Davinia Taylor - Behind the smile

A personal battle with bipolar disorder

By Charlotte Fantelli - Pictures (c) Getty Images and Fantelli Imprint.

Davinia Taylor

Davinia Taylor is a name synonymous with glamour, parties and scandal. Her socialite lifestyle and A-list friends won her a reputation as an ultimate It-girl. A life of riches and excess that so many aspire to, however the pristine exterior hides a bitter struggle with depression, bipolar and alcoholism. Uncovered gets unprecedented access to ‘The Real’ Davinia Taylor.

The mask

The first time I met Davinia I was struck by her glamorous personal style, her immaculate appearance and vivacious manner. To the eye, she was everything one would expect from the blonde bombshell and heiress to a multimillion pound fortune. It was only when she began to open up that I could see past the world-hardened exterior she so effortlessly wears.

It is hard for the outside world to see Davinia’s life as troubled: the daughter of two hard-working and extremely wealthy parents, living life as part of the famed Primrose Hill set, alongside celebrities such as Jude Law, Kate Moss and Sadie Frost (to name but a few). But behind the glitz and glamour it was hard for Davinia to find her own identity.

Childhood 

“I was born into money, to hard-working and successful parents, and of course it isn’t my fault that I appeared spoilt. I didn’t have the courage or the guts to give it away to charity.”

As a child she describes herself as ‘attention-seeking!’ admitting to  ‘manic episodes’ even as a young child – but this was seen as quite normal for a girl growing up in such unusual circumstances, surrounded by wealth with access to the stars. The symptoms of her future illness were already manifesting themselves: “On reflection, I see the characteristics of my disorder, even as a kid”.

Trying to live up to who other people expected her to be, and become, was a huge pressure, and often led Davinia to change who she was to fit in. She admits, “I looked up to and admired other people, I had a constant need for approval.” She adds, “I’ve lived with people’s resentment and jealousy, I therefore often changed my background so people would like me because I was ashamed of looking spoilt”.

It is the phrase ‘so people would like me’ that resonates throughout our conversations. 

“I was always playing a part to please other people. I had a deep self-hatred, but I had so much privilege and wealth that I felt I had no right to feel that way!”

Davinia Taylor: Actress and model

Davinia’s own career took off in 1996 when she played the role of Jude Cunningham in Hollyoaks. Davinia made the perfect actress as she admits she had already been ‘playing a role’ for many years.

She continued to act and her on-screen credentials include the comedy drama Bostock's Cup, British film Is Harry on the Boat?, comedy film Soul Patrol, cult TV series Urban Gothic, and movies Field Day and Bitten, as well as presenting roles on The Big Breakfast, MTV and Top of the Pops.

She graced the front cover of Maxim magazine in June 2000 and February 2003, and has twice been listed in FHM’s 100 Sexiest Women in the World feature.

A sorrow inside

However none of these plaudits, nor her little black book of A-list friends and acquaintances, gave Davinia the contentment she craved. 

“I thought: if celebrities like me, I must be ok, everyone wants to be their friend and they chose me. I was always looking for other people to fulfil my self-esteem.” She adds: “The problem with that is you always need more. A better club, the VIP lounge, the premiere, the front of the queue – it was never just enough”.

Insecurity deepened for Davinia as she continued to seek her validation through others. She tells us “Of course I never knew it at the time, I was just a girl who wanted to be somebody else. I didn’t know I had a disorder.”

But then Davinia admits her life was never ‘normal’ – what may be classed by some as outrageous behaviour was just part of everyday life to her.

“My everyday life was never everyday. It is hard to remember when I first realised I had a problem, it didn’t just happen overnight.”

Married life

She married football agent Dave Gardner (best friend of David Beckham) in July 2003 in a lavish star-studded ceremony, with David Beckham as best man and Atomic Kitten’s Jenny Frost as bridesmaid. But far from basking in the glow of the celebrities surrounding her, Davinia says it only fed her insecurity.

It was soon after the wedding that Davinia’s drinking started to escalate. 

“We were partying every night, travelling the world – it sounds so glamorous, but it was exhausting. I joked to Dave that we needed a holiday to get over our holidays! It crept up on me really, even when we were socialising every night, always drinking, I thought I was ok, the more the merrier: it was all part of the rock and roll lifestyle.”

The rock and roll lifestyle

Many people aspire to a celebrity lifestyle of globetrotting, partying with the rich and famous and extravagant spending sprees, but deep down Davinia wasn’t happy. She refers to these holidays as “constant people-pleasing trips” during which she felt under constant pressure to look her best, stay in the most expensive hotels, be seen and photographed with the right people – never allowing herself to just ‘be herself’.

None of the celebrity lifestyle made up for the deep self-hatred and ‘unworthiness’ she felt inside.

“I am sure the lifestyle would have been wonderful if you could handle it – I just couldn’t handle it. My body has an allergy to alcohol, it makes me really ill. On top of this I have always had an addictive personality, so I couldn’t just stop.”

Pre and post natal depression and alcoholism

It was this addictive streak that finally drove Davinia over the edge. Having experienced both prenatal and postnatal depression, and after splitting up with her husband in February 2009, her alcoholism took hold.

“I felt like everything I touched turned to poison.”

When asked about her marriage, Davinia simply and humbly admits: “I wasn’t ready. I don’t think I will ever be ready, it’s not me”.

By August last year Davinia had hit rock bottom. Her drinking was out of control.

Becoming sober

“Becoming sober was terrifying, I had drunk so much that every time I sobered up it was like being on an acid trip, my body went into shock. So I drank more. It was like dying a slow death!” 

It was do or die at this point. “I had given up, I had never been so low, but my Mum dragged me to rehab. It is true, my Mum really saved my life!”

Admitting “I never thought it would work”, Davinia was surprised by the help and support she received and even more surprised by her own courage and strength to see her recovery through.

“They taught me about alcoholism, the scientific side. I felt like I understood how alcoholism wasn’t just an indulgence, but a disorder. I began to realise why it made me feel better, how it masked my depression.”

“Now that I understood I had a disorder, I could  take control and do something about it”.

Davinia spent three days in complete physical shock as her body went through detox. She completed a further six months in the South African clinic.

Bipolar disorder

It was at this time that Davinia was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. “The day I was diagnosed as bipolar I thought: ‘Thank God!’ Finally a diagnosis, I had a reason to be feeling the way I was feeling!” 

Ready to start a completely new alcohol-free life, Davinia had to cut herself off from a whole network of friends. And for the first time she started to explore who she really was.

“I was always doing this, doing that, just to be liked. Now I am like: Do I want to live in London? What do I want to do?”

I asked Davinia what had helped her since rehab; how has she managed to stay on track?

“I have a great doctor, to whom I want to say thanks for intervening in my self-destruction and self-hatred. I have a great support network, and I am on medication that really helps me – in fact I realised just how much when I accidentally changed brands and really felt the psychological effects of the change.”

When asked if there is anything else she does to help her stay mentally focused, Davinia reveals: “I wouldn’t listen to all that spiritual stuff, not at first, but now I practise meditation: 20 minutes in the morning, 20 minutes at night. I find this really helps. I pray too, just so I have all the bases covered!”

The future

So, over one year sober, having found balance and peace of mind through medication and great support; what does the future hold for Davinia Taylor?

“I have just opened Taylor Made, a hair salon in Wigmore Street, and am starting a new business venture between the UK and the US.”

Davinia is making the most of her newfound stability. “I am finding I have so much more energy now and it is great that I can make the most of it.”

Determined to put the past firmly behind her, Davinia is not only  focused on her ventures, she is also studying for a business degree.

“Now I’m sober and really working hard and for the first time in my life, I have some self-respect to earn back every penny of the money I wasted and gave away to people who targeted my vulnerability and a divorce that’s ruined me financially. I’m determined to pay my parents back for my own pride.”

She is also a great advocate for mental health issues. Speaking candidly in a Five News report on Uncovered magazine, Davinia says: “My situation was like screaming underwater. Nobody else understands and you can’t articulate what you’re feeling. It’s like a nightmare. We’ve never had a glossy magazine covering mental health. Maybe had I read that – rather than how to lose 10 pounds in 10 days – I might have saved myself 10 years of misery”.

She also took no fee for this interview, as she says “I just want to let other people see that mental health does not discriminate.”

We want to thank Davinia for her honest account of her illness and wish her every success, both personally and with her businesses in the future.

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