Her Health: Davinia Taylor
In four decades, Davinia Taylor has crammed soaring highs and crushing lows into a life that has, at times, been picked over mercilessly by the press. The layers that we know: beautiful heiress and Hollyoaks actress, effervescent TV presenter and Nineties party girl, once married to David Beckham’s best friend Dave Gardner and part of the wild Primrose Hill clique that included Kate Moss, Sadie Frost and Meg Mathews.
What we didn’t know – and Davinia herself didn’t know until recently – was that her alcohol-fuelled hedonism was driven by a pursuit of happiness that she was biologically unable to experience naturally. Her 30s brought fresh challenges - an acrimonious divorce and battle for custody of her first son, followed by a period of confronting sobriety, post-natal depression and, tragically, the loss of her mother to breast cancer. It was a cruel string of events that ultimately led her to look beneath her skin, to her genetic code, for answers. What she discovered has kick-started a mind and body health quest that she lays bare on Instagram. It's an addictive feed: personal musings and expert chats on a range of subjects from biohacking and body sculpting, to nootropics and late-night snacking. Yep, we're hooked.
Now a mum to four boys – Gray, 13, Luxx, 9, Asa, 6, and Jude, 4 – Davinia is in a long-term relationship with builder Matthew Leyden, whom she’s in business with. She divides her time between North London (a home she rents from Noel Gallagher) and Spain, where the couple renovate, rent and sell properties.
She speaks to Storytellhers about how she’s navigated her way from one extreme to the other.
Now we’re coming out of lockdown, how did you cope with it mentally and physically, Davinia?
When you have kids, your world gets small – it’s a kind of lockdown anyway. I’ve had funnel vision since being a mum and my day revolves around the children. I do need to get out there though, as I have this inner claustrophobia and I know I need to look after my mental health. This lockdown has made me realise how much I use the outside world as a prop to get outside myself. I can so easily compare and despair and self-sabotage if I don’t go for a walk. I’m grateful for the huge distraction of London in silencing my inner monologue – it could be sitting on the tube overhearing other people talk, going to a restaurant, shopping in H&M or people watching in Notting Hill. I appreciate the hustle and bustle, the eye contact and camaraderie. I don’t like my own space – I love chatting to people and I feel safe in a crowd. But something has shifted within our family; I’ve watched the levels of affection increase and the kids have really benefitted from the family time. But for me, being confined with the children, and the school pressure and the news – I’ve had to focus on what I put inside myself as to how I think about myself.
You’ve become devoted to optimal nutrition and exercise – and the mental wellbeing that brings - in your 40s, but how would you define your previous decades?
My 20s started off as real fun but, as with so many adventures, it has a good or tragic ending. That decade was dopamine-driven for me. The party scene rocked my world, and I definitely took comfort in it. My 30s were spent in recovery and my 40s are more of a practical life. I’m not just a recovering alcoholic anymore. My AA meetings gave me spiritual respite, but I want to be someone who thrives, rather than someone who’s confined to an addictive personality forever.
What does addiction mean to you?
Addiction is screaming under water and never getting the satisfaction; it’s constantly being itchy or thirsty. It’s a game of torture, knowing that the next spike will trigger another craving. I wouldn’t risk another drink - why risk a lifetime of craving again? I hate craving more than being sober. Being sober is a gift and I wouldn’t jeopardise it.
When you consider the tragic consequences for Caroline Flack, another seemingly happy and confident party girl, how do you feel about your own survival?
I could quite easily have gone south and dropped off at any time. Admittedly, I didn’t have as much glare on my recovery as she did, but it doesn’t matter how public it is, it’s what’s happening internally. Whether you are judged by one person or by millions, it just doesn’t matter. Famous or not, whether it’s crack cocaine or co-dependency – it’s irrelevant. It’s your own world, your own life, and it matters to you.
What were the critical moments that forced you to change the course of your life?
After having my first son Gray by IVF I had post-natal depression. I couldn’t understand how I wasn’t ‘fixed’, and ‘happy’ with a new baby. I was told not to breastfeed because I was on anti-depressants, which meant that I didn’t benefit from the oxytocin and the hormones from manufacturing the milk. The NHS just told me to moderate my drinking and go to AA, but AA doesn’t get rid of cravings and low self-esteem, and it doesn’t tell you why you feel sad and unsafe. It wasn’t the baby blues; I decided to kill myself and took razors to my wrists. It was a cry for help. My friends staged an intervention and I went to dry out in South Africa for 3 months. I surrendered custody of Gray as I’d split from his dad (Dave Gardner) by this point, but I was motivated by the anger against my ex to get sober and get Gray back.
Between having my third and fourth child I lost my mum to breast cancer and I turned to food for comfort. I became obese and it was a real low, but it was also a turning point. I’d had no abuse or trauma in my life, and I was hating myself even more for not having gratitude, especially with family money from a successful father. I wanted to get to the root cause. I started thinking about genes and genetics – things I have no power over. That’s when I started researching my biology and getting into biohacking.
And how does biohacking neutralise addictions?
We can get over our addictions by hacking into our biology and becoming aware of our genetic predispositions. In my family, my grandmother had electric shock therapy for depression, and that trauma can be passed on. Biohacking’s also about tapping into the building blocks of life: my body doesn’t generate B12 – the sunshine vitamin – that people need to make them happy. I’ve got a faulty MTHFR gene that doesn’t allow me to manufacture B12 efficiently (50% of the population have this mutation) and I need to supplement and exercise to activate it. I now know that I drank in the past because it drove up my cortisol levels. I believe most of us in the western world have addictive personalities. It’s how we’ve been raised and marketed at, with the sugar, junk food and alcohol. We can get over this – and live without cravings - by hacking into our biology.
How do you use nutrition to help your mental health?
I know if I spike my insulin too early in the day, I can feel myself dropping later, so I’ve been intermittent fasting and starting the day with a bulletproof coffee. I went paleo before my fourth child, and though I eat 3000 calories a day, it’s not low fat, low calorie rubbish. Diets don’t work, science does – start with a healthy brain, and the body follows. Pippa Campbell (a nutritionist often featured on Davinia’s Insta videos) understands about creating healthy neurological pathways. I eat extra greens to get the B12 I need to be happy, and I try not to burden my body with unnecessary foods. But I’m also not obsessive - I love to eat snacks at night watching Netflix, like homemade popcorn with Himalayan salt and maple syrup or sourdough bread with unpasteurised cheese and honey (which populates my gut while I’m sleeping). I always have a bottle of kombucha in bed, too. For me, it’s been about stopping the cravings, and now I have control back.
I’ve been walking or running 5k a day which totally changes my thinking trajectory without medication. It’s instantaneous and lasts for hours. I have cold showers, which is another instant fix and helps me balance my hormones.
What does the future look like for you now that you’re committed to healthy living and you’re inspiring your followers on Instagram?
I have no idea where it’s going. I’m just happy to share my experiences through trial and error on myself. It keeps me chatting to people. My husband is amazed when a stranger comes up to us and starts talking about how often they poo: “Did she just say that??” he says! But I love talking to strangers. I don’t have any affiliation with any products, and I don’t get paid. My husband and I have a business renting out properties, that’s what we’re good at. I just say something is better because I’ve tried it. It’s been a tough journey to get here. When I stopped drinking, I knew I couldn’t be friends with the same people if I wanted to change my habits. If I speak to Meg (Matthews) we hover over a conversation around self-improvement and supplements, as we both have addictive personalities. Now I get my euphoria and self-esteem from running, but I don’t think I’ve swapped one addiction for another – I just know what makes me feel good. I want to live well - and be water-skiing at 100!
DAVINIA SWEARS BY…
Kion Organic Coffee – the beans are free from yeast, pesticides, mould and mycotoxins. I have five coffees a day for a polyphenol hit.
MCT Oil or Powder – The brand I like is Nutiva.
Planet Paleo gelatine – I love making jelly with real cream and gelatine for the kids’ growing bones. I always feed them before we go to a kids’ party, so they’re more interested in the trampoline than the cake!
Oura Ring – a sleep and activity tracker. I swear by this to get good sleep, which is vital.
Gaba Capsules – a natural supplement to relieve anxiety.
Methylene Blue – a cognitive enhancer that helped me before I ran the London marathon, as its both mental and physical.
Diindolylmethane (DIM) – helps to restore healthy hormone balance by detoxifying me of old oestrogen.
NAD IV Therapy – Nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD+) is a co-enzyme that reduces cravings and withdrawal symptoms and helps with sleep.