Vintage Wedding

Dawn O’Porter on the secret to a long marriage

Bestselling author Dawn O’Porter (Toby Madden/PA)

Dawn O’Porter confesses she couldn’t have fallen for her husband, Irish actor Chris O’Dowd, had he not been an animal lover, as she reveals what she believes is the secret to a long marriage.

When she first started dating the Bridesmaids star, after meeting at her 30th birthday party, her Siamese cat Lilu was her top priority, the author and podcast host says.

“I’d met the man I thought I was going to marry, but there was no way I would still be with him if he hated my cat. At that time in my life, she was my priority.

“At the beginning, it was very difficult,” O’Porter, 43, continues. “After the first night he stayed at my house, she puked on his side of the bed. It was absolutely a protest book.

“She just knew this guy was a serious problem. He was livid and I had to put her outside the bedroom, which was totally fair enough. But being Siamese, she would howl at the door, and it sounded like someone was being murdered in the corridor. Eventually, she crept her way back in and over time, they bonded. He loved her, but he would always joke about what a horrible person she was.”

Today, the couple lives in LA with their two sons, Art, seven, and five-year-old Valentine, and four rescue animals – two dogs and two cats – and there was never any thought that O’Dowd would occupy a pet- free zone, she laughs.

When Lilu died in 2020 at the age of 16, O’Porter, bestselling author of The Cows and So Lucky, was devastated. It was that loss that sparked her latest novel, Cat Lady.

“I had one of the most significant relationships of my life with my cat of 16 years. I had her when I was 24 until I was 41, and when she died, I was absolutely heartbroken. It made me realize how big a deal pet grief is to people, and how it can feel as painful as losing somebody. I wanted to write a book that honored that.”

Cat Lady begins as businesswoman Mia joins a pet bereavement group even though her cat, Pigeon, is very much alive. She does it as a release from her less than joyous life, and it soon becomes clear she loves her cat more than her husband, Tristan – a man whose bitchy ex-wife Belinda is constantly invading their space, and who doesn’t share her fondness for felines.

As human relationships around her fragment and her job goes belly-up, the one constant is her loyal, beloved moggie, as well as her newfound friends at the pet grief group.

The idea came about some 14 years ago when O’Porter was in New York, didn’t have much work and started to go to different self-help groups with an idea of ​​blogging about them. One of those she came upon was a pet grief group.

“I think my intention initially was to make fun of it, but then I sat in the group and it was one of the most devastating circles I’ve ever sat in. I thought, ‘I could never write negatively about these people’ and I’ve held on to that group all this time, knowing it would turn up in my work somewhere. You can find support from people in the most unusual places.”

She didn’t seek grief counseling when Lilu died, but it was during the pandemic when the world had turned upside down.

“Everything was awful anyway, so it was a case of, ‘Where do I even start with which therapy group I need?'” she says, chuckling. When lockdown eased slightly in Los Angeles, her friends rallied round, delivering flowers and gifts, which meant a lot, she says now.

“My husband was sad too, and we just sat and stared at walls for a week or two, and tried to get on with it.”

Her cat’s death felt like she was mourning the end of an era, O’Porter remembers.

“She represented my entire single life. I had this very nostalgic reaction to it and looked back on the last 16 years and all the things that I’d done. It made me suddenly realize that I was in my 40s and not 26-year-old Dawn any more, sofa surfing with my cat in London. It felt like an era of my life had been defined and closed. It was actually a warm kind of grief, even though I was desperately sad.”

They also lost their dog, Potato, earlier this year.

“I can barely say his name without crying. It takes a long time. New pets help, because it brings joy into the house, but that doesn’t mean you stop missing the pet that’s gone.”

She believes it is possible to love pets more than people. “I think the relationship people have with their pets is so intimate, when something relies on you entirely for survival and you rely on it entirely for all the pleasurable things it gives you, it’s a completely uncomplicated pure exchange of love relationship – and it’s hard to find that with people.”

Now, she has two rescue tabby cats, sister and brother Myrtle and Boo, which she got as kittens after Lilu died.

“When you have two cats, they are much less dependent on you. Lilu was an emotional wreck every time I left the house. These two are very solid in themselves, because they have each other.

“When we saw how wonderful that was, we rescued two dogs last month – Chris was very insistent we got two dogs [Meatloaf and Puffin] for the same reason.”

The pet-loving couple recently celebrated their 10th wedding anniversary, which they both recorded on Instagram.

“I guess the secret of a good marriage is don’t expect it to be perfect all the time. That took me a long time to learn. Sometimes, it will be stressful and hard, but as long as the majority of the time it’s not, I think you’re doing pretty well.”

They have lived in Los Angeles for more than a decade but she misses London terribly, she admits.

“I still call London home, even though out of Guernsey [where she grew up] and LA, it’s been my home for the shortest amount of time. We do huge trips back all the time. We very well might move back at some point, but it depends on work and if Chris is filming in America all year. Our life can change day to day with the job that comes in.”

She tends to base her books in the UK, although she’ll be writing another novel next year, set for the first time in LA.

“My life is quieter and much slower here [than it was in London]. It’s a different kind of city – laid-back and relaxed. There’s no subway to speak of, you drive everywhere, everything feels more chilled out.”

While her actor husband is recognized a lot, O’Porter, who also has a vintage clothing range with Joanie Clothing, is happy to remain out of the showbiz spotlight.

“One of the things I love about living in LA is that nobody knows who I am. It’s fun to come back to London and have people say, ‘I love your books’, but I also enjoy that not being the case. It’s only when I’m with Chris that he gets a lot of attention – but it’s the kind of attention that is relaxed and manageable. There’s no-one screaming. He’s not in One Direction. It’s very nice.”

She’s hosting a new series of her podcast Get It On this fall, interviewing celebrity guests about why they dress the way they do, and has another novel in the pipeline.

As for pets, she wants more, she enthuses.

“I want more of the animals,” she says, laughing. “I was feeding a stray cat outside last year who I was hoping would be brave enough to come in and join the family one day. I will absolutely be adding more rescue animals to the situation.”

‘Cat Lady’ by Dawn O’Porter is published by HarperCollins. Available now.