Thursday, 1 October 2009
Jonathan Aitken and his illegitimate daughter on how discovering each other after 18 years was the most glorious shock of their lives
Some boorish fathers like Willie Carson do not accept their ILLEGITIMATE children; whereas 'fatherly' figures like Jonathan Aitken accept the 'ILLEGITIMATE FRUITS OF THEIR LOINS'.
This story tells the Viewpoints from both the Father and the Illegitimate Daughter.
Jonathan Aitken and his illegitimate daughter on how discovering each other after 18 years was the most glorious shock of their lives
02nd October 2009
The father: Jonathan Aitken writes
Most people who read the story yesterday of how Willie Carson has rejected his illegitimate daughter for 48 years will have been moved by her sadness at his refusal to accept her.
But for me, there was a more viscerally emotional response: in a flash, it brought back the circumstances surrounding the birth of my own daughter.
Like me, when he first became a father, Willie Carson was a young single man.
In both cases, it seems, a moment of passion led to the accidental conception of a child. The difference was that while Mr Carson was told about his impending fatherhood and chose to forge a career far away in Newmarket, I was kept in the dark and simply didn't know.
Either way, the result was the same: two young girls born and raised by their mothers.
When those girls grew older, they were both desperate to make contact with their fathers. And that was when Willie Carson and I faced a very singular test.
Would we turn our backs on our own daughters, or embrace them into our families?
That was the stark choice I faced 11 years ago when an extraordinary chain of events revealed that 18-year old Petrina Khashoggi was my unknown fourth child.
Unlike Willie Carson, I had no idea that before my first marriage in 1979 to Lolicia (with whom I have three children, Alexandra, Victoria and William), I had fathered a daughter.
This remained a well-kept secret, which Petrina's mother, Soraya Khashoggi, never disclosed to me. Neither did she tell Petrina who her father was.
It's hard to say what I would have done if I'd known about Petrina's conception. But I hope I would have welcomed her into the family.
I would have discussed it with my then wife and my mother, and I'm as confident as I can be that although it would have caused some temporary difficulties, I would have welcomed a new daughter.
Nevertheless, I did feel deeply remorseful on discovering that, without realising it, I had become a father in an irresponsible moment. Yet this remorse was more than counterbalanced by the happiness that flowed from building my father-daughter relationship with Petrina.
One key ingredient in the complex story of discovering Petrina is that she herself had longed to know who her father was. With the detective skills of a teenage Miss Marple, she sifted clues about her mother's love life that would eventually unlock the mystery.
Then, in a stranger-than-fiction development, Petrina found herself being misidentified at teenage parties in London for one or other of my twin daughters, Victoria and Alexandra. That led Petrina to take a bold initiative. With Ally's help, she arranged an 'informal' meeting with me at my family home in October 1998.
I did not want to have this meeting, for I was highly sceptical about the suggestion from my own daughters that Petrina was mine, too.
Indeed, I believed I knew from other rumours who her father actually was. So my agenda was to halt the emotional speculation on Petrina's side about my alleged paternity.
As soon as Petrina sat down on the sofa in our living room alongside Alexandra and Victoria, my planned agenda fell apart. When I looked at the three 18-year-old girls together, I was stupefied. For their physical resemblances were not just similar, they were uncanny. This visual evidence of sisterhood overwhelmed me.
If there had been a requirement to select, on grounds of appearance, the identical twins from the trio of sibling lookalikes, I would have had to pair off Petrina and Alexandra rather than Alexandra and Victoria.
While I was still reeling from this first thunderbolt of identification, a second flash of genetic lightning hit me.
Ally, when talking animatedly, has a trait of touching her neck with her right hand and then moving it away, giving a graceful little feminine twirl to her wrist as she does so.
Five minutes into the conversation, what did I see? Petrina touching her neck and gracefully twirling her wrist away to the right.
The movement was so natural and so identical to Ally's familiar gesture that, from then onwards, I felt in my soul that Petrina must surely be my daughter.
When I came to understand the story of Petrina's early years and the yearning to identify her father, my heart went out to her.
We soon agreed to take a voluntary DNA test together. When the results came back from the lab in December 1998, they confirmed scientifically what we already knew emotionally. We were father and daughter.
The next few months were difficult, but with many rewards. One huge complication was that, instead of being a respectable and successful new father, I was later disgraced, bankrupted and jailed.
In spite of these dire circumstances, Petrina and I got on well.
We wrote regularly to each other throughout my sentence and we met in prison visiting halls several times. Petrina is a naturally good writer, so our correspondence went deep and laid good foundations for the future.
After I came out of prison, there were temporary dips and glitches in our father-daughter relationship. Perhaps, in our different ways, we were trying too hard or expecting too much.
It was also a time of distracting upheavals in both our lives. But the lines of communication stayed open and slowly strengthened.
We both came to realise with shared sadness that we could never replace missing out on what should have been our first 18 years together. But now we enjoy the good things about our present relationship, rather than lamenting the past gaps in it.
On my side, I love Petrina as a full and equal pillar of my family. I greatly enjoy her company and her confidences.
For example, in the past few weeks, we have had several lunches and dinners, celebrated our two birthdays at small family gatherings, and had many intimate conversations.
As her amateur politics and history tutor, I am particularly proud of Petrina for passing three years' worth of the exams towards getting her degree from the Open University next year.
I am delighted she gets on so well with my wife, Elizabeth. I admire Petrina's gifts as a writer of short stories, not least because, with her pen, she is such an acute and gently humorous observer of life's ups and downs.
Like me, she has had plenty of both of them. But in the 11 years after we so unexpectedly discovered our relationship and began travelling together as father and daughter, I believe we are steadily growing in love and mutual understanding.
For better or worse, it was Willie Carson's choice to reject his oldest child, but if all this has taught me one thing, it's that finding that you have a long-lost child can be the most wonderful gift, however unexpected it might be.
The daughter: Petrina Khashoggi writes
The phrase 'Daddy's girl' has always carried much more weight in my mind than perhaps it does for other women.
While I am fortunate enough to have found and met my biological father, Jonathan Aitken, for 18 years I was bereft of that precious bond between a father and daughter.
Jonathan and I have built a good relationship over the past decade, but those lost years are irreplaceable.
Reading the story of Willie Carson's daughter this week, it struck me just how close the parallels are with my own life.
I, too, grew up longing for a father who always remained a kind of fantasy figure. And while I have come to terms with the fact that I can't get my childhood back, I can't deny that I greatly missed out on one of life's most important relationships.
My early years were unconventional and exciting. Materialistically, I wanted for nothing. I was a privileged child, jetting round the world to exotic locations on private planes and Concorde, enjoying lavish holidays, attending the finest schools - I couldn't have had it better.
But emotionally, I wanted something that no new toy or dress could ever bring - paternal love.
I was raised by my mother, Soraya. She remains great friends with her ex-husband Adnan Khashoggi and, even though they were already divorced when I was born, he was happy to accept me as part of our extended family.
We spent many holidays together and I was told to call him 'Uncle Adnan'. He has five children with my mother, and they are all olive skinned with black hair. I am fair skinned and blonde, so there was no confusion about whether I was his, and nobody ever lied to me in an attempt to make me believe I was.
I first became aware of being different to other children on my fifth birthday. A fancy-dress party was thrown for me at my mother's beautiful country estate in Berkshire. It wasn't the sheer extravagance of the party that did it, because at the time, that was just normal life as I knew it.
Looking back now, I realise that my concept of normality was far removed from that of others.
Beneath a huge marquee in the garden, children and adults milled around in full costume, enjoying the abundance of food, drinks and entertainment. I remember seeing one of my school friends squeal with excitement before turning to a man beside her to say: 'Daddy, look at the clown.'
For an agonising moment I felt profound loss. I didn't care about my mountain of presents or the fact that I was centre of attention - I wanted what she had. I thought: 'Where is my Daddy?'
Uncle Adnan was the closest thing I had to a father: I didn't see him often, but he loved me and treated me as if I were his own. He was always incredibly kind and generous, but I wanted more.
Every time I heard one of my older siblings calling him 'Baba' (Arabic for father) or watched them sharing treasured, intimate moments that are exclusive to a parent-child relationship, I was jealous.
Whenever I asked my mother about who and where my father was, I quickly learned that this subject was strictly off-limits.
A stern 'Not now' or a hopeful 'I'll tell you one day' were the standard responses, and at a certain point I just gave up asking. She had her reasons and it was her prerogative if or when to tell me.
On my first day at boarding school, I was dropped off by our chauffeur in a Rolls-Royce. When I walked into the front hall, I saw a huddle of girls peering through the window. 'Is that him?' they asked. I had no idea what they meant. It transpired that they had mistaken the chauffeur for Adnan Khashoggi, who, unbeknown to me, was actually very famous.
Everyone at school believed that I was his daughter. I was bombarded with questions for which I didn't have answers. Because my mother had not equipped me with any information or defences, I felt I had been thrown in the deep end without armbands.
Life suddenly became very confusing and I longed for what I now realise was, quite simply, normality.
I desperately wanted a father, but at the same time, I was scared to find out the truth. I lost myself in books and fantasised that he was like one of the fictional heroes I read about. The fantasy worked for me and I clung to it.
Many years later, aged 15, I was at a pub on the King's Road in Chelsea, which was the public school thing to do during the holidays, and a boy came up to me to ask if I knew who Ally Aitken was. He told me that I looked remarkably similar to her. This was the first time I was to hear my father's surname in reference to me.
The first time I actually saw him was on television. He was making the speech about British fair play and my mother was in the room. 'Poor Jonathan,' she said. 'I must write to him.'
I asked her how she knew him and she told me that they had been lovers. I remembered the comment at the pub and put two and two together: Jonathan immediately became a prime suspect.
A few months later, I met my sister Victoria in a nightclub. As soon as I heard that her surname was Aitken, my curiosity was pricked.
She invited me to her 18th birthday party, which she was having with her twin, Ally, and that was the night I met Jonathan in person. He had no idea I was his daughter, but I remember being quite disappointed by how uninterested he was in talking to me. He did not make eye contact and I thought him cold and shallow.
I stayed in touch with the twins and we became good friends. Ally knew I did not have a father - at least not one I knew about - and loved the idea of us being long-lost sisters when I suggested it might be a possibility, so she asked Jonathan if there was any chance I might be his.
After some deliberation, a DNA test was organised. It all happened so quickly and I was terrified of the results. Despite my first impressions, I had grown fond of Jonathan and liked the idea of him being 'the one'.
On the other hand, I had lived with the fantasy for so long, I was not sure I would be happy with the reality.
He called me on the phone as soon as he heard that the results were positive. In a stilted, formal tone he said: 'Good news, I am your father.' I was shocked to the core and told him I would have to call him back.
I sat on my bed in silence: life as I knew it would never be the same again. Having to come to terms with finding your father is one thing; to be thrust into the public eye and forever labelled a love child is another.
A few months later, he was sent to prison for perjury. Our relationship blossomed during this time through writing, as we exchanged long letters.
As I sat across from him in his prison clothes during a visit, I realised how much I admired him. The papers disgraced him, but in my eyes he was a gentleman - brave, courageous and noble.
His general knowledge and intelligence are awe-inspiring and as a result our relationship today is more like a teacher-student than a father-daughter, which suits me fine.
I am just grateful that I solved the puzzle of where I came from - and that I have been made to feel so much a part of the family. My heart goes out to Willie Carson's daughter - rejection is very painful.