Adopted as a baby, Zara Phillips spent decades longing to be reunited with her birth parents. She tells us why she never gave up hope…..
AS I opened the envelope that contained the results of my DNA analysis, I could feel my heart beating.
For years I’d been searching to find out who I was from.
Now the answers could lie in the letter I held in my tumbling hands.
I’d been hoping to find my biological family since I was a child. I found out I was adopted when my mum Jean sat me down on the sofa in our home in north London and read me a story about a couple who adopted a baby, just like they adopted me.
I was four years old and remember feeling very sad but not really understanding why.
From the outside it looked as if I had a happy childhood but as I grew up I felt disconnected from my friends at school.
Whenever someone asked me where I was from, I was at a loss as to what to say. Was I really from London? Who was I?
As a teenager my anxiety about being adopted got worse. I remember one day standing in front of a mirror with my friends, comparing body shapes.
One girl remarked that she had her mum’s thighs and another said she had her dad’s nose.
I looked in the mirror and thought: “I don’t know who I look like.”
I didn’t look like Jean, that’s for sure. She was petite, curvy and blonde while I was tall and lithe with dark hair.
Whenever I plucked up the courage to ask Jean about my biological parents, all she would say was that my birth mum was very young when she had me.
I didn’t want to upset my adoptive parents by pressing for details and I felt guilty for not being more grateful to have a loving family.
However, as the years went on I became increasingly unhappy and started drinking at parties to forget.
I realised when I was drunk I had more confidence and my anxiety seemed to fade away.
When I left school, I started work as a backing singer.
Before long I got my big break and started touring all over the world with stars including Bob Geldof and David Essex.
But my alcohol abuse got worse and I also started using drugs such as cocaine, ecstasy and speed. Because I was young and living a glamorous life, it was easy to mask my addiction. But inside I was hurting more than ever.
A few of my friends noticed my unhappiness and started to worry. “You’re 22 and if you carry on living like this, you won’t see 23,” one close pal told me.
In the back of my mind I knew she was right and started going to 12-step meetings to tackle my drug and alcohol addiction.
I quit being a backing singer and joined a band made up of recovering alcoholics like me.
However, I realised that if I was ever going to feel at peace, I needed to find my biological parents.
At 23, when I was a year sober, I started trying to track down my birth mother.
In those days there was no internet so I got my biological mother’s name from the council and tracked her down using birth and marriage records. Eventually I found an address for her in East Finchley, north London, just a few miles from where I’d grown up.
I sent her a letter with a photo and she immediately called and said she would like to meet me.
I was over the moon and a few days later we met. The first thing I noticed was that our sense of style was exactly the same.
She was wearing a beautiful dress and I’d bought the same one just a few days earlier. We chatted about our lives and I found out she was just 17 when she discovered she was pregnant after a fling with an Italian man she met in a nightclub in London.
Nobody in her family was told she was having a baby and instead she was sent away to a home for pregnant teenagers. She had no choice but to give me up for adoption.
But for now I knew the trauma my biological mum Pat had gone through.
Over the next few years we continued meeting up and I met my half-siblings too.
Although I now live in New Jersey, we speak on the phone and see each other as often as we can.
I was so happy to be reunited with my birth mother but never thought I’d get to meet my biological dad, as Pat only ever knew his first name.
But in 2016, almost three decades after I began my search, I did a DNA test to find out whether I really did have Italian heritage.
Not only did I find out that I’m part-Italian but the test results matched me with a woman who was also living in America.
I asked a DNA expert to look at the results and they told me I had a half-sister.
I couldn’t believe it. We started messaging and I found out that she had a similar story to mine: her biological mum and dad had a fling and her mum got pregnant.
She was adopted but a few years ago she’d managed to track down her mum and our shared biological father too.
It was almost too good to be true. I was sceptical about whether this man would really be my dad but I asked her to call him and explain the story to see if he would meet me.
Then a few weeks later, the three of us met up in a nearby cafe. He was an outgoing Italian man called Antonio and he was in his 70s.
He was shocked to hear about me, as Pat had never told him that she was pregnant.
We took a paternity test to make sure he was my biological dad and it came back positive.
And that was that. In a few short months I went from thinking I’d never meet my dad to standing right in front of him.
Now I’ve met Antonio’s wife too and she welcomed me into the family with open arms.
And the strangest thing is they live just 15 minutes away from me in New Jersey and have done for years.
It may have taken nearly 30 years but it feels good to finally piece together the puzzle of where I came from.
And I’m glad my three children have met their biological grandparents.
I still love my adoptive parents as much as ever but tracking down my birth family has made me feel whole.
● To pre-order Somebody’s Daughter by Zara H Phillips, published on February 22 (£8.99, John Blake Publishing) call the Express Bookshop on 01872 562 310 or visit expressbookshop.co.uk