The BBC, Gayna and Me

I met Gayna Danity when I joined the BBC in 1994. Back then we had morning meetings, just as they did or still do with the editor in newspapers,  or in our case, the legendary Keith Samuel who had been the BBC’s Head of Comms for centuries.

There were about twenty of us back then and Gayna stood out, always so outspoken and take-no-prisoners in these meetings. I was awestruck and a little bit scared of her.  Six weeks later I moved from documentaries to entertainment and Gayna’s office at TV Centre, which four of us shared. I worked on sitcoms and Gayna did independent productions and American imports.

I got to know this wild, funny, crazy woman and we simply fell for each other, as great friends do, our mutual eccentricities and sense of humour the perfect antidote to the staid and stubborn hierarchies of an institution that had been resting on its public money and unassailable reputation for far too long.

We all worked under insane pressure at the BBC and this helped many of us to form a bond that still exists.  Gayna and I had so many adventures together, holidays, teaching her to drive, (she never bothered with a driving test as she was born to be chauffeured). She was always the most glamorous and stylish person in the room, with a particular passion for designer handbags way before it was a ‘thing’

Then when she left the BBC, radio silence. I think we probably fell out over something minor – she never understood  the word ‘no’ if she wanted something-  and we lost touch. Skip to twenty years later and I’d just parked up for a charity quiz in Hertfordshire and my mobile rang.

‘Hallo Darling, do you know who this is?’ asked a voice so familiar, yet I was incredulous. ’No, it can’t be’ I replied and the voice said ‘Yes it is!’. She could make an entrance as grand as her exits. A seven hour lunch ensued at her favourite Italian restaurant, which, she informed me, was financed by laundered Mafia money. She knew about these things.

From then on we’d have regular two hour conversations, mostly laughing about old times or our favourite topic, slamming the BBC. We visited a BBC friend who was ill and who sadly died and became party to some family secrets that we swore would die with her.

As she loved television I kept telling Gayna about Netflix and eventually added her to my subscription. She loved it! And then two months later, last November, silence again. I wondered if she’d gone away somewhere exotic during lockdown, not an unlikely scenario, as my voicemails and texts went unanswered. Finally I got her address from a mutual friend and sent her a card to ask her just to let me know she’s ok.

But she wasn’t. Our mutual friend rang me last week to say that she’d found out that Gayna had passed away at the end of December, in hospital where she’s been admitted for breathing problems. I don’t know if it was COVID related and I’ve been in shock ever since.

In my PR career that spanned TV and movies – and working with a who’s who of huge stars and celebrity actors and performers- none of them were as clever, funny, interesting, bright or original as Gayna. I was so lucky to have had Gaybelle, as she liked to call herself, as part of my life. RIP my darling girl.

My fellow BBC friends are also in mourning for this bright light that has sadly been extinguished.  Our beloved Aussie colleague and friend , Charmaine, now back in Oz said ”I  will always treasure my BBC days getting to know and being supported by so many beautiful women and amazing characters. Gayna will remain in my heart as an amazing, vital, extraordinary person – it’s so hard to really sum up her wonderful uniqueness. Gayna was a loving mother hen but also loved her privacy and independence  – real contradictions – but in a really interesting way. She would always support you and be part of the team but had such strong opinions and convictions – she was brave and courageous in standing up to authority but also had a real vulnerability. I hope she’s cracked open the Bolly with Jenny and they’re up there in heaven having a ball. It was an honour to have loved, lived and played with them both.”