Davina McCall was 15 years old when she turned up at school wearing black leather trousers and a T-shirt ripped across the waist. She had dyed her hair aubergine and was wearing Gothic make-up. It was ‘mufti day’ at Godolphin and Latymer School in Hammersmith, West London, and, while most girls came dressed like Bananarama wannabes in ra-ra skirts and legwarmers, Davina went punk.
Although in the spring of 1983 – the year Karen Carpenter died of anorexia nervosa, the eating disorder about to plague Davina – punk was probably no longer embraced by the mainstream. Punk dress and music were now considered wild, weird and antisocial, and the people who liked it weren’t much better, but, for Davina, it was essential for the attention she craved. During the same year, she remembers she shaved her head because she was sick of people constantly saying she dyed her hair blonde to make herself look like Princess Diana: ‘I was mortified because I was trying to be trendy and tough.’
It wasn’t the first time that Davina had reinvented herself. Three years earlier, when punk was still in vogue, she was simply horrified when she arrived for her first day at school. ‘I was this prim and proper little thing who turned up on her first day wearing white socks pulled up to her knees, a little A-line skirt, a Pringle haircut and was carrying a briefcase from WH Smith that pulled out like a doctor’s case. And I walked in and saw everybody – there were all these punks and trendy types, it was a nightmare. They all had streaked hair and their socks were round their ankles, and they all had Millets bags with “The Sex Pistols” and “The Clash” written on them. I had never heard of those bands and I just thought, “I am going to die. Ground, eat me up, please!”
‘But actually kids are brilliantly resilient and within three days I too had streaked my hair. And I went and got my bag from Millets – and wrote the names of bands I never heard of before on it – because I wanted desperately to fit in.’ During this time she also recalls that she even changed the way she spoke when she got ‘a bit of hassle’ from some kids in Shepherds Bush on her way to school: ‘So I started talking “loik vat” for survival because I thought I was going to be beaten up.
‘It was like Sandra Dee from Grease turning into a wild Pink Lady! I never looked back really; it was like a rebirth. When my granny next saw me, she was most perturbed. An old school friend came round for dinner recently and we had such a laugh recalling my third day at school. She says she’ll never forget it because I’d changed so dramatically. And since then I’ve been many people, and I like to play different parts of myself – sometimes a foxy minx, sometimes quiet and sensitive, sometimes loud and gregarious – and they’re all me.’ Basically, though, she continues, ‘I am two people and they are incredibly different. There is the little girl who was brought up by my grandmother and who was taught very good morals and manners, and right from wrong. And then there is my French side, which I get from my mum and Paris – and going out and wild parties, and madness and excitement.’
It was after that third day at the school that she started experimenting with her looks – she had to. The easiest way to reinvent yourself, she says, ‘is with your hair. It’s immediate and it’s shocking. I’ve had black hair, orange hair, blonde hair, and you get a lot of attention as a blonde. When I went dark again, I had to suddenly develop...