Lightning in a bottle and Charlotte Dawson

At her best, Charlotte Dawson was excellent media talent, but struggled with its many constraints.

2014-02-23_0017In the end Charlotte Dawson was trending on the social media platform with which she had a love-hate relationship, but this time for none of the right reasons.

The hashtag belied what those who had worked with her in the industry knew: Charlotte was an intelligent, quick-witted, self-deprecating, hard-working, but tormented soul.

Still beautiful at 47 -by her own admission with enhancement- she smiled on the outside but struggled within. She craved the spotlight but questioned its demands that expected her to toe the line, not bite back, and play things the company way.

When she was at her best, Dawson was excellent media talent, serving up opinions, spontaneous one-liners and glamour all at the same time.

She was a panelist on Beauty and the Beast, hosted Runway to LA and co-hosted The Contender -all for Foxtel. She co-hosted red carpet events, and appeared variously as guest, correspondent or presenter for Today, The Project, The Footy Show, Burke’s Backyard, Simply the Best, Wide World of Sports, Good Morning Australia and NZ shows How’s Life?, Getaway and Charlotte’s Lists.

For the Nickelodeon Kid’s Choice Awards and SlimeFest she was happily slimed with green goo, including one appearance just weeks after her hospitalisation.

Nine made the most of her talents in Celebrity Apprentice Australia and as recently as Friday she was a guest on Mornings dishing up the Dawson lines to Sonia Kruger and David Campbell. Yesterday they were two of many reeling from the news, unaware that her outward appearance overshadowed more immediate pain.

Indeed, Dawson was such strong talent for the Pay TV company it used her not just as on-air talent for Australia’s Next Top Model, but as one of its key personalities at its various events. Dawson attended endless launches of new Foxtel shows, turning it on for the cameras and, in Alex Perry, finding a perfect foil. At one Foxtel Upfronts event, Director of Television Brian Walsh joked that US comedy The Bitch in Apartment 23 could well have been made for the two of them -and they loved it.

Perry and Dawson were a double-act that would sustain across 8 seasons of Foxtel’s most enduring brand, while co-presenters, hosts and production companies would evolve several times over. In 2008 when host Jodhi Meares spectacularly bailed from the Live Grand Final just hours before it went to air, it was Dawson who stepped up to save the show.

But her role as the self-confessed “tough love bitch” meant some mistook her as the villain of the show. Last month she quit in a text to host Jennifer Hawkins, saying she could “no longer be a part of this machine.”

The times I met her she was always vivacious, but never short of an opinion.

Such media events were upbeat, the best of the best, and meant she was in demand. But performers are too familiar with the down times when the phone doesn’t ring and you are left to doubt your talent. Every performer requires inner strength, perspective, good friends and health just to keep moving forward. It doesn’t help that when you finally do get the gig, social media will question why in god’s name they gave it to you and not the next person…

Yet while social media allowed her to speak directly to her 59,000 followers its anonymity left her open to social trolling. For those already dealing with low self-esteem, there is nothing more brutal than 140 characters of hate in the solitude of your bedroom.

Charlotte’s 2012 suicide attempt following malicious Twitter attacks is well-documented and triggered a newspaper campaign to address online abuse. Dawson became the ambassador for the campaign. So determined was she to fight back that she twice engaged in real-world confrontations with her abusers, once with television cameras in tow. Dawson always preferred to step up to the plate rather than walk away from it. Sometimes her determination even led all the way to defamation lawsuits.

Her need for the spotlight, conflicted by its demands, saw her sending out mixed messages about her media career in recent months. At various stages she indicated her contract with Foxtel had not been renewed; she was pursuing a real estate venture; she was quitting TV because it was “too nasty and negative”; she was quitting Australia’s Next Top Model. Similarly, she would quit her Twitter account, only to return to it.

For those who had to manage and, on occasions, even damage-control, Dawson could be lightning in a bottle.

Recent troubles also took their toll on her management, who indicated they no longer knew how to represent her, and Foxtel, which had stood by her through the darkest of times.

Many of her friends have spoken of her spirit and genuine personality.

In her final hours Dawson was still fighting the fight, this time championing a man suffering inoperable cancer.

“We have the hospitals/resources & the doctors & professors willing to help. Where is the govt support?” she tweeted.

Sadly, when her Twitter account had lay dormant for 19 hours, friends became worried. The news yesterday was what many had feared.

In her book Air Kiss & Tell she detailed her battle with Depression, which would last for 14 years. It is a complex illness suffered by many, and frequently misunderstood.

But Charlotte’s need to belong in the spotlight, which would celebrate and constrain her personality all the same time, was another battle altogether.

Further reading:
Darkness behind life in the spotlight
How Charlotte Dawson helped me through depression
The Charlotte Dawson I knew

Lifeline: 131114

11 Responses

  1. Thank you David for this thoughtful and wise tribute to Charlotte. You are obviously a decent and caring person and your piece makes a nice contrast to so much of the trash that is written.

  2. Very well written article David, compassionate and truthful. I have suffered with depression all my life, and whenever a celebrity takes their own life, I think to myself, they were financially comfortable, successful in their career, had heaps of friends, yet still weren’t happy. What hope is there for the rest of us 🙁

  3. David that is a beautiful piece. Far better than any of the major press. A real balanced deep thoughtful and true piece. Very very nice. This is such sad news. I hope she has found peace.

  4. So sad that an ambassador for the fight against depression and the nastiness of online bullying ended life this way. Her friends must be reeling…….. A nice tribute to her

  5. I had the privilege to work with Charlotte a little on Aust Next Top Model. She was always wonderfully present, strongly herself and knew what it was all about. In an interview with her last year she revealed the demons that haunted her and her strong beliefs of both the good and bad of social media. aawtp.libsyn.com/with-charlotte-dawson Her struggles are now over – but the fight against on-line bullying and health care funding remains. Take note of her lead, and strength in her conviction. You will be missed Charlotte. Rest.

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