After a few weeks of working and arriving home to an empty flat at a time of day when I couldn’t call England because it was sleeping, I started to wish that I had never left London. Had I sacrificed my happiness to follow a dream that didn’t seem to exist? Had I walked away from the life I had always wanted in London to a life of solitude and feelings of social inadequacy? Where were the pool parties? Where were the swanky bars? Where were the studio executives who were supposed to be taking me out for fabulous dinners? I was scared, lonely and embarrassed to admit that I wasn’t enjoying LA. It was as if that plane I had flown in on had just come crashing down to earth and plonked me in a soulless and vacuous world, where no one spoke to me, and no one wanted to speak to me. My delusions about what life would be like on arrival were killed flat, I missed my life and wanted to go home.
At work Selma and the others would reassure me that everyone finds LA a hard place to move to. They all comforted me with their stories of how they didn’t make friends straight away, but it didn’t really help. They told me that no one likes LA for the first six months, so you just have to stick with it. Fine, I thought, but I am only here for six months. Do I have to be this unhappy for the entire duration? Needless to say, boredom doesn’t sit well with me and it is not what I gave up London for. The sense of disappointment was making me very uncomfortable. I missed everything about my life. Especially Lilu.
I guess the reasons I missed her so much were because she didn’t use email or tend to answer the phone very often. I used to call my friends that were looking after her and ask them to put the phone to her ear, but she never seemed to react. I imagine that down the phone line I just sound like an android, so as enthusiastic as I was about it the attempts were pointless. She also never set herself up a Facebook page so I couldn’t see her recent pictures and leave funny comments. As much as I could hound my close friends and family with continuous messages of grief, I had no means to reach Lilu other than annoying the people who she was staying with. So I did that. Then they began not to answer the phone very often either.
I felt stranded on the other side of the world with nothing familiar to make me feel that I could even begin to start breaking it socially in LA. I know people set up in new places all the time, and that there are always teething problems, but I think the trouble with LA is that no one arrives there without an intention. And I had loads. Everyone has so many preconceptions, ambitions, plans, and expectations, so when they arrive and see how hard it will be to achieve any of the things they had hoped for, it is ultimately quite devastating. My situation was different, I thought. Professionally I had it all sorted, my time there should be a breeze? I was wrong, I was screwed. I might have had a great job, but what is anything without great friends?
Don’t get me wrong I did try. I got to the third appointment with a woman called Julie who wanted to charge me $6000 a year to get me some dates, and find some friends. I thought the idea of an elite Beverly Hills match making service sounded very exciting, but in the end I couldn’t go through with it. Not so much because I didn’t like the idea of it, but because she wouldn’t give me a six-month deal instead of a year, and at that moment I was pretty sure I was leaving in July.
Towards the end of the first month my sister called in a distressed state. She was skint, hated her job, had just been rejected for another one that she was determined and convinced she would get, she was just coming out of a bad relationship and was generally feeling like crap. After a really upsetting phone call there was no other option but for us to be together. I literally booked her the next flight out and she was with me within 24 hours.
Picking Jane up in my Mustang from LAX was surreal. It was the first time I had ever driven on a freeway, and I am sure you can imagine the emotion and drama associated with that! It was pouring with rain so violently that I couldn’t actually see where I as going. I nearly caused a million crashes and I was crying as hard as it was raining. I drove through it with my heart pounding in my chest, desperate to get to my sister. When she walked through arrivals, skinny, pale, covered in tears we fell into each other’s arms, needing each other more than ever before.
Out of all the people in the world who I thought I would begin my life in LA with, my sister was not one of them, but there we were, defunct of enthusiasm and realising the depth of our disillusions. Jane and I are both ‘go getters’ by nature. I think it might be a consequence of having our mother die when we were very young. We live life with the intention of making it count, and I don’t think either of us plan to miss a beat. We have spent our lives striving forward and having experiences that other people might shy away from. But this time we wondered if our natural inclination to reach out for the unreachable had done us more harm than good.
I think Jane and I saved each other during the three weeks that she was there. We have been through a lot in our lives. Losing a parent – aged seven for me, aged nine for Jane – has all sorts of devastating effects on two young girls, and our relationship had moments of blissful support but also moments of such emotional strain that our friendship suffered severely. We loved each other dearly, but at one point our relationship was so pressured that we pretty much didn’t talk for about five years. There were lots of reasons, but one is that I never really appreciated her.
One summer holiday, back in Guernsey, when I was about 18. I found a pile of letters that she had written me over the years, that I had discarded completely. Each of them said how much she loved me, how proud she was of me, and how as she traveled around the word, the only thing she ever wanted to come home for was me. They broke my heart. I realised that I had someone in my life who was more devoted to me than anyone ever might be again. I became conscious that I felt the same way about her. We have been best friends ever since.
So, there we were in LA together and I was determined that we would have the fun we had missed out on all those years ago. But this time I had money, and my intentions were to spend loads of it.
We shopped on Rodeo Drive, trawled vintage shops for amazing one off pieces, ate steak in the fanciest of restaurants, explored the Hills, walked on the beach, and shamelessly hunted down celebrities during Oscar week; although it was a bit of a disaster. As well as not seeing anyone famous, I nearly stacked into the back of a police car whilst driving super slow along side a limo trying to see who was in it.
Despite the bad show, I was still hopeful as I took my sister for dinner at The Chateaux Marmout, the crème de la crème of celebrity sightings. We ate inside, then asked to go outside for a ‘cigarette’ (I don’t smoke).
We sat outside in the courtyard for half an hour saying nothing but “Is that? No! Oh, is that?…no!” ‘Holy SHIT I think that’s, Clooney?’ ‘Oh..no…it isn’t….’
Unimpressed by the turn out, we decided to leave. Upon walking out of the Chateaux one lone paparazzi guy was all the confirmation we needed that the action was elsewhere that night but rather than just accept it, my inner idiot exploded and before I knew it, I was making an exceptional fool of myself.
Imagine this. With the sole intention of being funny, I turn to the lone paparazzi guy and say: “Haha, it is such a relief not being papped tonight.” This should have been the end of the joke, but no, I continue.
“In England I am huge – HUGE. If you had seen me there you would have taken my picture.”
I become aware of my sisters look of horror, and I also begin to feel embarrassed, realising at this point that I have made a mistake. But I was in too deep, and I needed to keep up the act.
“Well, who are you then?” he rightfully asks. “I am Dawn. I am so famous in England that people know me just as ‘Dawn’ and it’s nice not to have the likes of you after me over here.”
Again he asks ‘Who ARE you?’ to which I again reply ‘DAWN’. He asks again, I tell him, he asks again and again – each time I edge further down Sunset Boulevard trying desperately to disappear.
I arrive at the car and hang my head in shame. My sister can hardly look at me. What the hell was I doing? Considering I have never been ‘papped’ in my life, I had no idea what fantasy I was living.
And you know the worse part? He didn’t even take a picture, just in case. You know? Just in case the mental English woman actually was a real celebrity. Lord I should not be let loose in this town!
When Jane felt stronger it was time for her to leave, she needed to get back to Bristol and try to better her situation. Happy as we were together, her staying any longer was just avoiding the issues that she had needed a break from. I guess we were in denial while she stayed with me, but the truth of it was that we had to get back to reality pretty soon. She needed to get a new job, and I needed to get a new life. When she left we were in much better spirits than when she had arrived, but it was very sad. I didn’t want her to go and I know that she wanted to stay more than anything. We vowed that if we ever needed each other again like like that then nothing would ever stand in our way of being together. She walked backwards until she was out of sight at LAX, and I cried for around 4 hours straight.
It was around this time that my BBC series, Dawn Gets… aired in the UK. It was a hit, the ratings were great, but I felt so disconnected from it that the idea of people discovering me on the TV felt totally bizarre. I would sit alone in my apartment at night reading online forums where some people were praising me, and others where calling me ‘vile’ and ‘hideous’. I am quite resilient by nature and have always been prepared for insult, but nothing prepared me for feeling so alone when I experienced that for the first time. I wanted my sister back, my cat to cuddle, and my best friend to make me realise that no matter what other people said life was good, but it didn’t feel good for me at that point. I was unnaturally obsessing about what people were saying about me. I never thought I would respond that way. I looked deep into everything that was said, took it all personally, and questioned my decision to be in the public eye at all. Ridiculous! I see that now. I just had nothing else to think about and got freaked out. The feeling that I had followed a dream that had left me alone and being attacked by strangers was terrifying.
I eventually pulled myself together, cancelled my ‘Dawn Porter’ Google Alert, and made a pact with myself that I would never put myself through trawling the Internet for personal attacks ever again. I chose this career because I thought it would be fun, it making me sad was not to be an option. I thought to myself, ‘no way LA, no way are you doing this to me. You might have lowered my alcohol consumption, but you will never lower my self-esteem!’