Alannah Hill: Why I have enormous trust issues

Occupation Fashion designer. Age 56. Relationship status In a relationship. Best known for Her career as a fashion designer. Currently Promoting her memoir.

Alannah Hill.

My father, Jimmy, was a man of thwarted ambitions. He wished he had another life, instead of the one he had in Tasmania with his five kids and my Catholic mum, Aileen, who worked 19 hours a day, seven days a week, at the milk bar we owned.

He was an apple orchardist, factory worker, and finally, an insurance salesman. He was a hothead and a drinker and didn't like kids. He'd say, "There's not a prime minister among you." I feared and avoided him.

There was no music in our two-bedroom house in Penguin [on Tasmania's north-west coast], so I used to go out to the Holden, hide under a rug on the back seat, and listen to the radio. Sometimes he'd drive to the tip and put rubbish in the boot and on the seat, but he wouldn't see me.

When Dad retired, he became more of a normal father, but still ignored me. In later life, if he drove my older sister Bernadette and me to Devonport airport, he'd weep at the gate. When I landed in Melbourne, I'd phone Mum and tell her. She'd say that there was something wrong with him and I should just ignore him.

My two older brothers were strangers. My younger brother, Martin, had a childhood hip condition. I used to wheel him around in a broken pram.

When I was 12, a teenage boy molested me. Men began to pick that fear in my eyes. [When looking at myself in the mirror] I didn't want to look at the girl who'd been abused, and so I covered myself in make-up. I looked ridiculous. I didn't know it at the time, but I reinvented myself. I never dressed up for men. I did it for me.

At 16, I met Daisy at the Hobart salon where I first had my hair professionally dyed. Daisy was beautiful, and we would kiss passionately. I did everything I could to be a lesbian. I wanted to be one so badly. I felt safe with women.

I left Tasmania in 1979 with $30, eight suitcases, and my mother's unloved wedding ring.

I met my first boyfriend, art director Steven Jones-Evans, three years later at a nightclub in Melbourne. He had strawberry hair and had been to a posh school in Devon, England.

I asked him lots of questions. That is how I disarmed men. I like to see their reactions; their responses make me feel safe.

We never got birthday presents when we were kids. On my 21st birthday, Steven took me to the Sofitel Hotel along with a case full of things I loved, like Cheezels, and a record player. He had a surprise party for me with 12 people. I couldn't believe it.

After nine years, Steven didn't truly break up with me; he moved me to a single's bedsit upstairs from our couple's apartment in South Yarra.

I can't leave boyfriends or places, as I have so much invested. Which is why I worked designing and retailing at Indigo boutique [in Melbourne's South Yarra] for 16 years, and at the Alannah Hill brand for 17. They are family and love. They are home.

My relationship with fashion designer, Karl Bartl [founder of menswear brand Jack London], was probably the most romantic. He was 21 when we met, eight years my junior, and very good-looking. My attraction, though, was his knowledge as a psychologist. I talked to him about my past and he understood.

I was very disappointed with Karl at the end. He left when our son, Edward, was one week old. I knew he was falling out of love with me. But I'm so grateful for my 16-year-old boy.

After my relationship with Karl, I was single for four years. Then rock musician Hugo Race, whom I met as an extra on the 1986 film Dogs in Space, contacted me. On the set I'd flirted with him: he was intoxicatingly attractive.

Hugo had been married previously and had two kids. We had no intention of getting together, but the spark was still there and we fell in love.

Hugo isn't needy and doesn't stop me doing anything. He tours Europe for four months of the year. I've stopped stalking him on Facebook and have learnt to trust him. My trust issues are enormous.

Hugo has proposed and I probably would get married, but I'm not conventional. I would worry about being dependent. I like the idea of marriage, though. It's very romantic.

Butterfly on a Pin by Alannah Hill (Hardie Grant) is published on May 1.

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