Charlotte Dawson: Darkness behind life in the spotlight

JO CASAMENTO
Last updated 08:15 23/02/2014
FAIRFAX NZ

Charlotte Dawson faced many demons, including bullying and depression.

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Charlotte Dawson, in an image posted on her Instagram account the day before her body was found.

Dawson's social media battle

Charlotte Dawson found dead

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Charlotte Dawson: Generous, loving - and tormented Charlotte Dawson 1966-2014

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In the end the depression Charlotte Dawson had so publicly battled and prolifically tweeted about finally overcame her.

Only last week Charlotte told me she feared for how she would cope with watching her ex-husband Scott Miller on 60 Minutes. She knew she was fragile. And while she had spent years learning to cope with her overwhelming depression, she knew the triggers well. And Scott was the biggest trigger of all.

"It was the most painful time in my life. I'm not looking forward to it, it may not be good for me".

She was planning to watch it with her good friend Billy Allen, with whom she was designing a homeware range. She was also, with trademark kindness, caring for Billy last week as he underwent an eye operation.

The interview with Miller detailed their tumultuous marriage which was plagued by allegations of affairs, sex tapes and drug taking. Friends have said she was very upset by the story, even physically shaking at the thought of it the night before it aired.

"To me it was well over 10 years ago, but truthfully this marriage broke me to the core," she said, the pain evident in her voice. "It destroyed me to the point I had to go overseas for five years and rebuild my life from scratch. It left me in a ball for many years. I've had to block it out as it is just way too painful for me to think about. My entire being was broken and that was the beginning of the end for me.

"The marriage started my depression and I was fired from all my jobs. It was the downslide."

When I asked if she had been in contact with Scott since his addiction to ice emerged, she was emphatic that she hadn't, the pain clearly so raw.

"I have had nothing to do with him. It's impossible to separate myself from him and get over the immense heart break I felt. I have too many of my own demons to fight."

But, that day, last week she seemed resolute and confident, with no hint she was in a bad place. I was heartened. She seemed in control of the uncontrollable.

"I will always have to manage my depression in the best way I possibly can, it's not easy to beat, and it is a daily battle for me but I surround myself with good people and I try and be as healthy as I can and take good care."

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Dawson expressed love for her ex as well, declaring she would never marry again: "He's the man I married, a lot of me still loves him... He'll be the only man I ever marry."

She only had good things to say about Scott's recovery, genuinely hoping he would get better for his son and wishing him the best and granting forgiveness. It was, she said, the only way for her to move forward.

After assuring me she would watch the interview with a friend, I got off the phone and remarked that she seemed more upbeat then she has in a long time - and in a really good head space.

There have been times I have not felt so confident.

During one conversation several months ago, she revealed she still had a drip in her arm at the emergency ward at hospital. She had suffered panic attacks for over a decade and checked herself in feeling a "whopping one" about to come.

"I'm still in hospital but I'm about to leave," she said cheerfully. "I could barely breathe yesterday - over the last 12 years I have suffered attacks, it's all part of depression. But I haven't had a full blown one for years. This was a whopping one."

It seemed incomprehensible Dawson would be swanning around the Melbourne Cup hours later ready for the social photographers.

But that was just it. With Charlotte the smile masked a thousand things.

Everyone in the industry was acutely aware of the fragility of Dawson's mental health and the demons she battled on an ongoing basis.

She bravely spoke about those battles with depression on social media, on television, on radio. She even wrote a book detailing her inner most demons and thoughts.

I had known Charlotte for almost two decades. We had appeared on Beauty and the Beast together, our first meeting memorable: she flashed me her boobs in the change room to show me her plastic surgery scars. It was Charlotte in a nutshell. Honest and up front. She lived her life in the public eye, unafraid to speak her mind and show her self warts-and-all. She was a rare soul - and she laid her soul bare on a platter for all to see and dissect.

Her troubles had become her mission. She was outspoken on twitter trolling and bullying, signing up with the NRL to promote an anti-bullying campaign and taking on the cause with gusto.

She could move from one of the absolute lowest of lows and then bounce back to be quaffing champagne in a fancy frock hours later, smile firmly planted on her face.

In 2012 she attempted to commit suicide when she was attacked by Twitter trolls- taking pills with wine and tweeting: "You win x". She later told 60 Minutes. "They got the better of me and they won".

But still the tragic news yesterday surprised so many who had seen Dawson in the last week.

At a chance brunch on Friday morning with long time friend and paparazzi Jamie Fawcett at Sienna Marina at Woolloomooloo, Dawson was upbeat. Looking fabulous with her TV make up still on after an appearance on Channel 7's The Morning Show, Dawson was waiting while her apartment, owned by the Gazals, was being viewed by potential buyers as it is up for sale today. Her flatmate Tony has reportedly been in Melbourne for the last week.

"She was excited about a whole heap of things, she was upbeat but save for a few disappointing things but she wasn't drinking, she wasn't even smoking," Fawcett told Fairfax Media of their encounter.

"She had that unique ability that no matter what was going on in her world she was always focus on the person she was chatting to with a kind word."

She did, however, mention Miller's interview as well as the upcoming Logie for Australia's Next Top Model which she was part of - before she opted out of the new series, which stars Jennifer Hawkins, Alex Perry and Didier Cohen.

"She felt she wasn't being promoted for the Logie like the others, but it wasn't something we spoke about for long," Fawcett said. "She was more focused on her upcoming homeware collection."

While Dawson had appeared upset that she was no longer part of the Foxtel family, insiders say it was she who opted out of the series and let producers know - through host Jennifer Hawkins - she did not want to come back. She also made those feelings clear on Twitter.

"This is tragic news and deeply sad. Everyone at Foxtel is devastated. Our sympathies are with Charlotte's family and friends," Brian Walsh, Foxtel Executive Director of Television, said in a statement yesterday.

Recently when I tweeted a pic from the ASTRA announcements with her co-stars Didier Cohen and Alex Perry, she retweeted in jest "Guess I'm not nominated this year? Phewsies NOT to be subjected to another crushing defeat" with a sad face. I never responded, not wanting to provoke a situation, knowing how fragile Charlotte was.

But she appeared to be looking after herself, although she was open about her usage of anti-depressants and had an on off-on relationship with alcohol, telling friends recently she didn't think she had any addiction to the drink. She had, by all reports, stopped partying. Even at a recent Valentines Day party at her house on February 12, she pulled up stumps at 10pm telling everyone to leave as she wanted to go to bed. Her days of burning the candle at both ends seemed to be over.

In the past week she had business meetings with Jai Evans, a long time friend who she had reconnected with and was working with on her new homewares range consisting of 12 cushions and coasters.

He texted her last night at 7:30pm. Tragically that text was never returned.

Sobbing uncontrollably, Evans was beside himself when Fairfax contacted him:

"I wish I could have saved her... maybe if I'd taken her to a meeting, or been with her," he said through tears.

"I knew she wasn't well but at the same time she was excited about the new range, we had a meeting on Tuesday and she text me saying 'Thankyou so much for everything, it's all very overwhelming but I'm still dead keen to get onto it xxx'," Evans said.

"I don't understand. I am beyond devastated, I'm confused and shocked. We had become exceptionally close and I knew she was upset about Scott's interview but after it she said it wasn't as bad as she thought it could have been. She was excited about so many things, she had so many plans we had just created the domain name and the website."

She had an early night on Thursday night, telling friends she couldn't go out as she had to get up early as she had to drop Billy to the airport.

She couldn't have her own children, and had documented her journey to find her own birth parents - having been adopted as a baby. But she spent her time mothering: she would take in Australia's Next Top Model contestants and took the Burgess brothers under her wing before their mum arrived in Australia.

She has left a legacy and shone a spotlight on those suffering depression, which will be felt for years to come.

WHERE TO FIND HELP

If you or someone you know needs to talk, these are 24-hour helplines:

Lifeline: 0800 543 354

Youthline: 0800 376 633

Samaritans: 0800 726 666

If it is an emergency call 111

For information about suicide prevention, see http://www.spinz.org.nz

- Sydney Morning Herald

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