Lisa Faulkner gave an exclusive interview in which she told HELLO! that her daughter Billie, 13, would be her "best woman" when she married her fiancé John Torode this Autumn. "She's very excited about it, and about wearing a great dress," said the actress, TV presenter and cookery writer. "It's all about the dress." Lisa, who got engaged to the BBC Masterchef judge on Christmas Day 2018, also opened up about her journey to become a mother, going through a traumatic ectopic pregnancy and three gruelling rounds of IVF treatment before she adopted her daughter with her first husband Chris Coghill in 2008.
Lisa Faulkner married John Torode in October 2019
Lisa Faulkner remembers the exact moment she fell in love with her daughter Billie. "We were singing Incy Wincy Spider and she wouldn’t stop singing it, saying: 'Again, again!'" said the actress, TV presenter and cookery writer. And then she put her dummy on my nose and I remember thinking: 'Here I am. I will be everything you need me to be.' And that was it."
At the time Billie, now 13, was 18 months old and had just been placed for adoption with Lisa, who had spent years trying to have her own child. "The first week was: 'Oh, wow.' The second week was: 'Oh my God.' And the third week was: 'Okay, I've got to step up,'" said Lisa of those first few weeks of parenthood.
Lisa and John Torode met in 2010
Almost 11 years on, she's married her partner, BBC MasterChef judge and restaurateur John Torode, and is enjoying a "blended" family life with the daughter for whom she waited so long. "We're like a little team. John must look at us sometimes and think: 'What are you on about?' or: 'What are you watching?' if we’re loving some rubbish on TV. But he's a very patient, generous-hearted man, my John. There are good days and bad days, as with all families, but it's great."
It was from this position of settled, secure family life that Lisa finally felt confident to write her memoir, Meant to Be. Candid, sad and at times funny, it tells the story of her journey to motherhood, from a traumatic ectopic pregnancy and three gruelling rounds of IVF treatment to the months of soul-searching and rigorous assessment that come with the adoption process and which, eventually, led to Billie.
Lisa's primary motive to write the book was to "help people going down the lonely road of infertility", she said. "It's a book of hope." As such, she felt she had to be as honest as possible. There's no sugar coating or glossing over the emotional heartbreak. As much as I want to help people, it is me laid bare."
Her daughter's endorsement was crucial. "She was really excited, as she thought it was going to be about her. But this isn't Billie's story, it's my story. I’ve read most of it to her and she said: 'You really went through it. You were a bit crazy.' And I said: 'Yeah, I was.' She also said: 'Aren't you pleased the IVF didn't work, because otherwise you wouldn't have had me?' And I said: 'Actually Billie, I am really pleased.' I'd never seen it that way until she said it to me. The journey hasn't been easy but I do have a beautiful girl who I'm very honoured to call my daughter."
Lisa, 47, was married to actor Chris Coghill when, following complications after an ectopic pregnancy in 2003, she had to come to terms with the "sadness and devastating loss" of infertility. "It's a grief you learn to live with."
Undergoing three rounds of IVF treatment at the Assisted Reproduction and Gynaecology Centre in London turned her into a person she didn't recognise at times. "Everyone's excited and then the minute someone in the clinic gets pregnant, you hate them. It's an emotional rollercoaster and tough, both physically and mentally, with all the hormonal drugs you have to take and how they make you feel. Then the sense of hope, when dashed – well, that's huge. Everyone around me seemed to be pregnant, and that made me feel such a failure. I lost sight of everything – my marriage, my friends, my family. All I could think was: 'I want to grow a baby.'"
The couple are set to wed this Autumn
When the IVF failed, a dogged determination – a trait she inherited from her mother, who died when Lisa was 16 years old – carried her through. "My husband-to-be says to me all the time: 'When you have the bit between the teeth, that’s it, you go for it.'" Lisa looked into and rejected surrogacy, but after a remark by Chris, she began to consider adoption. "He said: 'I can't grow a baby, but I would still love it. What's the difference?' That was the game-changer."
Inspired by stories of Hollywood adoptions – both Angelina Jolie and Madonna were in the news with their "rainbow families" – Lisa investigated adopting from America. "But it's different over there – birth mothers are paid expenses and, for me, it didn't sit right. At the same time, people kept telling me that there were children in the UK who needed homes. I thought: 'I'm not a saint. I don't go to church. I'm not that person. I'm only doing this because I want to be a mum.'" Adoption in Britain, she explained, is a "whole different ball game". "Children are not given up for adoption. These children are already in the care system and need a forever family because of traumatic situations."
Putting their reservations to one side, she and Chris signed up to the adoption charity Coram and were scrutinised on their suitability to be parents, attending workshops and courses and being assessed by a social worker over an eightmonth period. It was a process Lisa both welcomed and enjoyed.
"Going through the IVF process had been all about me, and for the first time it was really nice to think that this could be about somebody else." They were approved to adopt in 2007. "The Holy Grail was to step into Mothercare and buy some muslins. Buying the buggy was joyous. Nothing will ever take that away, that joy of little things for a little person, that everyone else takes for granted. Even a plastic spoon."
The couple host John and Lisa's Weekend Kitchen
When Billie, who is fair like Lisa and has her mannerisms, came to live with her "forever" family in 2008, Lisa felt an overwhelming sense of responsibility, struggling to get out of bed and greet the day. "There were a few days when I felt I couldn't let her down, that I couldn't cope. But a lot of new mums feel like that."
She now talks of how passionately she loves her daughter: "It is fierce, this instinct to protect and always do the right thing by them." Which is, she said, the job of all parents, except adoption is often described as "parenting plus". "When someone first said the 'plus' to me I was like: 'Yeah, whatever, it's not going to be like that for me. It's not plus, it's love.' How wrong I was. There is everyday parenting for every parent and then there's adoption, which is helping a child navigate their history, their relationships, the issues that crop up that aren't the sort of things the average parent deals with. It's helping them understand their story and why they’re where they are."
Lisa's marriage to Chris broke down not long after their daughter was adopted, irreparably damaged by the years spent trying to have a child. "It's not a surprise that we imploded. Some people stick together, but sometimes they're just a shell, all the substance gone. But I have to say he is a great friend, and we parent together." She introduced Billie to John, who has four children from two previous relationships, "very slowly". The pair now have "a great relationship". Lisa first met John in 2010, when she took part in and won Celebrity MasterChef. They started dating a couple of years later. He proposed on Christmas Day.
"He's a very different person to me. He is an alpha male in that he's a leader and provider. But then I’m probably very alpha female, and fiercely independent. But he'd say we're a team now. We both love yoga and looking after our bodies and mindfulness, as well as walking, eating, chatting, cooking. We look after each other, and that’s probably something I’ve done because of hindsight – when you don't look after each other, things fall apart. We both feel lucky that we’ve found each other."
Scouted at 16 as a model before becoming an actress, Lisa has always diversified in her career. She cooks, has written three cookbooks and cohosts an ITV show with her fiancé, John and Lisa's Weekend Kitchen. Like all actresses, her career has been "up and down". "Some days you're flying, then suddenly there's no work, then there's work again. But I'm lucky I've had opportunities to be able to both act and cook." And now write, which she'd like to do more. The most important lesson she's learnt from Billie is "to be open, to keep talking and hear what she's saying", Lisa says. "When you really listen, it opens up a whole new world. She has taught me to listen."
Looking back over her journey to motherhood, would she have it any other way? "For all the ups and downs, and all the moments of darkness, it was meant to be."
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