My first year in LA

DAWN O'PORTER : 09 JUNE 2010
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Dawn Goes LA LA!

What moving to California was like for me…..

Without trying to kill the dream this story dispels the myths and sheds light on the realities of Hollywood. DAWN GOES LA LA is the tale of my first year living in Los Angeles, with all the culture shock, weirdness and emotion that entailed. It begins at my 29th Birthday party, which was also my leaving do. There I was in London town with all the friends I ever wanted, money, a great job, lovely flat, beautiful cat, and I was just about to move to Los Angeles where I expected life to get even better. The reality of this was that it didn’t!

It was February 2008, and suddenly I was totally without friends – the one thing in life that I can’t live without. I had a ‘luxury’ flat that I was given in West Hollywood that I couldn’t stand to be in because it was so lonely, my cat was nowhere to be seen, and every shred of enthusiasm escaped me as I sat in a sunny pool of misery for the first few months, wondering how I could admit defeat and go home. It was a year that taught me how to win friends and influence people, lose friends and alienate people, spot friends and not let go of people, but most importantly how to dump people! Imagine me like an aardvark snorting around with my big, un-surgically manipulated nose in a world full of swollen lips and abnormally high cheekbones, scoffing up the things that I found delicious and blowing away anything that smelt like danger. It was tough and I often felt like trying to happy in Hollywood was a relentless and pointless mission. Yet as I reemerged from one of the most challenging years of my life, it looked like all the effort was worth it.
I spent the first half of the year filming a series that looked into alternatives to monogamy, and balanced this with suitable irony by conducting my own secret, unexpected and often unwelcome mission looking for ‘The One’. I hadn’t gone to LA with the intention of finding love, but with my social life considerably depleted I experienced loneliness for the first time, and finding someone to love seemed like the best way to cure it – I guess I thought it might fill the hole that had formed in my life since I left London. Needless to say, I dated some proper tits!

I was dropped into an unfamiliar city full of unfamiliar people with no idea of how to find a life. Los Angeles is a world of short marriages, unhappy girlfriends, crazy men, great sex, bad advice, bitchy women and fake perceptions but if you dig deep enough, and persevere for long enough, it is possible to find some angels. I still had moments though when I felt like I had been catapulted into the crappy pants of Norman No-Mates. I sat alone wishing that my ambition had never got the better of me and that I could just swing into Soho, order up a portion of fish and chips and sink some pints of Stella with my friends. The sunshine was never a substitute for familiarity.

It was embarrassing too. Everyone back home was emailing me about how lucky I was and what an amazing time I was having, but I didn’t have the heart to tell them that the only friend I had made was the nice lady who worked in my local Coffee Bean. I felt like such a fool. I knew I was in a really exciting place, but had no idea how to penetrate it.

As the months went by various people popped up and started to become big players in the small world that I had created. There was Monica – my Pilates teacher who soon became the person whom I could rely on the most. She was loving, honest and most importantly she was constant. Monica offered me a cushion to fall onto whenever things got tough. It was an unlikely friendship of two women who lived their lives very differently, but it was Monica who became the backbone to my life in LA, she was my rock.

There was also Brea, a 27 year old English girl who was 5 months pregnant when we met. She was fun and loving but exceptionally complicated. When we met there was an instant sense that we wouldn’t be able to survive in LA without each other. Our friendship was intense and meant the world to both of us, but it had it’s own set of issues due to how dependent we were on each other.

There was also Mulholland, a 26 year old beauty who became my oracle on love due to her enviable understanding of the male mind.

I was due to be leaving LA after six months, but as that day got closer something rather strange began to happen. It wasn’t that I was missing London any less, or that I wanted to stay in Hollywood anymore, but I felt that going home would be like giving up and I didn’t want my Hollywood story to be a sad one. I felt disappointed, and if I am honest a little ashamed. It was a confusing logic, but I didn’t want to return home with nothing more than tales of being miserable. As a Guernsey girl I was aware of the achievement of living in Hollywood, and I didn’t want to mess it up. ‘It’s Hollywood for Christ sake’ I would say to myself ‘stop being so self indulged and get out there and make the most of it!’ This revelation came just before I spent a few weeks in the UK. I was scared I would go home to London and love it so much that I would never go back to LA, so in a weird attempt to force myself back to America I moved out of the ‘show home’ that I had been put in when I arrived and found myself a cute two-bedroom apartment in West Hollywood. I signed a contract that committed me to it for a year and then sat in it wondering what the hell I had done.

Despite the fear of signing a rental agreement my apartment soon became my obsession. I spent pretty much all of my money on furnishing it throughout with 1960’s Vintage furniture, and my fixation with creating a home of my own that I loved soon turned me into the hostess that I had always wanted to be. I set to it with all the intentions of creating the ultimate girls apartment, and I succeeded in every way. My flat became the place that all my girlfriends would come every Tuesday night to put shame upon their boyfriends and husbands and just generally celebrate the sistership. It became a sanctuary for the stressed out girlfriend, and also set me up as the hostess who could lay on a fabulous spread and cheer anyone up. ‘Girls Night’ changed my life in LA. I met some of the best friends I have ever had through it and realised that Hollywood was pretty brilliant after all, but for very different reasons than I expected.

Whilst I searched the alternatives to monogamy in my professional life, I began to wonder if it was worth the effort in my personal one. Having been single for many years, never before had I encountered such a constant run of big strong men who would turn out to be the weakest people I had ever met. Hollywood is full of people who are trying to be something that they are not, and my experience of the men there is that they are exactly that. They are often beautiful and impressive, but just scratch the surface and it is easy to see that their lives are very often not as spectacular as they seem. After 12 long months I learnt how to spot the men from the boys, but it was hard when everyone was in character and playing a part. Los Angeles is a town full of brilliant people, but also full of people who are trying to be brilliant. The very nature of ‘The Industry’ arms everyone with the tools they need to pull off a good performance, but the best skill of all is to be able to spot an act when you see one.  Men know how to woo you, but they have no idea how to behave once they have snagged you. They draw you in then let you down due to emotional dysfunction or a lack of sincerity. I hate to generalize, but I can only go by the experiences that I had. Having been single for so long I feel I can talk knowingly about dating and as I have always had such good experiences with mostly really great people, the disasters that came my way in Hollywood could not be pure coincidence. The men there were different, and I feel confident in saying that is a fact!

Despite warnings from various tragic LA women that I would never find a man in LA I didn’t do to badly. I dated a few guys over the course of the first year, some OK, some far from OK, but the story ended beautifully when a year after I arrived on my 30th birthday, I met my current boyfriend and am in a gorgeous relationship that I never expected would be possible when I moved there. Just for the record, he is Irish.

By the following Christmas I had a group of girlfriends that made me so happy that I never wanted to leave them. Although most of them were British, they had been in LA for a while and showed me what a fantastic place it could really be. I suddenly felt lucky and proud of living in California, and socially I had nothing to complain about at all. Eileen, Fiona, Gayle, and Claudia, were the ultimate support system for any girl like me who had moved to Hollywood and was determined to make it work. We laughed together, cried together and stood by each other. I hadn’t been part of a click of girls like that since I was at school, and to be honest the idea of it made me nervous as I know how bitchy groups of girls can be, but not these ones. From the moment we all met I knew that LA would never be a lonely place again. Brea, Monica, Melrose and Mulholland were still around too and I had great fun putting all of the new people in my life together at Girls Night, and watching everyone get along so well. Finally there it was, a life that made me so happy I never wanted to leave it, but my life in LA was now under threat but something far more serious…

Whilst my quality of life was improving in the US, things back in the UK were falling apart. Channel 4 pondered and pondered over what Series Two would consist of, and although the promise was always there that it would happen, the time it took put me in severe financial straights. I had unfortunately spent every penny I had on doing up my apartment, never expecting to be out of work for eight months. My entire story turned on its head at this point as I had moved out to LA with no friends but with a great job, yet by the end of the year I had all the friends I wanted but no money in the world and no work lined up. I was upset and scared for a whole new load of reasons. Things got very tough and for a while and I couldn’t see any way out but abandoning everything and heading back to London, even though I had finally reached a point where life in LA was as good as I wanted it to be and I didn’t want to leave. The story could have been sad, but the friends I made gathered around me and despite the hardship my year ended on a very high note. So even though professionally I might have made the wrong choice to stay, my social life was dreamlike and I am happy to say that in the grand scheme of things I see that as much more valuable.

I have always dreamed of my 30th birthday party being one of the best nights of my life, and I spent most of 2008 building up to it. I was so determined to fill a room in LA with people that I genuinely liked that my party almost became an obsession. As it loomed I was pretty sure people would show, but I had a bigger problem – I couldn’t afford a venue and I certainly couldn’t afford the vodka. After nearly cancelling the entire thing, my dad and sister who were staying with me on holiday kept my spirits up and my motivation strong. This wasn’t an easy job, on the afternoon of my birthday I received a tax bill for 14K and a call from a debt collector for an unpaid bill. I was so upset but seeing as it was a Friday, and I was turning 30, I pulled myself together and went to my party determined to enjoy it. It ended up being perfect. Everyone rallied round and made so much effort that I had nothing to be sad about. My friend Monica donated her Pilates studio as a venue and the people I worked with, Simon and his wife Lisa hired me a beautiful black and white dance floor for the night. I mean it when I say it couldn’t have been a better finale to my year. I also met the man of my dreams. BONUS!

A few weeks later I packed my bags and left for London to make a show for Sky about Breast Cancer. I rented my flat out and had no idea when I would be back, or even if I ever would be. Yet what I did know was that I had made the most of Hollywood, and that my story of that year wasn’t only one of misery, but instead it was the story of an amazing journey that taught me more about the value of friendship than I ever new before.

My LA story has many ups and downs. I wish I had got there more prepared, but hey, you live and learn. Right now I am once again preparing to return back to London, how long for I just don’t know, but in the words of the big man, I’ll be back!

(More installments of Dawn Goes LA LA coming soon….)