Thursday 14 December 2017

Secret children of the stars

Liv Tyler
Liv Tyler

Chrissie Russell

For years, we've known how Philomena Lynott struggled to bring up her rock-star son alone -- an unwed Irish Catholic mother in the slums of Birmingham. Her 1995 memoir, 'My Boy', told readers in excruciating detail the difficulties young, penniless Philomena faced raising a black baby in a hostile world.

But recently the public realised they hadn't been told the full story when, at the launch of her updated book, Philomena was joined by two unfamiliar faces -- a son and daughter we never knew she had.

Philomena (60) and Leslie (58), born Jeanette and James, were both put up for adoption by their mother, who was unable to raise three children alone. Her Thin Lizzy son never met his half siblings, but since being tracked down by both more than 15 years ago, Philomena says she's formed a tight bond with them.

"They're my best friends. I respect them. I love them and they love me," she says. So much so that they've made it into the new edition of the book, an inclusion Philomena felt was impossible while her mother was alive. "I didn't want my mother to know I had two more children," she explains. "It was bad enough having Philip."

Pictures of the three family members beaming side by side suggest that Philomena's story has found its happy ending. But she's not the only famous face with a tale of reconciliation to tell.

Singer Joni Mitchell was unemployed in the 1960s when she made the decision to give up the only child she would ever have.

The woman who would go on to be famous all round the world for songs such as 'From Both Sides Now' and 'Big Yellow Taxi' was a 21-year-old student at Alberta College of Art in Calgary, Canada when she fell pregnant with a baby girl. The birth father wasn't interested and, instead, Joni married folk singer Chuck Mitchell in a desperate bid to provide a stable home for the child. But the marriage lasted a month and Joni said goodbye to the baby she called Kelly Dale Anderson when she was just a few months old, .

"It says in the papers that at the hearing I became emotional," she says of the adoption process. "I'm sure I did, but I don't remember any of that; I blocked it all away." After 32 years apart, Joni was tracked down by her daughter. Now called Kilauren Gibb, she has a close relationship with her birth mother and visits often with her son, Marlin.

"It's delicious," says Joni of the reunion. "It's always been a big hole in me. It's not a scandal, there are three million more women now in search of their children and it's a heart-rending thing."

Despite a wonderful upbringing with her adoptive family, Kilauren agreed that the reunion was something she needed to do, saying: "There's a definite umbilical cord that was never cut."

Similar stories of rekindled maternal bonds are shared by Roseanne Barr, Sinead Cusack and Kate Mulgrew. Comic Barr gave up her daughter when she was 18 and had only just been released from a mental institution. The troubled teen felt unable to cope with motherhood, but she embraced the role years later when she was reunited with her daughter in a tearful meeting.

Actress Sinead Cusack made headlines in 2007 when she was revealed to be the birth mother of TD Richard Boyd Barrett. During the election, she joined her political activist son's campaign, telling reporters: "I'm very happy and I'm very proud of him." Sinead, who is married to Jeremy Irons, had contacted Richard via an adoption board in 2004. She had given him up for adoption in 1968.

'Star Trek' actress Kate Mulgrew like- wise re-established a connection with her daughter in 2001, years after placing her for adoption.

Reading about these mothers and their adopted children in such an abridged manner makes the process of parting and reunion sound the stuff of fairy tales, but the reality isn't always so clean cut or pleasant.

Even though Mulgrew was reconciled with her daughter, she confessed she had been plagued by feelings of loss after giving her up. She said: "Adoption or abortion almost always promises the mother a legacy of shame and regret. I have to be frank about my experience, I survived it. Women often don't believe that they can survive nine months of pregnancy and place the child with an adoptive family. Life is not always easy."

And some, like godmother of punk Patti Smith, are left to always wonder what happened to the child they gave away. The singer was 19 and a school dropout when she gotpregnant in the 1960s. Following her decision to put the baby up for adoption she said she spent years wondering what became of her and cried so much her boyfriend nicknamed her Soakie.

She said in her autobiography 'Just Kids': "Though I never questioned my decision to give my child up for adoption, I learned that to give life and walk away was not so easy."

Nor are fathers exempt from the stress of parting and the strain of reuniting with a lost child. 'A-Team' star Dirk Benedict didn't even know he had a third son. The actor's oldest child, John, was born in 1968 when Dirk was 23 and put up for adoption without his knowing. He was reunited with him in 1998.

John said: "I started exchanging letters with him. It was pretty intense, but it turned out great."

Less great was Rod Stewart's reconciliation with the child he put up for adoption. The multimillionaire singer was 17 and a few years off hitting the charts when his then girlfriend, Susannah Boffey, also 17, got pregnant. Stewart said he was too young to be a dad and, after briefly trying to raise the child alone, Boffey gave the baby to a foster home, where she was adopted aged five.

It was only when the girl turned 18 that the adopted parents revealed that the rocker in the poster on her wall was, in fact, her dad. But instead of the dream reunion experienced by Philomena and her lost children, contact stalled between the pair and it's only been in recent years that they've started to form a bond.

"In the past couple of years, we've become somewhat close," said Stewart recently in an interview. "I still find it difficult when I email her to sign it 'dad' because I didn't see her grow up." He added: "I feel guilty about everything. I carry a lot of guilt around."

Back on the best-case scenario side of a reunited parent and child are Liv Tyler and dad Steve, who have developed a close father-daughter bond. The 'Lord of the Rings' actress pieced together her paternity after attending an Aerosmith gig aged 11 where she saw a glaring similarity between her and Tyler's daughter Mia.

But Daisy Lowe's experience is evidence that sometimes not everyone wants to be one big happy family. The young model found out in 2004 that her godfather, Gavin Rossdale, was in fact her dad.

Sadly, Rossdale's wife, Gwen Stefani, was less than impressed with the news. In the explosive aftermath of the revelation, Rossdale severed contact with his daughter. Pearl reportedly banned mention of Rossdale's name in the house, saying, "He's missing out on an amazing girl", but in recent years Daisy says she's back in contact "working on being good mates" with her biological father.

It might sound like a child's dream to find out that their birth parent is a celebrity, but the reality can be somewhat different.

Irish author of 'Anyone For Me?', Fiona Cassidy was adopted at 15 weeks and had a wonderful childhood with her adoptive family. However, when she traced her birth family, she faced a difficult realisation.

She explains: "I always dreamed of meeting my birth mother, but recently my dreams were shattered when I was told in very blunt terms through a third party that I would never be recognised." It also materialised her family were famous.

She says: "In normal circumstances, rejection is hard to deal with, but I find it particularly frustrating as I'm constantly reminded of my roots as my relations turn up quite frequently in newspaper articles and on TV programmes." Out of respect, Fiona won't name her family, but describes members of them as "quite high profile".

She adds: "I'm passionate about the adoption system, about giving children a chance to have an identity to be proud of, and I had a lovely experience. But it can be a complicated process and everything doesn't always work out perfectly."

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