Drugs, depression, relationship disasters – talk show queen Trisha Goddard has confronted them all. Now she’s taking on another challenge: conquering the US
21:30 GMT, 10 August 2012
The Americans would have to invent talk-show host Trisha Goddard if she didn’t already exist.
A physically abusive childhood, drug addiction, nervous breakdowns, suicide attempts, a first husband who was gay, a second husband who cheated on her while she was pregnant, breast cancer and a father she didn’t know wasn’t her father until recently.
Americans love a celebrity who bounces back from adversity. Trisha, seemingly, has more bounce than Tigger.
Americans love a celebrity who bounces back from adversity. Trisha, seemingly, has more bounce than Tigger
American TV network NBC certainly thinks so as next month it launches her US talk show. There is a gap in the market over there, since Oprah Winfrey ended her long-running chat show in May last year, so it’s an incredible opportunity for the 54-year-old – and one which seemed scarcely possible when her UK show was axed by Channel Five in 2009.
‘I can’t quite believe it myself,’ Trisha grins. ‘My life’s either about wading through rubbish or sitting in the sunshine!’
Today the sun is shining as she bounces – naturally – into the kitchen of her Norwich home. Her new show, Trisha, will be based in Stamford, Connecticut and she will be staying in a hotel initially. ‘I don’t want to pack up everything and leave until we see what the ratings are like.
'I’ll come back to see the kids [Billie, 22, and Madi, 18] a lot. When I worked on Maury in the States [a talk show on which Trisha made guest appearances from 2010], I travelled back and forth, but this will be tougher. We’ll deal with it though and if the show doesn’t work out, then I’ll have had a great year doing it.’
Her American programme will be in the same vein as her UK show – delving into relationship dilemmas for her guests, sorting out conflicts between families and yes, she’ll be using DNA testing and lie detectors like fellow Brit Jeremy Kyle, whose more downmarket show has already proved a success Stateside.
Trisha with Peter and the girls in 2000 in their home near Norwich
But Trisha says her style is very different to Kyle’s. ‘I think people are sick of the “I’ve-slept-with-20-men-and-don’t-know-who-the-father-is” type of stories.
Yes, we want to use DNA testing and lie detectors but with more grown-up stories – things like people confronting their parents as adults because they’ve lied about their past.’
It’s a subject close to Trisha’s heart. Growing up the eldest of four children in Virginia Water, Surrey, Trisha always felt different but was not sure why.
Her father, ‘a white, Norfolk boy’, would beat her, with the young Trisha realising the only way to minimise the pain ‘was to fall to the floor, be passive and wait until it was over’.
It wasn’t until she wrote her autobiography three years ago, after her mother had died of lung cancer, that she discovered – using a DNA test – the man who’d raised her was not her father.
‘A friend told me my real father was a man Mum met at the West Indian Club around the spring of 1957. In those days it wasn’t good to be a single mother: you needed to do what you needed to do to survive. I don’t have a problem with that, but I have a problem with the fact they kept it from me. I’d love to find my real father, even if it blows up in my face.’
After leaving home, Trisha spent five years as a stewardess with Gulf Air. Though her lifestyle seemed glamorous, her father’s abuse led her into a series of destructive relationships – ‘If you’re brought up with a dad who hits you, you tend to equate that kind of behaviour with love.’
The first man she lived with regularly beat her up, while her first husband, Australian politician Robert Nestdale, abused her mentally for years.
Drugs, depression and divorces: Trisha has been through it all
Though Nestdale’s connections kick-started Trisha’s TV career – she became Australia’s first black anchorwoman – he was hiding a devastating secret.
Three years after they split up, he died of Aids and she discovered he had been secretly gay. Trisha was terrified that she and Billie, the baby daughter she had just had with her new partner, Mark Greive, might have been infected.
‘We waited three weeks to get the all-clear on our HIV test results – it was horrific,’ she says. Her marriage to TV producer Greive, however, fared little better.
Though they had two children – Billie and Madi – Trisha was addicted to marijuana when they married in 1993 and by the time she came off it, she realised her husband was rarely there. They divorced when she discovered he’d been having an affair.
Has he called to wish her luck in America Trisha snorts. ‘He said I’d end up in the gutter when we split and so this,’ she says, pointing to the gorgeous house around her, ‘is one of the three gutters I own. Madi has a dialogue with him but Billie chooses not to. Peter’s been their father – he’s mopped brows, changed nappies, been involved since Billie was five and Madi was two.’
Peter is Trisha’s third husband, 49-year-old Peter Gianfrancesco, head of the mental health service provider Mind in Norfolk, to whom she has been married for 14 years. He is, she says, ‘amazing’, and that if you lined up all of the men from her previous relationships ‘you’d get a visual representation of the ascent of man!’
He was particularly supportive four years ago when Trisha was diagnosed with breast cancer and had to undergo a lumpectomy and chemotherapy while still presenting her daytime show.
‘He was just brilliant during that time and always cheered me up. We’d watch a horror film where these creeping plants attack people and he’d get a creeper from the garden and wrap it around my feet just to make me laugh.’
Although she’s still on medication, Trisha is now cancer-free, though she did go through the menopause, ‘within about three to five days because of the medication.
'It felt like I’d been picked up and thrown against the wall.’ Trisha admits that going through breast cancer, ‘brought up a lot of things and if anything was going to bring me close to depression again, breast cancer would.’ She’s been searingly honest about her struggles with depression.
She’s attempted suicide twice in the past, during each of her first two marriages. The second time she was admitted to a psychiatric hospital.
‘Talking about breast cancer is fine
because people always use words such as “brave” and “courageous”, but
when it comes to talking about mental health issues or the idea you
might be losing your mind, it’s terrifying for some people and there’s a
sense of shame'
‘Talking about breast cancer is fine because people always use words such as “brave” and “courageous”, but when it comes to talking about mental health issues or the idea you might be losing your mind, it’s terrifying for some people and there’s a sense of shame.
But I’ve learned how to manage my depression.’ Does she worry that the stress of launching her own show in the States may affect her mental health again She shakes her head.
‘I know the signs now – if there’s constant pressure, my stomach’s churning, there’s a bad atmosphere, I’m constantly angry and there’s no respite because I’m bringing that worry home with me, then I’ll just ask myself, “Is it worth it”. I will not risk my mental health for anything.’
There’s an awful lot to admire about Trisha, although she is so frank about all the obstacles she has had to overcome to get to where she is now, it’s at times exhausting just listening to her. Not one to hide her light under a bushel (Americans will love that about her too), she will, without prompting, launch into a list of all the organisations she works with, the awards she’s won and the things she’s achieved, as though trying to remind herself of how far she’s come from being the young girl who took those beatings from her father. Now she’s the one in control, taking action – and she’s not likely to stop.
‘After going through depression and breast cancer, I just wanted to feel alive, to “drink life to the lees” as Tennyson said, and that’s just what I’m doing now,’ she says. ‘I’ve dealt with lots of things in my life and come out the other side, so whenever I’m in a bad place, I always know I can get out of it. Always.’
Trisha premieres in the US this September. Visit her Facebook page at www.facebook.com/TrishaGoddardTV