About the Author

Rachel Williams is a survivor of over 18 years of domestic abuse at the hands of her ex-husband. Now an active campaigner, she is the ambassador for Welsh Women’s Aid and Llanelli Women’s Aid, as well as a pioneer for Safelives. She lives in South Wales with her husband Mike, and this is her first book.

About the Book

‘He pushed open the door, and I saw that he was pulling something out of the bag he was carrying. It was a gun – a sawn-off shotgun.’

Darren was funny and attractive, and 21-year-old Rachel fell head-over-heels for him. But his inner demons soon surfaced. Weakened and alone, Rachel was beaten and tormented by him for 18 years, until one day, Darren turned up at her place of work with a shotgun and left her for dead. But her ordeal wasn’t over yet … Devastating yet inspiring, Rachel’s story of hope tells of how you can always find the light, even in the very darkest of times.


I would like to dedicate this book to my sons. First to my darling younger boy Jack, who I know is shining down on me and giving me the strength and courage to fight on to raise public awareness of domestic abuse. Then to my elder son Josh, who has shown tremendous courage, wisdom and resilience throughout these tragic events. Josh, I am so proud of the person you have become. You have not let 19 August 2011, and the aftermath of that day, rob you of your life. We have got through this together.

Then I would like to acknowledge the help, love and support I have had, and continue to have, from family and friends, old and new.

Thank you also to Ellie Piovesana, for helping me to find the right words to tell my story.

Most importantly, I would like to thank God, for without him this would not be possible. He not only saved my life and gave me a second go at it, but he has given me grace to forgive those that need forgiving, and the strength and courage to move forward with my life. He has also given me a wonderful man who has come into my life and stood by me through it all. He has been my shoulder to cry on, scream and shout at and, most importantly, he has shown me what love is.

Thank you all for being part of my journey. I love you all.


By actor, Michael Sheen

The story you are holding in your hands is shocking. It shouldn’t exist. It should never be allowed to happen to anyone. And we all share responsibility.

At the same time, Rachel’s story is transformative. It is life-changing. Not just for Rachel herself but, potentially, for the thousands upon thousands of people whose lives are affected by domestic violence and abuse every day in this country. Those who suffer it directly or indirectly, and those who perpetrate it. And, perhaps most importantly, for our whole society.

Because this is a story of a society that is getting it wrong. Rachel describes it as an epidemic and the figures suggest she is right. Domestic violence is not something we find easy to talk about and understandably so. It reveals aspects of our society and ourselves that we’d prefer not to face or acknowledge. But not having the courage to look at who we really are and what is really going on in too many of our families and relationships only serves those who are violent and controlling. It leaves those who are on the receiving end of it isolated and unprotected.

As Rachel’s story shows, people who are suffering such horrendous experiences display almost unimaginable levels of strength and courage to survive and come through to the other side. We must all do whatever we can as a society to support people like Rachel on that journey. Too often, though, our institutions and systems are letting us down in doing that, compounding the problems rather than serving the needs of the vulnerable. Not necessarily by design but often through lack of awareness or outdated systemic responses, people who need real help are given obstacles instead of support. All the more reason to make sure that this story is heard, that the true scale of the issue is reckoned with and our task of re-imagining an effective response is faced up to and implemented.

Rachel is incredibly brave in sharing her story with such honesty and directness. Not only here in this book but also constantly putting herself out there in the media, on social media and in her various ambassador roles to keep pushing for change. Telling her story will undoubtedly save lives and I hope will provide a major step towards the societal transformation we so desperately require.

As I said at the beginning, this story is a shocking one. It lays bare one of the darkest moments of Rachel’s life and I honestly don’t know how I or anyone I know would ever cope with such horrific events. But Rachel and her story are so much more than that. I’ve had the great pleasure to meet and talk with Rachel on many occasions and it is her generosity, her determination and her optimism that shine through more than anything. This is a story full of hope and strength. Rachel has found a way to turn the horror and the loss of her darkest times into a call for change. She is fighting every day to make things better, to give support where it is needed and to draw attention to where we are letting people down who most need our help.

No one is better suited to this mighty task than the extraordinary woman whose story you have in your hands but we must all look to what we can each do to aid her in this struggle.

We must show a small drop of that courage that Rachel and others like her have shown, dare to face ourselves and what we allow, and then work together to create the change.

Michael Sheen

Chapter One

It’s bedtime, I’m two years old and my favourite person in the whole world is tucking me into a bottom bunk. It’s my big strong grandad – or Grancha, as I called him – and he’s singing to me lovingly, trying to soothe me to sleep. Go to sleep, my baby, shut your big brown eyes

This is my earliest memory, living on Cyril Street in Newport, Wales, with my mum’s parents – Grancha and my hilarious nanna Dolly. I adored them both and they absolutely doted on me. I lived with my grandparents because my mum Avril, who slept above me on the top bunk, was just a kid herself when she had me.

To say I was a surprise would be a bit of an understatement. When she fell pregnant at 17, Mum was so terrified of disappointing her father she kept the whole pregnancy a secret. For the whole nine months, no one in the family had the slightest clue I was on the way until the day I was born. When I arrived kicking and screaming on 10 February 1972, it was a huge shock to the family and no doubt the talk of the town. But Mum stood her ground. She wanted me, so everyone pulled together to support her and give me the best possible start they could.

I was still a toddler when my mum and dad Ray got their own house on Bishton Street. It was number 33 and less than two minutes’ walk from Nanna and Grancha’s, which was perfect for everyone. The house needed a bit of work, but Grancha was only too happy to roll up his sleeves and help knock it into shape. His father had been a real handyman, making built-in wardrobes before the rest of the world even knew what they were. Now Grancha was the one who could turn his hand to any and every type of DIY. He had the most incredible shed and whenever he went out there I wouldn’t be far behind him, eager for a mooch around his treasure trove. I was obsessed! I loved looking at the tools and messing about with all the noisy little tins full of different nuts and bolts. Other girls my age were into pretty pink dresses and dollies in pushchairs. I was the chubby tomboy hanging out down the shed wearing Grancha’s flat cap.

We were an incredibly close-knit family and I was so lucky that Nanna and Grancha were always around to help out. When I started nursery, they would take it in turns to walk me over George Street Bridge and hug me goodbye at the gate. I never cried when I was dropped off – I was the one marching inside and getting on with things. In the area where we hung our coats up we had a locker each with our own toothbrush and flannel inside.

Mum and Dad got married, and in 1977, when I was five, they gave me a baby sister. The day they brought her home from the hospital I stood on my tippy toes and peered into the pram to get a look at little baby Natalie. She seemed to sleep a lot, but also made a lot of noise when she wanted to. I thought she was wonderful – a real live dolly!

Coming from a family of strong characters gave me a great deal of confidence as I started to make my way in the world. I left nursery and moved up to Maindee Primary School where I blossomed into a right little madam. Because I was so extroverted, the teachers loved me and I always had a gang of mates around me. My favourite time of day was playtime because we were always itching to get outside and play Kiss, Cuddle or Torture. This involved being chased around by boys and, if one managed to get hold of you, you had to tell him whether you wanted a kiss, a cuddle or to be tortured. I never found out what the torture option involved because I always asked for a cuddle or a kiss. Some of them would try to go for the lips and we would run away screaming. The boys were generally quite scared of us, but I managed to get one of them to be my boyfriend for a while. His name was Michael, he was in my class and lived at 101 Chepstow Road. We didn’t talk much, but there was a lot of cute hand holding. Michael broke my heart by emigrating to Australia with his family.

As I moved up through the school I got a reputation as a bit of a chatterbox. I loved to talk so much that, if the receptionist ever called in sick, the head, Mr Madden, would pull me out of class to sit and answer the phones. I felt so smug strutting off out of my classroom to do a grown-up job.

The cane was still around in those days and there were always whispers in the playground that Mr Madden had some in his office. Being the nosy parker I was, I decided I was going to find out if it was true. I snuck over to his office and peered through the keyhole of the locked door. I gasped when I saw that, sure enough, there were rows of thin brown wooden canes lined up neatly on his wall. Feeling like the bee’s knees, I ran back to the playground to tell everyone the rumours were true.

The way I’m describing myself, you would think I’d be one of those kids who loved the limelight. Yet when it came to things like the school nativity, I much preferred to be on the sidelines doing something practical like opening and closing the curtains. I wasn’t a fan of the stage at all. There was something about the lights being in my eyes and not being able to see the faces of the audience properly that I found really daunting. Anyway, I had bigger fish to fry.

One day after our school dinner they brought out the most disappointing dessert I’d ever seen in my life – two measly slices of tinned peach and a bit of evaporated milk. I looked down at my bowl and thought: Is that it? That afternoon I went straight home and complained to my mother.

‘Why don’t you write a letter?’ she suggested.

‘I will!’ I said, defiant.

So that night, I sat and wrote a letter to Mr Madden, explaining how I was still hungry after my lunch because two slices of peach was not even close to a substantial pudding. It just wasn’t good enough! Next morning I hand-delivered the letter to Mr Madden’s office and, after calling me in for a chat, he agreed to increase the portion sizes. I like to think of it as my Oliver moment – please, sir, I want some more! Even then I was on a mission for change.

I was from a working-class family living hand to mouth, yet my sister Nat and I didn’t want for anything. Every birthday and Christmas we got a huge pile of presents, and each and every summer we went on a family holiday. One year we went to Cornwall and stayed in a little chalet. When I think back to that holiday, my memory of the weather is that the sun didn’t stop shining the whole time we were there. Mum and Dad bought us a dinghy and we spent hours splashing about in it at the beach. We didn’t need much to have fun.

Mum and Dad were still young and very sociable so many a Saturday afternoon was spent at Pillgwenlly Sports Club. The grown-ups enjoyed a drink with their mates while me and Nat mucked about, bowling and playing skittles. Sunday was all about Mum’s roast dinner in the oven and a good family film on the telly – usually James Bond or Bruce Lee. I couldn’t have asked for a better childhood. Life was good, but that’s not to say it was all plain sailing.

Mum and Dad bickered from time to time and there were a couple of big rows that woke us up in the night, prompting Nat to crawl into bed next to me, feeling frightened.

‘It’s OK,’ I would tell her. ‘Just go back to sleep.’

When I was 11, I was walking home from the park when my nanna came running up the street.

‘Now I don’t want you to panic, Rachel,’ she said, clearly panicking.

I peered past her and down the road to see an ambulance outside our house.

‘Grancha’s hit your father,’ she said.

I ran home to see my dad being carried out on a stretcher, his head all bandaged up. Unbeknownst to me there had been a heated row and Dad had slapped my mother so hard it perforated her eardrum. When Grancha got wind of it, he marched round to ours to confront Dad. They had words out in the street which ended with Grancha grabbing a plank of wood out of a skip and beating Dad over the head with it. There were nails sticking out of the wood and he was left with a couple of big holes in his scalp. To this day he still has the scars. To his credit, Dad took the beating and never pressed charges. He knew he was in the wrong and no doubt imagined himself reacting the same way if a man ever hurt me or Nat.

I didn’t come from a violent family, but they were people who believed you stuck up for yourself and your own. They had each other’s backs and were a tough, resilient bunch who never let the world get the better of them. I believe that their strength and positive attitude rubbed off on me and, years later, probably helped save my life.

The fight between Dad and my mother wasn’t something that was ever discussed in front of me, but I was smart enough to know that what Dad had done was serious enough to deserve the beating from Grancha. In the weeks that followed, I learnt that hitting a woman was serious enough to end a marriage, too. They never told us they were divorcing, Dad simply moved out. We never saw Mum get upset, which I think, all credit to her, must have been why we never felt worried or unsettled.

Grancha helped Mum pay the mortgage for about a year after that, so we wouldn’t have to move house. For a while, Dad would visit on a Sunday and take Nat and me out for the day, but then it just stopped and we didn’t see him for years. I never held any resentment towards him, though. Things were great when he was around, then when he left we were still happy and secure in our little family unit: life just went on.

Shortly after Dad left, me, Mum and Nat went abroad for the very first time. It had been booked before the break-up so Mum invited a girlfriend in Dad’s place. It was a lovely holiday to Spain and I was obviously really excited to go on a plane, but I was almost twelve now and due to start my first year at Lliswerry High School. The end of the holiday clashed with the start of school and I was gutted. I knew everyone would be catching up with friends and making new ones and at the time it felt gut-wrenching to be missing out.

I needn’t have worried, though. Despite joining a few days late, it wasn’t long before I was in the swing of high school, relishing the boost it gave my social life. There were new faces at the park after school and there was the excitement of buying and trying cigarettes. I remember me and one friend smoking a cheeky fag in a bush just in case anyone we knew walked past. We were puffing away when I heard someone shout, ‘I’ll tell your mother!’ I panicked and shouted back, ‘It’s not me!’

Mum was the only one in our family who smoked and it was mostly a social thing. She had been known to send me to the shop to buy her a packet of ten, but I knew she’d batter me if she found out I’d been smoking myself. She’d have been one of those mothers who made you smoke 20 in a row so you couldn’t even look at a fag again, so I was always very careful not to get caught.

As a teenager, I was still a tomboy who loved to be outdoors, but now I was doing it with a full face of make-up. I’ve loved make-up for as long as I can remember. Nanna Dolly always had the most amazing skin and I’m sure it was her who encouraged me to look after mine. She used to tell me to drink the water that the cabbage had been boiling in. It sounds gross but I quite liked it! Anything to keep me beautiful! Nanna Dolly also swore by Nivea face cream so, as soon as I started getting one or two pounds a week pocket money, that’s what I would buy – Nivea face cream, cheap sachets of face mask or a copy of Jackie magazine. When we had no money left, me and my girlfriends would steal lipsticks from Boots. I mastered a nifty trick of dropping them into my umbrella.


I had to get an eight o’clock bus to school so, if I wanted to look my best, I had to start early. Every morning I would get up at six, have a shower and wash my hair. Mum would make me tea and toast and I’d take it back to bed where I would sit making myself look perfect for school. My face would get the full works then I would style my hair with giant flicks at the sides, Farrah Fawcett style. I still have an old bus pass somewhere and in the photo I have the most bouffant wings and perfectly lined lips you’ve ever seen.

I went through a brief phase of wanting to be a punk, which mostly consisted of massacring T-shirts with a hole punch. I kept my hair long on top and got Mum to shave the back right into my neck, like a long version of a flat top. I was always dyeing it with cheap wash-in wash-out colours. I even tried pink food colouring once, which was great until it rubbed off all over my pillow.

Mum never minded me experimenting as she was young herself and always one to take care of her appearance. She wore nice clothes and liked to put her face on and do her hair. If she couldn’t afford the hairdresser’s she would put a colour on herself at home. I remember one of the first boys I brought home seeing her and going, ‘Phwoar! Your mum’s fit!’ It was a bit weird to hear, but I remember thinking, Yeah, I suppose she is! It was the first time I heard a boy comment about my mother in that way, but it certainly wasn’t the last.

It’s hardly surprising then that Mum wasn’t single for long. She struck up a close friendship with Colin, a welder who lived a few doors down. Nat and me liked him a lot, and, although Mum never openly said that they were in a relationship, she did ask if we minded him moving in. Once she knew we were OK with it, he was officially part of the family.

I was – and still am – very similar to my mum. I like everything to be just so. For example, on a Sunday I’d spend hours painting my nails then I would get my school uniform all laid out neatly ready for the next day. Natalie was the complete opposite. She was the messy one and woe betide you if you used the bathroom after her. Once she started wearing make-up and using hairspray to tame her wild wavy hair, the bathroom mirror would be caked in it. We shared a room and it was so obvious which side of the room belonged to who it was almost comical.

Sunday was ‘hoover and polish’ day and we were expected to do our share, in our room at the very least.

I’d ask Nat, ‘Are you hoovering or polishing?’

‘I’m not doing anything!’ she’d whine.

‘Well,’ I’d snap, ‘it’s one or the other. Take your pick.’

She would then ignore me until I was so wound up I would swing for her.

‘You’re doing something!’ I would scream at her. ‘You’re such a scruffy mare!’

Despite the sisterly rows we were always close. She looked up to me and I liked the authority. If I was in the mood I’d let her tag along with me to meet my mates down the park. I don’t remember it but she swears I made her start smoking.

‘You put a fag in my mouth,’ she says to this day.

I always reply, ‘Well, you didn’t have to suck it, did you!’

I had a big circle of friends and on Saturdays we would go to Kemp or Jubilee Park where a lot of the older kids would congregate. We would all chip in for cider and cigarettes and throw our own little party. You could buy single cigarettes back then so, if there wasn’t enough in the kitty for ten fags, we’d get as many as we could afford and share them round.

My best friend in the world was Rachael Phillips. She was ballsy, pretty and loved her make-up like me. We looked so grown up that by the time we were 15 we had no problem getting served in the pubs. On Tuesdays and Wednesdays it was pound a pint night at The Carpenter’s Arms. We would get the bus there and have two pints of bitter each while chatting to all the old boys. God, I loved to talk! Stinking of booze and fags, we’d get the last bus home. I’d open the front door, shout, ‘I’m going up to bed!’ and leg it straight upstairs so Mum wouldn’t smell the pub on me.

Rachael and I spent so much time together we became known as The Two Rachels. Her parents lived in a posh house that had a bar downstairs. We would sneak in, fill up a milk bottle with a shot from each of the optics and take it down the park to get drunk. I don’t know where the hell I got it from but I had this black cigarette holder. With my long nails, my red lipstick and my cigarette in a holder I swear I thought I was Joan Collins.

After one particularly boozy gathering, I stayed over at Rachael’s and when we got into bed the room started spinning. We didn’t want to wake her parents by going into the bathroom to be sick, so we did it out the window. The next morning, her mum came in, opened the curtains and saw the whole sorry mess all over the roof below.

I had fun, but was always careful not to push my luck too far, especially with Mum. We clashed occasionally, but I don’t think I caused her too much bother. She had a tougher time with Natalie. One night, she lied that she was sleeping at a friend’s house when in fact a group of them had planned to spend the night at the local cemetery. Well, you can imagine how creeped out they got in the dark. They ended up walking the streets and being picked up by the police. Mum was none too pleased to get a knock on the door from a copper in the middle of the night.

I somehow managed to keep a relatively low profile, despite being a bit of a ringleader at school. I always had my following, eager to join me round smoker’s corner. We’d roll our knee-high socks down to our ankles and smother baby oil all over our legs to try to get a tan while we sat on the grass puffing away.

‘I’m not going to maths today,’ I’d announce nonchalantly.

‘Oh, we’ll come with you then,’ they’d all say, and we would swan off down the park and wag the lesson. I don’t know how we got away with it. I remember we hated the winter because we were always desperate to be outside but it just wasn’t cool to wear a coat to school. I used to wear one of Dad’s old knitted Aran jumpers instead. It was navy and looked dead smart with my pristine white shirt underneath.

When it came to boys, I didn’t have a type looks-wise but my head would most definitely be turned by someone who could make me laugh. I liked boys who had an edge to them. I was a bit of a tough nut, into netball and always in a gang. Boys were always secondary to my friends and my social life, so they had to be quite ballsy to get my attention. And once they got me, they had to keep up with me.

Rachael and I double-dated two friends, Paul and Lawrence. They were nice boys and for a while we did everything together – we would go camping and they would take us out on the back of their scramblers. But it was a fickle world – you could be snogging someone’s face off on a Friday then flirting with someone else by Monday.

Back then, the place to be was Lysaght’s. It was a pub with a hall upstairs where they held a disco every Wednesday night, 7pm till 10pm. There was a time when my whole week revolved around this place. On a Saturday, Mum would take me to the Cattle Market where they sold the best clothes because they were so cheap. If I was lucky she would buy me a whole outfit and it would be hung up on the outside of my wardrobe for the next four days, ready for my next trip to Lysaght’s. I had a ra-ra skirt and electric-blue ankle boots with fringing on them. We would crimp or flick our hair, then dance all night, scanning the room for boys we fancied.

I can’t remember what I’d done, but one of the few times I was grounded Mum banned me from Lysaght’s for a week. I sat looking out of my bedroom window, watching all the other kids on my street heading off to the disco without me. It was pure torture!

There was another teen night at a pub called The King’s. It was fortnightly and everyone would get tipsy before turning up in their little groups for a dance. On one night out there a boy kept looking over and smiling. He was tall – already touching six foot, so I knew he must be older than me. His hair was dark and long on top, styled in a side parting with the fringe flicked over one eye and the back shaved into his neck. He was with a group of mates and just from the way he held himself I could tell he was fun. I grabbed Rachael and shouted in her ear over the music. ‘See that boy over there? Go and ask him if he likes me.’

His name was Ian, he was sixteen and two years above me at Hartridge High School, just over a mile away from Lliswerry. He cracked a few jokes and, from the twinkle in his eye, I could feel the spark of something exciting.

After that night, Ian and I would make excuses to hang about close to each other’s school, hoping we would bump into each other. After a few casual meetings in the safety of our gangs, we broke away on our own and started to get to know each other properly.

Ian’s parents were separated. He lived with his mum in a maisonette in Ringland, Newport, a short bus ride from me, and was close to finishing school and starting work at a local steelworks. Before long we were seeing each other three or four times a week. Sometimes we would socialise in a group, sometimes we would disappear off fishing together so we could be alone. We couldn’t get enough of each other. This is it! I thought gleefully. I felt like my future was in the bag.

Ian was still friendly with his father and would meet him most Saturdays, so I started tagging along too. Ian would meet me off the bus and the three of us would go for a fry-up at The Georgian. After school in the week I would catch the bus to his so we could sit side by side and watch TV or listen to music. Ian’s mum was lovely and always delighted to see me. She loved to bake so I’d always have a cake or something with custard waiting for me. Her creations were usually delicious but one time she put poppy seeds in something and it was vile. I was way too polite to say anything, though.

When Ian started his job at Gwent Steel, as it was called back then, I realised what a grafter he was. He worked five shifts a week and would either be there for six o’clock in the morning or finishing at ten at night. Once he had a full-time wage coming in he was always very generous with his money. During our first summer together we were looking round the shops hand in hand and he bought me an engagement ring for £50 from Ratners. It wasn’t an official tell-your-family-and-throw-a-party kind of engagement. I don’t think we told anyone apart from a few close mates who teased us about the ring. But it was a very romantic gesture, nonetheless. I was a real magpie who loved jewellery and liked to wear a ring on every finger. I remember lusting after sovereign rings for months and for our first Christmas Ian surprised me with one. It cost him £109 and when I wore it I thought I was so cool.

With money in his pocket, Ian, now 17, became a regular at the pubs on a Friday and Saturday night. In the early days, he would see me on the last bus home then go off to the clubs without me, leaving me green with envy. Occasionally I’d slip him a couple of quid out of my own pocket so he could have a pint on me.

Ian was a regular at The Friendship Pub. It was right by the bus stop so I could go with him for a few hours and still get home on time. A group of us would go up there and play cards. It was there I met Jamie, one of Ian’s friends from school, and his girlfriend Jayne who would go on to be a really close friend of mine. When it was time for me to catch the bus, I would kiss Ian goodbye and head home, leaving him to enjoy himself. I remember getting to my stop and always being torn between the longer route home that was well lit, or the shortcut that was dark and dodgy. Well, being the chancer I am, I always took the short cut. I would leg it as fast as I could down the lane, past the odd drunk staggering about at kicking-out time. I would arrive home, cheeks flushed, heart pounding, just in time for bed.

As well as liking a drink and a laugh, Ian was a big fan of the football. It never interested me, so I was happy for him to go off to a match with his mates on a Saturday. They were a smart bunch in their Burberry shirts and Farah trousers, but there would nearly always be a scrap after the game. Once, Ian had his two front teeth knocked out. When I saw him I just shook my head and rolled my eyes.

‘Is this football rubbish really worth it?’ I laughed.

I left school at 16 and took jobs answering the phones at a local bailiff’s office. I didn’t plan on being there for ever, but I liked the work and the independence it gave me. And now I was that bit older with some cash coming in, occasionally I was able to join Ian and his mates in the clubs. It was so exciting going from drinking cider in the park to the bright lights of an actual nightclub. There was Tiffany’s and Stowaway. I remember the music, the lights, being part of an older crowd – it was exhilarating and I could see why Ian liked it so much. Sadly, it started to become apparent that he liked it all a bit too much.

Ian came to develop a real ‘work hard, play hard’ mentality. When he wasn’t at work he was hitting the town hard or at the football with his mates getting into some kind of scrape. It’s fun at first, when someone’s the life and soul of the party and the one with all the best stories. But when you realise they don’t know when to stop, it starts to become a bit tiresome. Ian started going out without me, kicking things off after work on a Friday and not reappearing until Sunday. I liked a good time but he was taking it to the next level. I felt a bit left out and neglected – not to mention worried – and it caused a few arguments. One night he stood me up.

‘What happened?’ I asked when he finally reappeared.

‘I went to Giovanni’s for dinner.’

It seemed fishy that Ian and his mates would be eating out at a nice Italian restaurant, so I quizzed him about what he’d had to eat there. Mum rang Giovanni’s for me and it didn’t take long for us to establish that whatever he said he’d eaten that night wasn’t even on the menu. ‘You’re a bloody liar!’ I screamed.

We were on and off for a while and, by the time I turned 18 in February 1990, we were on a break. Mum always spoilt me on my birthday and this year was no different. She bought me a beautiful sovereign necklace to match my ring and cooked a curry for me and a few mates. There was no Rachael this year. She was in a serious relationship and we were drifting apart. Instead, it was me and my friends Alex, Zoe and Joanne, and Tracey, a friend from work. We ate around four o’clock then headed into town to start drinking.

By then I was working full-time as a check-out girl at Tesco. I had no set career plan. I was all about getting set up so I could enjoy life. I made sure I had enough to pay my weekly bill for the clothes I had out of Mum’s catalogue and the rest was beer money.

We’d been separated a few months when I bumped into Ian in town one night. He looked good and obviously thought the same about me as he was soon turning on the charm, doing his best to get a smile out of me.

‘I’ve missed you,’ he said. ‘We should give things another go.’

I liked him too much to put up much of a fight and we were soon picking up where we left off. It was shortly after we rekindled our relationship that I realised my period was late. I confided in a female colleague who suggested we take a urine sample to the chemist to check I wasn’t pregnant. It seemed highly unlikely, but I agreed we should rule it out and we hopped on the bus to Ringland shops. Nerves suddenly jangling, I made her take the sample in for me. I sat outside, eyes clamped on the door of the chemist anxiously waiting for her to come back. I don’t know why I was so worried. Never in a million years did I think I could be expecting a baby. But when she came back out and nodded at me, her face said it all. Oh right, I thought, in stunned silence. I’m having a baby, am I? It was a very strange piece of news for a girl my age to digest. I mean, I didn’t just shrug my shoulders and head off to the pub. I was old enough and bright enough to know this was a big deal, that my life had suddenly spun around and started off in a different direction. And yet I was too young to even begin to comprehend the enormity of a baby – a fact some might say is a blessing of being a young mum.

The first person I rang was my sister, Nat. We agreed that Mum was going to hit the roof so, instead of telling her myself, I rang Dad and asked him to tell her for me. Dad and I were still in touch, even though he had no contact with Mum at this point. It must have been a double shit sandwich for Mum to get a phone call like that, not only from her ex but to tell her that her teenage daughter was making exactly the same mistake she had. Naturally, as soon as she heard the news she was straight on the phone to me.

‘What’s this about you being bloody pregnant?’ she snapped.

My defensive teenage response was something along the lines of, ‘Yeah, and … ?’

Mum’s gut reaction was that I should get rid of the baby and she called in reinforcements in the form of Jayne, who had just become a mum herself. I was lying in bed at home when Jayne appeared. In a frantic whisper before Mum followed her in, she said, ‘Everything I say to you now, your mother told me to say!’

That morning Mum basically read me the riot act about how my life was over. Jayne sat perched on my bed nodding along, saying, ‘You’re not going to have any life. You won’t be able to go out. Look at me!’ The whole thing was comical because I knew full well she was still out drinking all the time.

I can see now that Mum just wanted me to have a life and experience all the things she didn’t feel able to. I think that’s why she never stopped me going out and having fun. Up until this point, I’d been living the life she never had.

‘It’s all right for the blokes,’ she said. ‘They get to go off down the pub. It’s the women who get left holding the baby.’

But her words of warning just washed over me. There was never any question in my mind – I wanted to have the baby.

Chapter Two

In hindsight, given how much he liked a drink, Ian wasn’t exactly what you would call father material. I can’t remember his reaction to the news he was going to be a dad, which makes me think it wasn’t particularly good or bad. He wasn’t horrified and he wasn’t crying tears of joy either, it was probably just somewhere in between. Maybe deep down he already knew a child wasn’t going to have too much impact on his life.

With the bombshell that she was going to be a grandma at 37 still sinking in, poor Mum had to face telling Grancha I was pregnant, knowing first-hand how crushed and disappointed he’d be. I can only imagine how tough that conversation was for them both. They can’t have been happy about my decision but whatever words they might have had behind closed doors were never said when I was around. To my face, my grandparents, Mum and Colin – who I now considered my step-dad even though they never married – were nothing but practical and supportive.

‘You need to think about where you’re going to live,’ Mum said. ‘You know I’ll help out as much as I can but there isn’t enough room for a baby here.’

Mum was right. The room Nat and I shared was barely big enough for us, let alone a baby and every other thing that goes with it. While I set about looking for somewhere to live, Ian managed to make a sticky situation even worse by getting into trouble with the police. He was arrested for fighting at a football match and given a two-month prison sentence at a young offenders’ unit in Usk. This wasn’t ideal and did little to endear Ian to my family, but I knew he wasn’t a bad lad. This type of thing was fairly typical of almost all the boys I knew.

I visited Ian pretty much every week, sometimes with his mum, sometimes by myself. I told him I had found a shared house to rent on Walsall Street. I moved in right away and we agreed he would join me once he was let out. More than anything, I wanted to prove to my family that I was a grown-up who could stand on her own two feet. Mum let me get on with it, no doubt knowing that I would always need her, even if I liked to act like I didn’t.

Still working the tills at Tesco, I never quite settled into my new life at the house on Walsall Street. The guy who lived beneath me gave me the creeps so Mum’s sister, Auntie Romaine, took pity on me and let me stay with her for a while. Then Jackie, a friend at Tesco who was also expecting a baby, offered me and Ian a room at her place.

‘It’s a double room upstairs,’ she said. ‘We could do with the money so you’d be doing us a huge favour.’

Jackie was a couple of years older than me. She lived with her boyfriend John on Castle Street, just round the corner from my godmother Mary – a real salt-of-the-earth character who had been friends with my mum since they were teenagers. Jackie and John slept in a bedroom on the ground floor. The spare room was plenty big enough for me and Ian, and the four of us would share the rest of the living space. It seemed like the perfect set-up. Ian was released after serving around six weeks of his sentence, and we were delighted to move in and have a chance to get settled before the baby arrived.