As the Virgin Atlantic flight VS003 took off and I waved goodbye to the Heathrow runway I knew that whatever lay ahead of me, life had changed forever. I had made it, achieved the ultimate in my ambition. I was flying to Los Angeles to become a star. Or not? I wondered how many other girls had sat in that very seat before me thinking exactly the same thing. Kate Winslet, Keira Knightley , erm… Martine McCutcheon erm… Kelly Brook. Oh. Right.
As Tania, our flight assistant, went through the rigmarole of the safety demonstration that no one ever watches, I imagined myself in the luxury apartment that I was being given, sipping Champagne and hosting pool parties that would soon be notorious for their hostesses’ charm, wit and general brilliance. I visualised myself hanging out in bars with George Clooney and Brad Pitt sitting at the table next to me, and I planned my opening gambits. My dilemma was who to talk to first? George or Brad? Brad or George? Such a quandary. And what if they BOTH wanted to date me? Yikes! Maybe we could live a very modern ménage a trios in a beautiful villa just below the ‘D’ (for Dawn) on the Hollywood sign. That would be fantastic! Just in case this ever panned out I named all of the children that I planned to bear for them. There was – for a girl – Florence, Edith, Herm and Nellie. And for a boy I quite liked, Art, Jack, William, Walter and Charlie. I designed my wedding dress, wrote my Oscar acceptance speech (‘I’d like to thank the Academy and the one person who has stood by me through everything, Lilu), and decided that a beach house would be much more fun than a mansion in Beverly Hills; I wanted our kids to be good swimmers. Me, Brad, George and our lovely children Walter Porter-Clooney, Nellie Porter-Pitt hanging out on the beach catching some rays. Perfect!
I had a head full of dreams and a heart full of hopes. Nothing was going to get in the way of me making the next six months the best of my life so far.
When the plane landed I had a thrilling sense of freedom and anticipation. I remember feeling exactly the same way the first time I went to London on my own from Guernsey. It was the first time I had gone anywhere on my own without my sister, parents, or schoolteachers looking over me – I was off to do a drama summer school with the National Youth Theatre. I was 17 and more passionate about acting than ever before. After auditioning for a place on the course and getting it, I felt like I really had a chance of achieving my dreams. Not many opportunities come your way when you live on an island seven by four miles wide. Well, that is apart from drinking cheap cider and snogging boys in fields, but for me that was never enough, despite the amount I did it. However, as much as I knew what I wanted ever getting it seemed very unlikely. Arriving at Gatwick I remember thinking that just being there was enough, and that finally I had the chance to make things happen. London was the land of opportunity and it was so exciting. This was, I hoped, to be the beginning of my red carpet ride.
Arriving at LAX felt the same way for all the same reasons but in some ways this was scarier, there was more pressure on me this time. I wasn’t just a girl with wide eyes and brimming with enthusiasm, I now had been given my chance and had to prove that I could do it.
A ten-hour plane journey is the most indulgent day dreaming time I could ever wish for. I rarely watch films on planes, I just put something on the screen then zone out and lose myself in the wonders of my imagination. I usually have a notebook on my lap and write crazy thoughts down that I seldom go back and read at a later date. I sometimes manage to sleep, but not much. So regardless of the comfort and smoothness of a flight I always have massive hair, a stinking attitude and look like I have taken a truck load of cocaine by the time I land. Mix this with the nerves and anticipation that I was experiencing when I arrived at LAX and the ground staff had quite a sight to deal with – I got some very questioning looks. Bearing all this in mind, when TPG’s leggy blonde assistant Beverly came leaping over – with more energy than a kid from Fame – I was quite taken aback.
Beverly was the sweetest most over enthusiastic all American sweetheart you could ever imagine. When I landed I knew she was an assistant, by the time I got to the car I knew about her career plans, her husband, her friends, her food fads, her political views and she had also pitched three TV show ideas to me. On first impressions, life was very different in LA.
Even though it was only February the California sun was blazing hot and the heat hit my face like a wet cloth when we left the terminal building. As Beverly drove me to my new apartment in her car – currently with no air-conditioning – I wondered if this was at all symbolic of what life in Los Angeles would be like; people continuously pitching ideas for TV shows while I went cross eyed and made funny shaped sweat patches appear through my clothes…
When we got to my apartment building – The Palazzo East on Hauser and 3rd – I had no idea where in the world I was, or if indeed I was in this world at all. I hadn’t taken a thing in on the drive from the airport apart from a possible six part series idea. My geographical knowledge of LA was next to nothing, so I was very pleased to learn from Beverly that I now had a West Hollywood post…sorry, ZIP code. According to her, living in West Hollywood was a very good thing. Hooray for me!
The apartment was one of hundreds in a huge Spanish style complex. There was a pool, a gym and an almighty security gate to drive through to get to the underground car park. This is where my rented Ford Mustang was waiting for me. When Beverly told me it was mine I burst out laughing and fell to the floor. Me? In a sporty red Mustang? Driving in Los Angeles? Whoever would have thought! In Guernsey I drive my parents’ work car. This happens to be a red Postman Pat van with our address and phone number on the side. Before that my first car was a white Fiat 126 that I got for 25 pounds, and which spurted out green anti-freeze from its engine every 1.6 miles. Needless to say my experience with cars hadn’t been too glamorous, or positive by this point. Yet suddenly there I was being challenged to drive some wheels that were faster than four of the personally labeled Postman Pat vans put together.
It was beautiful though, and very exciting. I knew my Dad would go crazy for it so tried to be enthusiastic for his sake. But as much as I couldn’t stop staring at it I never imagined actually driving it out from the car park, as the other road users on the way from the airport seemed like nothing short of maniacs. The only dual carriage way on Guernsey (the only place I had ever driven to this point) goes on for about 50 yards. It is also public knowledge to all that know me back home that I avoid it at all costs because it scares the hell out of me. At that point all LA was to me was one massive dual carriageway. To put it lightly, I was shitting myself!
The Palazzo was like Fort Knox; a security fob was needed to get through the many doors that came our way on the way up to my apartment. It was pretty though, and the fact that I had been told that this was where lots of studio execs, celebrities, producers etc stay when they are working in LA, made the idea of hanging around the pool and flirting my brains out very exciting!
When Beverly showed me to my apartment she ran to the fridge to show me that they had stocked it up with all sorts of delicious things to eat. There were a few bottles of wine on the side and some beautiful fresh lilies on the dining table. I was very touched at TPG and his wife Lisa’s efforts. It made me feel very valued and also mildly like a rock star.
After helping me lug my massive pink suitcases along many a long corridor, Beverly soon left and I was alone. When I closed the door behind her I stood still wondering what the hell to do next. It was about 30 seconds before I sprung up to my tiptoes, screamed, ‘YES’ and ran around my one bed-roomed, open plan apartment like a hyperactive lunatic on day release. After a long, hot shower and a bowl of cereal I did a couple of star jumps on the bed, text Lilu to tell her I had arrived safe and then collapsed in a heap and hardly moved for about 14 hours.
The next morning I leapt up, walked to a nearby coffee shop, dived into the pool, skipped back up to my flat, tripped over my suitcases and fell on the floor – it was then that I heard the silence for the first time. I had no one to call, no cat to cuddle and absolutely no idea what TV channel to watch. I knew there was a great big city out there with a lot to offer me, but I had no idea how to infiltrate it. It was eerie, but I knew I was being impatient. ‘It wont be long until you will be desperate for silence’ I told myself…
It was a Thursday when I arrived and I wasn’t due into the office until Monday morning. On the Friday afternoon I finally built up the confidence to drive the Mustang to Whole Foods to get some milk, because I had already gathered that no one in LA walks anywhere. As I turned the key my heart was thumping so hard that I had to keep my mouth a little bit open or my teeth chattered. I drove my speed machine out from underground like a ninety-year-old granny with severe cataracts and a hump back. I was so close to the steering wheel that my chest was resting on it, and I was holding on so tight that my knuckles were pure white. Pulling out of the drive way felt like edging into an unknown and scary land, but with three cars angrily waiting behind me I had to eventually move forward. Suddenly I was bunny hopping along Hauser dreading the moment that I had to turn left. When I approached the lights they were red. I waited until they were green then swung my steering wheel hard to the left and pelted it onto 3rd Street screeching out a stonking wheel spin as I went. Thinking I had done rather well you can imagine my confusion when I received a barrage of honks from the other cars at the crossroads. When I looked into my rear view mirror there appeared to be a few vehicles stopped at funny angles in the middle of the road. Then it dawned on me; to turn left in America means that you cross on coming traffic. OOHHHHHH!!! I had not even considered that my hell raising right angled turn was actually cutting off the poor blighter coming the other way. I resumed my grannies disposition and drove the next 400 yards to Whole Foods at approximately four miles per hour. I managed to arrive there safe and sound but then had the whole ordeal of parking to deal with. Compared to my previous modes of transport on Guernsey, this thing had a girth on it that had me convinced I was driving in four lanes at once. Having to swerve it into a space freaked me out more than the thought of childbirth. The mathematics of it all were not computing in my brain, as I looked out of the windscreen the bonnet was like a ping-pong table, and the spaces were intimidating little dens that showed absolutely no signs of wanting to accommodate me or my car. I was so paranoid about bumping into something that after umpteen attempts at parking I eventually gave up and drove back to my apartment. Slowly. And minus my milk! Hollywood 1 – Dawn 0!
When Monday came I couldn’t wait to get started in the office. After a dramatic drive I arrived at 1135 North Mansfield Avenue and parked my car (nervously) in one of the spaces marked, The Incubator. After going up four stories in a lift I was there. Finally I was about to experience the reason I had left my entire world behind me and flown half way around the world – The Incubator. I felt like it was my first day at school and I had no idea what to expect, or who I would meet and how well I would do. I was excited, and then nervous, and then excited again but if I am honest, mostly nervous. As I poked my head around the door and peered in it all rather surprisingly looked a bit normal. It was large square room, with a green colour scheme and around fifteen desks arranged around grey partitioning. It wasn’t the colour crazy, funky TV production company that you might see in London – it was more subdued than that. On the back wall was written, The Incubator, all in lower case and in deep green ink. To the left of me I got the sense that there was a kitchen as the smell of coffee and the sound of clanking spoons on china was filling the office. It might have been a quiet atmosphere but it was warm, and as soon as I walked in I felt welcome. I was just about to introduce myself to a lady who was sitting reasonably near the door, when Beverly and TPG came out of the kitchen and threw their arms around me. It was lovely, so exciting. They were over the moon that I had found it and couldn’t wait to show me round.
First I was introduced to lots of my new colleagues. There was Selma, the Production Manager who seemed to be the one in charge. She was pretty, slightly round and in her early forties and I instantly wanted to cuddle due to her loveliness. Then there was Olive, a very sweet and softly spoken lady in her mid thirties who looked after the legal department. There was Temple, cute accountant with a high-pitched voice and a nose that scrunched up when she laughed. There was Clinton, a balding Production Coordinator in his early twenties who had a sweet smile and a very capable handshake. And then – maybe most pleasing of all – there was Frank. This early thirties hunk of a development producer was so good looking that I think I might have dribbled when we were introduced. Suddenly Beverly’s inclination towards working in development made a lot more sense.
After meeting some of the team I got a tour of the office. I was right to presume where the kitchen was, but I was surprised to see the ‘craft services’ on offer. There were crisps, sweets, chocolate bars, fruit, cereal bars and any other sugar based hip inflator you could think of. I looked at it all knowing that it was just a matter of time before I had my hands on it all. I worked in a TV production company in London once who laid on the same snacks. We all thought we were so spoilt, but apparently in LA this buffet table of sweets and nibbles is totally standard. I was pretty sure that if there was one stereotype I wouldn’t be living up to in LA, that it would be losing weight.
Also tucked away to the left of the office was a ping pong table. TPG seemed most excited about this ‘downtime’ game. ‘Do you play?’ he asked keenly as he gestured towards the table. ‘Not really’ I replied, ‘but I could probably drive it!’
He laughed awkwardly.
When I took my place at my new desk I wanted to get straight on Skype to show Louise where I was to be sitting for the next few months. My desk was right under a window that ran the length of the office, and staring straight back at me from the Hollywood Hills was the Hollywood sign itself. It was magnificent, and I felt like it was all mine.
I loved going into the office every day. TPG and I instantly began a working relationship that was so exciting I knew for sure that I hadn’t made a professional mistake, but at 6pm when we all went home the realities of my social situation kept bringing me down. No one in the office seemed to go out much after work, and I was really self-conscious about imposing myself on anyone. I didn’t want to sound desperate so I just sort of did what everyone else did and went off to my life at the end of the day. The problem was, that unlike everyone else I didn’t have a life, so it just ended up being me, a plate of food and whatever E Entertainment was showing that night as I couldn’t work out what else to watch. Rock and Roll!
One of the positive sides to leaving London was that there was more potential for some fun new men in my life. My love life was OK before I left, but it had been the same for years. I was having drunken ‘moments’ with friends that we had to keep secret (not sure why, there was nothing scandalous about any of it), I went on the odd date with various people, I held eye contact with the same few in Soho House, and enjoyed the odd saucy email with someone I probably shouldn’t, but nothing had any major substance or potential. I had also made a decision that one night stands where not an option anymore as they didn’t seem to be as fun as they used to be in my early 20’s, and considering my rising profile and the fact that London seemed to be getting smaller (meaning I always bumped into the same person twice) I didn’t want anyone to have anything on me that I couldn’t put down to ‘Youth’. I think the fact of the matter is, I had grown up a bit and wasn’t really that interested in playing the field anymore.
However, I certainly didn’t feel ready for life to get serious. I lived in constant panic of meeting someone and falling in love. Not because I am afraid of commitment, but because I love being in love and if it ever happens to me again I kind of hope I never look back. If you don’t protect yourself it could happen without you being ready, and then you might never be sure if you did the right thing.
Getting out of London and living on the other side of the world seemed like the best tactic for avoiding meeting ‘The One’. Needless to say, although I hoped I would meet some fabulous new guys on my adventure, falling in love was never part of my agenda when I went to Los Angeles. The reasons for that were simple, I knew one day I would want to go home and the last thing I wanted was to arrive back to London with a broken heart.
So, there I was in a big new town with a whole load of possible dating opportunities, a cool flat, and a super Gucci handbag. My days of Internet dating were well and truly over. I tried it, did OK out of it and enjoyed it, but absolutely exhausted myself with it and have never done it since. I was happy to say I had done it, but I didn’t feel the need to meet so many people after a while. I believe in the ‘thunderbolt’ theory, and after having a blast with internet dating for about six months, after that I just wanted to put it all back down to chance and fate, so when I arrived in LA it was literally a case of who I bumped into and when.
After a tumultuous year of silly mistakes and total wastes of my time I happened upon the love of my life – it was one hell of a shock to find him I can tell you.
However you shall have to wait to hear all about that…
More Dawn Goes LA LA coming soon….