Gay Times May 08 - Issue 356
Straight Talk - Trisha Goddard
TV chat Queen Trisha Goddard unburdens herself about her late gay husband and the real genesis of her top-rated, real-life talk show.
You could forgive Trisha Goddard for being cynical about family life. Not only does she see the worst of it, day in and day out, on her morning talk show, but she’s had more than her fair share of knocks in her own past. Brought up in Surrey as one of four children, she was beaten by a violent, abusive father. When she moved to Australia in the 80s and began her career in TV, she married a closet homosexual who, after a speedy divorce, died of Aids. Her second husband (and father of her two daughters) was straight but prodigiously unfaithful. By the early 90s, she’d been hospitalised after various suicide attempts and drug overdoses. Yes, this woman has clearly paid her dues.
“The family I have now, with [third husband] Peter and my daughters, is the family I always wished for,” says Goddard. “This is my real family – not the one I grew up in. That was a very unhappy situation for me, full of noise and conflict. My father had a terrible temper, and really laid into me; it was beating, not smacking. You never knew what was coming next, and it was not a safe environment. There were four children, and we were very competitive. There’s a huge expectation that you’re going to get on with your brothers and sisters, but that’s not always the case. I know it’s almost blasphemous to say so, but the fact that you came out of the same hole doesn’t mean anything. You don’t have to get on with your siblings. If you do, it’s great, but if not, that’s okay too. I have one sister whom I don’t like. If I can say to myself ‘I don’t like the cow’, then I can at least be civil to her in public.”
Goddard left home in her teens to become an air stewardess, and spent some years flying around the world before coming to land in Australia, where she was swept off her feet by suave conservative politician Robert Nestland, 12 years her senior. “The wooing was great, but the moment we were married, things changed. We had a nice reception in the evening, and as we were saying goodnight to people he said ‘By the way, darling, did I tell you – I’m off to Canberra in the morning.’ We had separate rooms. The marriage was consummated, but that’s about it.” Goddard’s suspicions were aroused, not least because of certain rumours circulating about Nestland’s sexuality. “He told me ‘people will tell you I’m gay, but it’s not true.’ In fact, he was very homophobic. We had huge rows about it. I had a little lilac Volkswagen, with paisley upholstery designed by some gay friends of mine, and Robert wouldn’t even let me give him a lift in it, because [he said] ‘people will say I’m a poof’. He was quite flirtatious with my gay friends, but he said he was just a very tactile person. In the end, I discovered that he’d actually contacted a friend and offered him money to sleep with me – as a way of getting me off his back, I suppose.”
The marriage lasted all of three months. After their divorce, Nestland became ill, and told his former wife he had leukaemia. “It was only after his death that someone very discreetly advised me to get an HIV test; that’s how I found out he’d died of Aids. He never told me. He must have gone to his death thinking that he could have made me HIV-positive. But he never told me anything. He never even told me he was gay; it was an assumption that everyone made, and there were a lot of rumours. I really regret that. I think I could have lived with it if he’d been honest with me. I’d have been cross for half a day, then we’d have been fine. But it didn’t go with who he was. He wanted a charade of respectability, and I ticked all the right boxes.”
After a second, equally disastrous marriage left her suicidal and drug-dependent, Goddard found some kind of redemption on Sydney’s early 90s gay scene. “I was a single mother, I was taking drugs. My life was a mess. But I started going out with gay friends, and I developed quite a regular underground clubbing life. There were a lot of transgendered people on the scene at that time, and we’d end up sitting on the floor of Sydney nightclubs, taking ecstasy and having long rap sessions about who we were and how we’d got there. There were gay men, straight men, people who had shaved off all their hair and eyebrows and had no kind of sexual identity at all – and me. We had some very interesting debates, and I remember thinking ‘Hmmmm, this could go a lot further’. So that’s the real story about how my TV show started – taking drugs in Sydney’s gay clubs.”
Goddard became involved with Sydney’s Lesbian and Gay Mardi Gras, and to this day retains strong links with the gay community. “My two best friends on the whole planet are Madison and Kevin, who took me under their wing in Sydney. They’re godparents to my daughters. But gay culture has always been a big part of my life. When I was 17, working at a costumiers in London, my bosses were both gay; one was the most evil queen in the world, the other was my fairy godmother. Obviously when I was a trolley dolly, the gay element was huge. We live in Norfolk now, so gay culture isn’t quite so much a part of my life as it might be – but my daughter took rainbow beads to a show-and-tell at school, which caused a few raised eyebrows. Mind you, I had a gay escort on the show recently, and most of his business is around the Norwich area. He said 99.9% of his customers are married men. So there’s obviously more going on than might appear.”
We can’t let the Queen of Daytime Confessional go without asking for a spot of free advice. So, what would she say to young gay people still living with their families? Keep it quiet, or flounce down to breakfast dressed like Jodie Harsh? “I get a lot of letters from kids in this situation, and my advice is always ‘Don’t label yourself’. Do yourself a favour, and just be yourself. If you are having any kind of problems with your family, then announcing that you’re gay is just going to send them off the Richter scale. Some people throw themselves into a gay identity when they’re very young, they pick up all the mannerisms, and it drives a wedge between them and their families. You’re setting yourself up for a lot of bitter experiences. I’m not saying ‘stay in the closet’, I’m just saying don’t cause yourself problems that you don’t need. Life is hard enough without making it harder.”
More from Gay Times May 08 - Issue 356
Words: Rupert Smith