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“I’m English - my passport says I’m English, my accent, everything I know is English. The only thing that isn’t English is my blood. I always grew up feeling different, there’s a part of me that I’m not sure about.” Nicci Wheeler
From Romania With Love follows the journeys made by three youngsters adopted by British families to find their birth relatives more than 20 years after searing images of the shocking conditions in the Romanian orphanages where they were kept dominated the news agenda.
Produced by North One, this new one-off documentary for ITV tells the emotional stories of three of the 324 children adopted into English families, who, as adults, set out to discover their history.
Each one traces their family members in different ways - through their adoption certificate in one case, through writing a letter in another, via social networking in the third. One visits the orphanage where she was left by her birth mother and later adopted by a British family who were moved to action by a children’s television programme which featured the orphans.
Featured in the film are:
Nicci Wheeler, now 22, who was adopted by Richard and Pauline Wheeler after they saw the Romanian children’s plight on a children’s TV programme. She still has her adoption documents - including her mother’s old address, and revisits the town where her family came from in a bid to find relatives who might still live there. She retraces the footsteps of her adoptive father, who went to Romania to adopt her but later died in a light aircraft crash before she could return there with him.
She says: “I’ve never felt like [my mother] abandoned me and left me because I have been so happy growing up. I consider my English parents to be my parents, I always will. Obviously my dad went and got me, went through hell and back to get me, so the only person I wanted to go back with was him. He was the best dad ever, I’m more like my dad than anyone. I know there’s no way he would let me pass this up.”
Her adoptive mother Pauline Wheeler says a children’s TV programme inspired her and her husband to adopt a Romanian baby.
“They said on there that these children had not ever been cuddled or held and they didn’t cry because there was no point. My husband Richard said, “What’s the matter with you?” and I said I just couldn’t get over it, these children, it just upset me. And so then we looked into doing something fairly concrete about it.”
Nicci discovers her mother has apparently moved to Italy, but goes on to meet her 94-year-old grandfather.
“I’ve basically found out my family history in an hour. It’s a lot to take in, in a short period, but I’ve come here with open ears. I’ve lost all my grandparents in England, so now I’ve got another grandad - my real grandad.”
Will Moult, now 23 and studying to be a teacher in Oxford, writes to his birth mother, who he hasn’t seen since he was a few days old, in the hope that they might be able to meet up if he visits Romania. He was adopted in 1990 with another Romanian orphan, Annie, who became his sister.
He says: “Apparently when I came to the UK, I had never touched hot water, I was completely unresponsive, I couldn’t walk, I couldn’t sit up, couldn’t do anything basically.”
He appreciates that his letter might spark unwelcome memories for his mother more than two decades later.
“You have to be really sensitive - maybe she had a reason to give me up, or no-one else knows about me, and she’s gone and moved on and she’s got another family or whatever. I mean, there couldn’t be anything worse, could there, than some long-lost child jumping back in the saddle. That could wreck someone’s life.”
When the pair finally meet in Bucharest, she is overcome by emotion, which he explains when their meeting ends.
“It was really good, really amazing, but really hard for her. You can see someone’s pain just by looking at them or seeing their emotions. She said that I look a huge amount like my dad, I think the only thing I've inherited from her are my lips. But I got a strong feeling that she never wanted to give the baby up. And it really came across to me in a way that she had really thought about this a lot. And that makes me realise that what I've done is the right thing.”
Cezarina Riley, now in her early 30s, spent 10 years in Romanian orphanages where she was beaten and emotionally neglected before being adopted by a British family. She has since done two tours with the Territorial Army in Iraq and Afghanistan. She says she doesn't blame her mother for placing her in an orphanage.
“I know she was young, she had me at about 15 or 16, her name was Violeta. I remember when I was 16, if I had had a child I wouldn’t have had a clue what to do, so I place no blame on her at all. I don’t feel bitter.”
The daughter of a Romanian foster mother with whom Cezarina stayed gets in touch through Facebook, and instigates an emotional reunion between the two in the UK, which is captured in the programme. Olga, the foster mother, explains that she initially could not afford to keep Cezarina in her house but later had a change of heart. However, by then the youngster had been adopted.
Cezarina says: “I think it’s sad that it has been so long, and I honestly never thought I would see them again.”
She then discovers her mother has changed her name and moved to Idaho in America, and the pair go on to speak, but are yet to meet: “It would be nice to meet my mum, obviously, but it would be like two strangers meeting and she must be so nervous and regretful.”