so if I sit in a car for four hours a day I’m stiff as a board.
Name one of your favourite places in the world.
My wife and I go to Dubai a lot as she has family there. We’re treated really well over there.
You’ll be familiar with tennis nerves especially when watching Andy. How do you relax away from the court?
When I’m in the UK, I love chilling out in front of the TV. I have to shut the door otherwise the cats come and start scratching the curtains which really stresses me out. I also like listening to podcasts. Lewis Howes, the School of Greatness is great as it’s so positive.
As part of Mental Health Awareness week, we caught up TV presenter and radio broadcaster Anna Williamson.
The 36-year-old, who lives in Hertfordshire with her husband Alex Di Pasquale and 18-month old son Enzo, developed crippling anxiety at the age of 25.
On the surface, Anna appeared to have it all – youth, good looks, and a fantastic job presenting the then number one ITV kid’s television show Toonattik – a role she loved and valued.
But behind the smiles and pressure that is part and parcel of a job in the media, she was also navigating a ‘tricky’ relationship and dealing with frequent panic attacks.
Over the past decade, Anna has addressed her issues, retrained as a Master NLP Practitioner and written two books: Breaking Mad – which is packed full of practical anxiety-busting solutions and has just been released in paperback – and the recently launched Breaking Mum and Dad: The Insider’s Guide to Parenting Anxiety. She also presents on Talk Radio with Jamie East and BBC 3Counties on every Saturday between 2-5pm.
How would you describe your personality? People often say I have a ‘sunny’ disposition, and that’s a lovely compliment. I’m a pretty positive person and full of beans most of the time.
You were 25-years-old when you developed anxiety? What were your symptoms? Feeling terrified all the time, panic attacks, feeling very needy (around my parents), being unable to fall asleep and becoming obsessive about it. For example, I’d go to bed at 8pm, try to sleep but the more I tried the more the panic attacks would come on. I’d like awake for hours and was constantly exhausted. It wasn’t a fun place to be.
When was your anxiety at its worst? The six months before I sought help from doctors. I didn’t tell anyone how I was feeling which wasn’t the best idea. At its worst, I was having several panic attacks a day and for a fleeting moment wished I could crash my car to give me a physical injury so I could have some time out from the world – I was that desperate to feel better.
Were you aware that you had anxiety at the time? I thought I was seriously mentally ill. I had no enjoyment in anything and was permanently anxious about everything. I didn’t know ‘anxiety’ existed as a thing back then. I now know it’s very common and why I wanted to share my experiences and tried and tested therapy-based techniques in my books.
When did things start to improve? Asking for help was the start of getting the treatment I needed. I had talking therapy with a consultant psychiatrist initially once a week for four weeks, then fortnightly for about six months and then monthly for another six months. It was amazing. The sessions taught me how to relax, how to address learnt behaviours and buried issues, and how to talk openly. I was also on short-term anti-anxiety medication, which allowed me to start working on myself and my triggers. I needed to learn to say ‘no’ and put myself first a lot more.
What are your top tips for managing anxiety? My quick fix tips are breathing…I call it the 7/11 where you breathe in through your nose for seven seconds and out through your mouth for 11. It really helps to calm everything down including your heart rate, and mental state. Once we get our breathing under control we can start to reduce any feelings of anxiety. Also, talking is so important as it allows pent-up feelings to come out. Don’t bottle the anxiety up – if it stays inside it can fester. Talk to someone you trust and let it all out.
How well do you cope with stress? I have moments when things do get on top of me like doing too many things, there being not enough hours in the day etc but I prioritise what needs to be done and then work my way through as best I can. I have Enzo now and he comes first. He’s great at reminding me that family really is all that matters and that can calm me down.
What’s your favourite motto and why? “If you want something badly enough, you’ll find a way to get it”…courtesy of my lovely dad who always spurs me on with work, and re-energises me when any rejections have threatened to stall me.
Tell us something we don’t know about you. I’m a pretty nifty skier!
What’s your idea of a perfect holiday? My honeymoon in Bali was my dream holiday. Sunshine, beaches and cocktails…perfection. I like to do nothing on holiday bar relax.
Are you a city, country or coastal lass? Country bumpkin through and through. I was brought up in the sticks and I just love the rural life – it’s so relaxing and fills me with happiness.
What do you do to relax in the UK? I make sure I have down time just for me every day; it’s not a luxury it’s a necessity to keep me healthy and well. The phone goes off, I have a walk or a run, and I love a nice bubble bath. If I don’t do this I get irritable and can feel the stress and anxiety building up physically and mentally. I also eat as cleanly as possible and exercise as much as I’m able to, even if it’s just a walk.
Breaking Mad: The Insider’s Guide to Conquering Anxiety By Anna Williamson published by Green Tree is available now in paperback at www.amazon.co.uk
Ryan Sidebottom, former England and T20 world-cup winning swing bowler, recently joined Surrey County Cricket Club as a bowling consultant.
The jovial 40-year-old, who lives in Leeds, enjoyed a 20-year professional career before hanging up his cricket boots last year.
‘Siddy’, as he is often affectionately called, was famed for being one of the most renowned bowlers of his generation, taking 1,053 wickets in all formats and retiring with a first-class bowling average of 23.8.
Although the popular Yorkshireman is well known for his cheeky sense of humour, he has experienced bouts of anxiety since packing up the game.
Below, Ryan Sidebottom opens up to Relax Ya Self To Health.
Ryan, you retired last summer. What have you been up to since then?
Getting my hands dirty and ripping out kitchens. I’ve got a small property business. Each year I buy a house, do it up and sell it on. I also use builders and technical people but try to do as much of the manual stuff, like gutting the insides, myself.
What do you miss about playing professional cricket?
I miss the camaraderie, constantly being around my best mates, getting fired up for a big match and the buzz of playing in front of big crowds. In cricket, you have so many emotions. There’s the elation after a win, the adulation of people wanting to sit with you and buy you drinks. After a bad game, it can feel as though the world’s ended but at least you experience it as a team and go through the ups and down together. When you retire there’s no adrenaline rush anymore.
Anxiety among athletes and professional sportspeople has been well documented. How has retirement affected your mental health?
I do have some days where I feel quite worthless and have worries over the future. The anxiousness is always there at the back of the mind but I knew it might happen. My dad Arnie, had a 17-year career as a footballer for Manchester United and Huddersfield and then as a cricketer for Yorkshire but couldn’t find a job for a couple of years after he stopped playing. He really struggled with stress and the nervousness of not knowing what the future held, as well as trying to support the family.
How well do you cope with stress?
It’s ironic, as a young boy I’d always worry about my career and if I’d successfully make it as a pro. I put myself under so much pressure and believe this triggered eczema and psoriasis on my scalp I had at the time. When you’re playing you become insular. Sport is the main focus. Back then I’d stress about having a bad game but now I know there’s more to life.
Credit: SW Pix/YCCC
What do you do when you’re feeling down?
I’ll meet a friend for a drink and try and get whatever is bothering me off my chest. I think men struggle with this because of the whole macho attitude but it’s not a weakness to open up and talk to people about how you’re feeling. I also like to escape my thoughts so I’ll get on the bike or go for a walk. I like the outdoors and the sights and sounds of the countryside lift my spirits.
How would you describe your personality?
It’s changed over the years. When I first started playing I was really introverted, very quiet and insular but the team environment really helped to bring me out of my shell. Now I like a laugh, fun, banter, and practical jokes.
What’s the funniest cricket story from your time on tour?
There are many. In 2008, I was in New Zealand and out for dinner with some of the England cricket boys – Graeme Swann, Ian Bell, Alastair Cook, and James ‘Jimmy’ Anderson. We were going through this stage of playing credit card roulette. This is where you place your card under your napkin. At the end of the meal, the waiter or waitress comes over and picks up the napkins one by one and the entire bill is paid on the card that’s uncovered last. On this particular night, Graeme ended up eating my entire fillet steak. On seeing this, the waitress brought me another but I was too busy talking to Alastair. Then Graeme shoved the second one in his mouth! Of course, I lost at credit card roulette as well. So not only did I have to pay the bill for all the boys, I was bloody starving too.
Tell us something we don’t know about you.
I like fancy dress. Some years ago I was on Question of Sport and did a Beyonce mystery guest appearance. I was wearing some really tight shorts, a vest, a wig and lipstick and was dancing to ‘put a ring on it’ [Single Ladies] I love dancing and letting my hair down.
Credit: SW Pix/YCCC
Speaking of hair, yours has been a talking point over the years. It even has its own nickname, doesn’t it?
Yes. Darren Gough named me ‘Sexual Chocolate’ after the fictional band in the 1988 film Coming to America with Eddie Murphy and it stuck with me. I’m quite a poser. I love my products. I’ve got my Frizz Ease and am still very much attached to my toiletries bag. A few years ago, when I was playing for Notts, the physio stole it. We were playing away at Kent so a teammate and I put his car on bricks. He rang me about 100 times. I told you I was a practical joker!
Oh no, did you get the wash bag back?
It was never to be seen again. I had a right sweat on.
Can you name some of the best places to relax in the world?
I’ve been fortunate throughout my career to travel the globe and see beautiful places – Sri Lanka is stunning. I like the beauty of Thailand. I usually travel around, hire a car, visit sites and take in the scenery. One day we went to an ancient Buddhist temple in a cave. There were loads of monkeys around and one stole my ice cream!
Nature has been linked to mental health benefits and improved mood. Are you a fan of green spaces?
Yes. I live a couple of miles from the shops so I’ll always try and cycle overtaking the car. I’m also lucky to live in the countryside with really nice walks and trails. It helps keep me fit. When I was playingI used to do lots of weights, running, and gym work and towards the last five years of my career I took up yoga to help with flexibility and longevity. Now I do an hour-long class locally with a lady called Louisa Thomas. I still also do light weights to keep me ticking over but I’ve barely been to the gym since I stopped playing. I don’t have that drive anymore probably because I did it for so long. Diet-wise, I try to follow the 80:20 rule although I do love fish and chips, KFC and takeaways!
You’ve just joined Surrey County Cricket Club as a mentor? Tell us more…
It’s great to be back in the game and I can’t wait to get out there working with the boys. I’ll be assisting bowling coach Geoff Arnold for the first half of the Specsavers County Championship season. I’ll be working with the squad on and directly before match days. It’s going to be interesting working with the team in the run up to a match but not actually playing myself. It’s a fantastic club. Hopefully, I can bring my experience to help support the team and staff as we target some silverware.
Andrew Barton is a breath of fresh air. The British hairdressing icon, best known for his role as resident hair expert on hit TV show Ten Years Younger, may count a string of A-list celebrities among his clientele but he’s as down to earth as the next man and exudes enough warmth to melt an igloo.
As soon as I arrive at Urban Retreat, a luxury hair and beauty destination inside Harrods, the critically acclaimed hairdresser wraps me in a generous hug before proceeding to show me around the impressive facilities in which he works as creative director. It’s a magical place. There’s a Moroccan spa, separate hair, nail, and beauty treatment sections, and a retail emporium featuring both exclusive and established brands. No wonder Barton has a smile on his face. His energy is contagious.
The 50-year-old, who also has a successful signature haircare range at Asda and operates a hair consultancy business, is clearly passionate about what he does. Nonetheless ‘Barty’, as he is known to friends, is the first to point out that things could have turned out differently if he hadn’t been adopted at the age of four months old and brought up in a loving environment.
Below The Prince’s Trust and CoramBAAF Adoption & Fostering Academy patron tells Relax Ya Self To Health why he’ll always remain true to his working-class roots, how he finds moments of calm in his hectic schedule and why Ibiza holds a special place in his heart.
We’ve said it once, we’ll say it again. You really are a breath of fresh air. You seem so happy and light. What’s your secret? It’s just who I am and part of that is to do with the fact that I feel blessed and grateful for being adopted as a baby by an incredible family that naturally weren’t mine but became mine. As soon as we [Barton’s brother was also adopted] were old enough to understand, our parents explained that we were special and had been chosen. We grew up believing that which helped me embrace it and not feel uncomfortable about it. My life may have been very different without adoption. We’re a close-knit family. My mother was an incredible woman. I lost her seven years ago and it breaks my heart every day. I miss her because she was my best friend as well as my mum.
Did you always want to be a hairdresser? I didn’t always know what I wanted to do. At school, I wasn’t that academic but I was good at design, art and creative things. At first, I wanted to be a surface pattern designer working with fabric. Then the working class lad in me that kicked in. My dad was a miner who worked in the pits and I grew up on a council estate. At 16 I decided I wanted to get a job and earn my own money so I got an apprenticeship in a hairdressing salon. Very quickly I realised that hair is art. It is design, imagery, and creativity. I’ve become that surface pattern designer only I work with a different surface.
What’s the funniest hairdressing situation you’ve found yourself in? [Laughing] A client bringing in an Afghan hound that had long shaggy hair and saying “this is exactly the length, the colour and the texture that I want my hair to be.”
How would you describe your personality? I’m very proud of being a Yorkshireman and I think we have a reputation for being quite down to earth. I recently had a meeting with a lawyer regarding my will. As I was leaving the office he asked me if there was anything else I’d like to say. I replied: “As long as it says on my gravestone ‘well he worked hard’ that is the biggest compliment to me.” My parents instilled into me the power of graft and hard work.
What’s the hardest thing you’ve overcome in your life? Being bullied at school. Some of it was around adoption and I was kind of the darkest skinned child in the village I grew up in so was bullied for that too.
What’s your favourite motto? To never accept OK as a standard – the woman who trained me up as an apprentice hairdresser taught me that. I’m quite tough on myself but that’s been a real driving force for me professionally.
Tell us something we don’t know about you? I don’t know if I want to [Laughing]
Why do you love your job? It’s the power of transformation. Not only changing how somebody looks but how they feel about themselves as well. It’s that smile when they see their hair after I’ve finished it.
Why is it important to follow your dreams? It’s about fulfilment and being happy in what I do. As I’ve got older my goal is about having the choice to do what I want, how I want, with whom I want, and when I want. I like to have the choice – whether that’s working 16 days of 16 hours shifts or enjoying some downtime.
Do you enjoy exercise? Yes. I do some form of exercise every day. It’s a routine I don’t have in my working life. I train for fitness reasons but also work in a business based on image and have to look good – I’ve still got the same waist size I had when I was 20 and quite like that. I do a combination of yoga, swimming, training for a marathon and weightlifting. Exercise sets me up for the day, it helps me to escape a little bit and kind of forget some of my responsibilities. It’s me time.
How do you stay balanced? I’m very disciplined around diary structure and I’m a big note maker – I write everything down which I find helps. Reading, socialising with friends cooking, exercise, holidays… I need to make sure that there’s always some time away from my profession and my work. Running is like meditation for me and propels me to a different place. I live in central London, not far from St Paul’s Cathedral. I often run by the River Thames early in the morning. It’s great to see the mist rising over the water, the foxes or wild geese. You’re away from the noise but in London. I still pinch myself that I live in one of the world’s most exciting vibrant incredible cities.
What’s your idea of a perfect holiday? I lived in Australia in my early twenties so part of my soul is in Perth on the West Coast where my sister and great friends are. The light’s incredible there. Ibiza’s very special to me too. I married my husband just outside San Jose eight years ago. We rented a beautiful old farmhouse, which had its own forest with views down to the ocean. We’ve been going to Ibiza for 15 years but I’ve only been to the clubs maybe twice. I love the nature, flowers and fauna of the island. We usually rent an old Finca up in the north and hardly leave. My ultimate holiday destination – and I’ve been very blessed to visit eight times – is the Maldives. It’s just pure escapism. It’s not for everybody. Your resort is the island and you can walk around it in 30 minutes. I just walk one way and then walk back the other way. I’m not a city break type person. I like being outside in nature.
You’re launching an exhibition in your native Barnsley next month called Beehives, Bobs and Blowdries. Can you tell us a bit more? Yes. It charts the historical, cultural and iconic references of hair and hairdressing over the last 50 years. I’ve collaborated with my friend Donna Bevan, who is a fashion research consultant and journalist. We grew up together on the same council estate and her mother was the local village hairdresser who did my mother and grandmother’s hair every Friday.When I finished school on a Friday afternoon, I used to see them being transformed from these working-class women into Elizabeth Taylor. It was just incredible! That’s when my interest in creative design began.
Pat Cash, the former Wimbledon champion and coach of world No.10 Coco Vandeweghe turns 53 this year but is busier than ever. “I still feel as though I’m in my forties despite a few recurring injuries over the years,” he laughs. Ahead of the Australian Open, which begins on Monday, the famous Melburnian talks us through his hectic schedule, how it feels to be a grandpa again for the third time and what he does to nourish his mind, body and soul.
What are you doing work-wise at the moment? I’m super busy just now. My main focus is on coaching Coco, who’s a fantastic athlete with unbelievable potential. She finished number 10 in the world in 2017 – her highest ranking yet. We have set goals for 2018 and as a team, we continue to refine her game. I’m very excited to be working with her as she has what it takes to get right to the top. I also continue to commentate at various high profile events including Mubadala in Abu Dhabi, and Grand Slams like Wimbledon and the Australian Open.
Do you still play? I play a few exhibition and Legends events around the world with guys like John McEnroe, Mats Wilander and Henri Leconte. They’re great fun. I’m definitely more of a doubles player now than singles – what a difference 30 years makes! It was quite amusing at the recent Hopman Cup event in Perth when the organisers asked me to step in when Jack Sock, Coco’s mixed doubles partner, was injured. I managed to win a few games against Team Japan. It was fun.
How would you describe your personality? I don’t take life too seriously. It’s important to find the fun and enjoy it. I’m very privileged in that I get to travel the world with a group of talented people and stay involved in a sport I love.
What’s your favourite motto? Don’t sweat the small stuff. The ego says ‘once everything falls into place I will have peace’ but the spirit says ‘find your peace and everything will fall in to place’. I tend to think forgiveness is the answer to many – if not all – problems in life. Both forgiveness of others and, importantly, forgiveness of yourself.
Tell us something we don’t know about you. I’m a Reiki Master.
You’re in amazing shape for a grandpa – what’s your secret? Yes, I’m now a grandad for the third time. It’s amazing to welcome another mini Cash into the family and she’s a little stunner, although I could be slightly biased! I work hard to stay in shape and ensure I eat properly. It’s a dangerous delusion to think you can eat whatever you want and remain fit and healthy. I’ve been following a ketogenic diet for over 18 months now and feel great. It’s a high fat, moderate protein and low carbohydrate diet. It suits me perfectly as I love butter, cream, bacon, eggs and other fatty meats. When you consume these types of food your body produces ketones which is an alternative energy source to glucose and fuels the body more efficiently.
Is this diet difficult to maintain when you’re on the road? Yes. I’m travelling 30 weeks a year. Pruvit makes a range of drinks full of ketones so I drink these to ensure my body remains in a ketogenic state even when I’ve had a few carbs. The product’s not yet available in the UK but I’ve been trialling it for a while and will shortly be posting the results over on my website.
How do you stay balanced? I make time to exercise. This is either a casual hit or a session in the gym where I do a lot of flexibility work on the old beaten up body. I regularly do yoga, feldenkriase and gyrotonic training (a combination of yoga, dance, tai chi and swimming).
What’s your favourite way to calm the mind? I’m a big believer in the benefits of daily meditation. It’s the first thing I do every morning for 30 minutes. It’s an amazing habit to get into and really sets me up for the day ahead. Spiritual practice has been my greatest help and I’ve attended some great workshops. 11-11 The Divine Mindset is a truly amazing course. Every day I read Dr Helen Schucman’s ‘A Course in Miracles’. There’s one lesson per page so it’s easy to read and reflect upon. Both of these have helped me enormously in terms of ‘tuning in’ and becoming more peaceful within. I don’t really like to use the word mindful but you get the idea. I use these practices a lot in my daily life and even in my tennis coaching.
You won Wimbledon in 1987.What was the most stressful thing about being on tour? It takes its toll on your body and the mind gets tired. An individual sport like tennis is especially tough. In my day there was no team or group of managers to get you on the bus, sort your boarding pass out, book taxis at the other end or support you when you screwed up in life or on the field. Saying that I was pretty cutting edge back then. In fact, I had a part-time trainer Dr Ann Quinn with me. She was the first of her kind on tour. People were wondering who the hell this person was let alone a woman hanging around the men’s locker room door especially back in the mid-eighties. But she was the best in the world and I credit her with my success. Understandably the training facilities on tour now are outstanding so it’s a doddle at keeping fit in comparison to back then.
What are your favourite ways to relax and why? Hitting the beach and swimming in the water. I’d do it regularly if I could. This allows time for me to think – and sometimes not to think – whatever the case may be. I think we underestimate how valuable that is.
What’s the worst illness/health problem you’ve ever had to deal with? I’ve been very lucky as far as illnesses are concerned although I did have some skin cancer cut out when I was in my late thirties that was thankfully found early. In recent years I caught two bad chest infections both from long-haul plane flights. One was pneumonia which was nasty but I recovered after a while. And I’ve had numerous surgeries on various body parts – no surprise for a pro athlete – only Germany’s Tommy Haas has had more. Our bodies are always communicating with us, we just need to train the brain to listen and recognise the signs. It’s important to know when to put the pedal to the metal and when to back off, then actually do it. Now I don’t need to push too hard – I’m better at listening.
What’s your idea of a perfect holiday? It would be somewhere I can relax, get some exercise and not feel as though I have to constantly throw myself into a social scenario. I tend to seek out sunny climates and nature so most likely a beach…I guess that’s what living in London does to you!
*Disclaimer: Always seek medical advice from your doctor before starting any type of diet, introducing supplements or trying new forms of exercise. The content on this site is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.
Katie Piper is blooming in every way. The 33-year-old, who is expecting her second child this Christmas and recently launched a maternity collection, has just announced her debut ‘What’s in My Head’ 2018 theatre tour.
Next February marks ten years since the former model had acid thrown over her. In that time Katie, who is married to Richard Sutton and has a three-year-old daughter Belle, has overcome personal battles with anxiety, endured endless plastic surgery, and become a TV presenter, speaker, charity campaigner and author of three best-selling books.
Inspirational Katie believes that in an era of glossy magazines, Instagram filters and app dating, remaining in touch with reality has never been harder. Now she plans to open her own diaries, photo albums, and personal memories in an intimate and revealing talk about her life. The theatre tour, which opens in Andover on 13 March 2018, will reveal how she handled the crippling clutches of anxiety and explain that no matter how big or small challenges might seem, there is always a confident way forward.
“Help people with their anxiety and depression battles”
“I am constantly inundated with letters and people asking me, ‘how can I get through this?’ she says. “So I thought, if I can take a show in to the theatres and go out on the road, it would be great to help people. I’ll be sharing parts of my journey, but it’s not just about me re-telling my story word for word. Hopefully it will be uplifting and help people how have their own battles with anxiety and depression and whatever they are going through.”
Katie very kindly made time in her busy schedule to talk to Relax Ya Self To Health about babies, holidays, exciting new projects and, of course, how she loves to unwind.
YOU’LL SOON BE A MUM OF TWO. HOW EXCITED ARE YOU ALL?
We’re all REALLY excited. It’s so lovely as Belle is at an age where she understands what’s going on and tells everyone ‘I’m going to be a big sister’ all the time. It’s very sweet, although she’s likely to be a bit jealous. I know she’s going to love being an older sister too, as she’s always got her toy baby and pram with her and has been telling everyone that she is pregnant too throughout my pregnancy!
HOW HAS PREGNANCY AFFECTED YOUR HEALTH THIS TIME ROUND?
I had quite a lot of morning sickness at the beginning and am getting tired more easily now I’m in my third trimester, but I’m definitely more laid back now it’s the second time around as I know what to expect. It is harder looking after an active child now as well though.
WHAT HEALTH LESSONS DID YOU LEARN WHEN YOU WERE PREGNANT WITH BELLE?
With my last pregnancy, I worked right up until Belle was born and I plan to do the same this time around, but I will always listen to my body and the health of both myself and the baby absolutely takes priority. This time around I feel like I know what to expect a bit more, so I feel more prepared which is nice.
HOW WELL DO YOU COPE WITH STRESS?
Exercise is my ultimate stress buster. I love working out and going for a run – that always makes me feel better.
HOW DO YOU MAKE TIME TO RELAX WITH A TODDLER AND HECTIC WORK SCHEDULE?
I’m really organised and am always on it with the diary and calendar! I do find it quite hard to relax as I’m always so busy but I would usually do some exercise or I love to go on long walks and bike rides with my husband and daughter. For me it’s all about balance, so I always make sure I’ve got plenty of time with my family. I am really lucky to have an amazing husband and family around me, but if I didn’t, I would make sure I made time for myself to recharge, even if it was just ten minutes in the evening relaxing in a bubble bath!
WHY IS IT IMPORTANT TO LISTEN TO YOUR BODY AND INVEST IN YOURSELF AS A PERSON?
Self-care is so important. For me, if my body is telling me I need to slow down, I will. So have the confidence to invest in yourself and take care of both your physical and mental wellbeing.
HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR PERSONALITY?
Positive, ambitious and caring.
WHAT’S YOUR FAVOURITE MOTTO?
Confidence is the secret
ARE YOU TAKING THINGS EASY ON THE WORK FRONT DUE TO THE IMMINENT ARRIVAL?
I haven’t slowed down just yet. The baby is due at Christmas time so that’s going to be a busy time. Work-wise, I’ve just announced my debut theatre tour and I’m extremely excited about that. It will be wonderful to get a chance to connect with my fans on a more intimate level! I have also recently launched my maternity collection with Want That Trend.Com which has been amazing, as during my previous pregnancy I really struggled to find affordable maternity wear that I genuinely liked. So this time around I wanted to provide a maternity collection that gave all pregnant women the chance to feel good about themselves no matter what the occasion – be that a party, picking up the kids from school, or even on Christmas Day.
ULTIMATE HOLIDAY DESTINATION?
I’ve just got back from Dubai. That was amazing and it is certainly up there but my favourite place and one I’ve been lucky enough to visit is Mauritius. It was total paradise – lovely weather and people. I’d love to go again!
ACTION PACKED CITY BREAK, FAMILY TRIP WITH OTHER PARENTS AND KIDS OR A CHILLED BEACH VIBE?
That’s a difficult one because I like the sound of all of the above. I recently went to Barcelona with a friend and our daughters and had so much fun. I love cosmopolitan cities. But at the same time, I love the beach and tropical islands and it’s always lovely to get away for some much needed relaxation – not that you have much time to relax with a three-year-old to run after!
ULTIMATE PAMPERING WEEKEND?
It would have to be a spa break with some girlfriends, staying overnight so we can all relax in big, fluffy dressing gowns and have a good old catch up after a pamper session.
If you liked our interview with Katie, be sure to check out celebrity interviews with rugby legend Jonny Wilkinson, and TV personality Gail Porter here.
Gail Porter was working as a successful TV presenter filming Dead Famous in Las Vegas when her hair fell out overnight. The year was 2005 and the then 34-year-old had taken a shower when she became aware of water rising around her ankles.
“I looked down and realised it wasn’t the water, but all of my hair,” she tells Relax Ya Self To Health. “It was pretty much instantaneous.” The former lads’ mag favourite was diagnosed with a form of alopecia – a condition thought to be sparked by an immune disorder that causes the body to view hair follicles as the enemy, mistakenly attack them which causes hair loss.
Understandably, the experience “crushed” Gail’s self-esteem and when her eyebrows and lashes disappeared too she was left feeling “rubbed out”. As part of Alopecia Awareness Month, the Scot, who is mum to Honey, 14, talks us through how she has dealt with the diagnosis, the stoic attitude of her family and how her semi-permanent tattooed eyebrows have helped restore her confidence.
WHAT TYPE OF ALOPECIA DO YOU HAVE?
I have alopecia totalis. Even my lashes and brows are affected, which I don’t think people realise. You feel as though you’ve been rubbed out when those features disappear. I have no hair anywhere on my body apart from a couple of baby lashes that come and go sporadically.
HOW DID YOU COPE WITH YOUR HAIR FALLING OUT?
It was overwhelming at first. Telling my daughter I’d be coming home from America with no hair was hard. I thought she wouldn’t recognise me, she was only three at the time. I try to be strong, but obviously, it’s still hard. My self-esteem was crushed…you know, as a woman without hair. It is so difficult.
WERE YOU TOLD WHAT CAUSED YOUR HAIR LOSS?
Well, it’s an autoimmune disease…I don’t know what caused me to lose my hair, I really don’t. Perhaps stress, but I’ve never really thought it was. I always say everyone in London would be bald if it was just down to stress. Some cases of alopecia are hereditary, which again, wasn’t true in my case. That’s quite frustrating in itself, the not knowing. I think it’s simply bad luck, and I pulled the short straw.
DID YOUR BIPOLAR DIAGNOSIS COME AFTER THE ALOPECIA?
I was diagnosed with bipolar years before my hair loss. It didn’t come as too much of a surprise as I was always suffering from manic highs and lows. I was sectioned in 2011 after a manic episode. I was feeling very low and my boyfriend at the time was worried I would do something silly. Instead of talking to me, he called the police and they turned up when I was out having lunch. I didn’t react kindly and was rather abusive. They took me to the hospital and put me in a room, where I stayed for hours. By the time the doctor turned up, I was very unhelpful and angry. They asked for my boyfriend to sign a form to section me, which he did. I had no say in the matter. I didn’t see a doctor for days and once they eventually arrived, they let me out as they didn’t believe I should have been sectioned. While I was sectioned, I was just pumped full of drugs and had no one to talk to. No help at all.
HOW SUPPORTIVE WERE YOUR FRIENDS AND FAMILY ABOUT YOUR ALOPECIA DIAGNOSIS?
My family were very typically Scottish! Very stoic. My mum was pretty upset but tried not to show it. I think she felt like I had been through such a lot and she felt that losing my hair was another blow. She used to put her hand over my forehead and say “now there’s my Gail”. My brother pointed out that my dad had more hair than me. I know mum was upset as I did a documentary about my condition and when she was interviewed without me there, she cried. My dad didn’t say much. They just needed time to get used to it.
WHY DO YOU REFRAIN FROM WEARING WIGS OR HEADSCARVES?
Look, you’ve got to do whatever makes you feel comfortable in your own skin. I never really liked wigs…they were uncomfortable to wear, it just didn’t feel right. The thing that made such a huge difference for me was getting my brows back through microblading! You don’t realise how much of a difference brows make to a person’s face.
WHAT IS EYEBROW MICROBLADING?
The procedure took about an hour. A tool which has up to 11 hair-fine ink-dipped microblades was brushed over my brow area and these penetrated the lower layers of the skin to create semi-permanent marks resembling eyebrows. I first had them done a year ago and recently had them topped up. I was always dubious about someone going near my face…but Karen Betts (a leading permanent cosmetic and microblading expert) is incredible. I trusted her. My eyebrows look so natural, I love them so much. I burst into tears of joy when I first saw them.
HOW ARE YOU DOING NOW?
You know what I’m doing okay – my life has changed massively. Of course, it has. My career changed overnight. But I always say, people are in worse situations than me. People everywhere have it hard, or they’re going through something terrible. You just have to be kind to everyone.
WHERE ARE YOU AT YOUR HAPPIEST?
In Scotland. Home always makes me happy.
HOW DO YOU RELAX?
Nowadays I’m very into my fitness – I love running, I always try to drink loads of water. I’m writing my book right now so that’s been an incredibly cathartic experience for me. I don’t go on holiday much but I remember going to the Maldives and feeling so incredibly relaxed. I slept well, loved the peace and quiet and could have stayed there forever. But to be honest, I’m happy on any holiday. The west coast of Scotland is always a total joy.
ALOPECIA AWARENESS MONTH: HELP SPREAD THE WORD
According to Alopecia UK, 1.3million people in the UK today will have had, currently have or will experience alopecia areata – a condition which causes patchy hair loss and affects both genders equally. (Alopeica totalis is a more advanced form which results in total loss of hair on the scalp). The charity is seeking to tackle the stigma and embarrassment attached to hair loss and is urging people to use the #GetTalking hashtag in the hope, it will encourage those that would benefit from some peer support to reach out and start the conversation.
“We want to help give those who are affected the confidence to know that hair loss isn’t something they should feel embarrassed or uncomfortable about,” says Amy Johnson, Alopecia UK’s communications and fundraising manager. “We hope that the more alopecia is discussed, and the more awareness raised, the easier it will be for those diagnosed.
“If the idea of talking to family and friends about your hair loss makes you feel anxious, consider talking to others with alopecia first. Peer support can make such a difference and can really help to boost self-esteem and confidence, perhaps allowing you to talk more widely about your alopecia at a later stage.”