To understand Neil Winnington the author, I guess it helps to know a little more about Neil Winnington the person. A big part of my life will always be the pain caused by the abduction of my daughter Emily. I campaign to raise awareness about the issue of parental child abduction to help other parents going through this, but today is one of those difficult times of the year, May 24th 2008 I took Emily to the beach for the first time, and did a video that would go on to be the inspiration for a song dedicated to Emily with a message to her in the lyrics, and here's a link to see it for yourselves... http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SrfD4dNrUSc
Emily's abduction didn't just effect me of course, and no-one was more devastated than my Mother who was dying with bowel cancer. One of the last things she made me promise was never to give up until I brought her Grandaughter home. In January 2009 Mum finally lost her fight with cancer, and I wanted to find a way of explaining to Emily where her Grandmother had gone if she did come home, so I wrote a poem, and this is more relevant than ever now because a wonderful animator called Sasha Dale is to start work on turning that poem into an animation, and I shall be helping with the crowdfunding project to make this happen.
You can find out more about Sasha by following her at https://www.facebook.com/SashaDaleAnimations and on Twitter @Sasha_Dale but for now I am going to share with you the blog I posted on Reverbnation to explain the story behind the poem, and then I shall share the poem itself with you, and Sasha and I are contemplating publishing a picture book using stills from the animation as well, so please do leave your comments below...
Emily’s Star-The Story Behind a Poem
Emily was abducted on September 28th 2008, she was two and a half at the time.
Her Mother had threatened to abduct her and ensure she would never see or hear from her father again unless I agreed to pay “Enough money for me to live like a queen in Russia” in which case he would be allowed two weeks holiday time with Emily. This was after I refused to pretend our marriage was ok so she could renew her visa and continue the affair she had been enjoying behind my back with a soldier, who, it turned out later, had something of a reputation for targeting married women as sport, breaking up marriages and dumping them.
I found out about the affair three days after Emily’s 2nd birthday, when my suspicions reached a new high when her mother insisted on going to have drinks with “friends” after work, and didn’t return until 2am, drunk and dishevelled. Emily had cried herself to sleep that night, after bringing me my shoes, pictures of her mother and pointing at the door. I had a good idea what was happening, but seeing Emily that night broke my heart more than even what her Mother was doing. When her mother confessed it was with a big smile on her face, even laughing as she relished my tears, and insisted on giving me extremely graphic details of her infidelity.
Emily was my whole world, I’d always wanted to be a father, so her Mother putting her affair before Emily made me fear for her future. On one occasion I got a text at work saying her boyfriend was on leave and Emily would be alone in the house unless I dropped everything and went home to her. This set the pattern for events over the next few months, with Emily’s mother disappearing for days at a time when he was on leave, and me clinging on to my job. The whole situation was made worse because Emily’s mother refused to move out of the house I was renting, and she was taking every opportunity to make my life hell, even trying to get me to commit suicide at one point, remembering something I’d said as a statement of love when Emily was newborn, that “if I ever lost you and Emily, life wouldn’t be worth living.” She was nothing if not expert at manipulating and twisting something you say, editing it to her convenience and throwing it back in your face.
While all this was going on the court case trying to block Emily being taken out of the UK was not going well. Without legal aid I was trying to fight the case at first without legal help, her mother ensuring I got very little sleep for as much as two weeks before every hearing so I would appear desperate, neurotic and emotional… it worked. From the first hearing, when the judge said he was sure the threats to abduct Emily was merely words said in anger, the tone was set. I was even threatened with contempt of court at one point for using the word abduction, and when Emily’s mother lied in her statement and in court, evidence I had to prove it was refused as irrelevant. In the end I was seen as a neurotic obstruction to a simple settlement and with assurances from Emily’s Mother that I would be granted joint custody and Emily staying with me upon their return if I consented to her taking Emily to Russia for an eight week “Holiday” to see her Russian relatives. It was made clear to me by the Cafcass officer dealing with the case that the judge would see that Emily’s mother had compromised a lot to come up with a generous offer, and me objecting when a court order protecting Emily by insisting on her return, would not look good, and would probably go against me. The biggest mistake of my life, was bowing to this pressure.
So Emily was taken, and that last night before her mother and her boyfriend came to take her (Yes, I wasn’t even allowed to see her off at the airport) Emily slept next to me her arms wrapped tightly around my neck. I don’t know if she knew what was happening, my tears before we fell asleep might have been a factor, Emily always gave me a hug and kiss when I cried. But her mother let herself into the house, and Emily was pulled from me still waking. I gave her the little toy dog I’d bought her on the day (As seen in the Inspiration video for Emily’s Song) I took her to see the sea for the first time, which she never let out of her sight. I later found it had been thrown under the stairs when I wasn’t looking. So the last memory of my little girl is through the back window of another mans car, straining to wave at me…
It became quickly apparent from the hatred spat down the phone at me by her Mother, and the constant excuses why I couldn’t come to Russia, such as a refusal to give me a letter of consent required to allow Emily to fly back with me, that her mother was going to carry out her threats. Before Emily was gone my mother had been diagnosed with terminal cancer, and the date on the court order demanding Emily’s return came and went after an excuse from her mother that she was ill and unable to travel was sent to the court. Mum was allowed home for the very last time from the hospice on Christmas Day. I tried several time to phone Russia so she could hear Emily’s voice one last time, but the phone was never answered. Less than a month later my mother died, her heart broken. She had made me promise not to give up until her beautiful granddaughter was safely home gripping my hand tightly.
The courts dragged their heels for another six months, with letters with excuses flowed from Russia like confetti, and in April her mother had the brass neck to come for a 2 week sex holiday paid for by her boyfriend, minus Emily. I know this because they turned up at my house to collect possessions. I called the police, and while they were made to wait outside I showed the court order demanding Emily’s return. It was a Friday, and I was told to allow her to collect clothes, and that no arrest could be made without guidance from the court. Her mother took her chance to grab one of my wage slips, which she used to claim half my wages upon her return to Russia for maintainence (which would have cost me the house I was renting, and to give you an idea of the scale of this effort, the average wage in her part of Russia is £50 a month.). In the end my willingness or otherwise was irrelevant because I was made redundant that May, before this Russian court case took place.
By that December I had lost the rented house, all my possessions, and my car, yet still had £10,000+ of debts, no job and no legal aid. Deep in depression and suffering a complete nervous breakdown did nothing to help my situation, and I reached my very lowest point. I wont go into the graphic details, but I found myself with a knife in one hand and my sleeves rolled up, and the phone by my other hand sat against a wall at my fathers house. I decided to try a phone call to Reunite International. I don’t know the name of the man on the helpline that night, but suffice to say he was so determined to get things moving with the FCO that he unwittingly saved my life.
A wonderful lady from the child abduction section at the FCO called me out of the blue, and after several more months of delays and excuses by Emily’s mother, a consular visit told me Emily was looking well and seemed to be happy. Her mother had refused all contact by now, and this was my last proof to this day that Emily was even alive. A change in government here led to a slight improvement in the intervention the child abduction section at the FCO were allowed to take, which proved vital as Emily’s mother now went back to the courts there sighting my “refusal” to pay the £500 a month demanded as proof enough to have me stripped of my parental rights. She did of course know I had lost my job, and without the money to pay a Russian lawyer I struggled with a little help from the FCO to state my case, to no avail. Soon after my saviour at the FCO suddenly told me she was taking early retirement, which I put down to the well publicised cuts. Now my calls to the FCO brought the old “You need to hire a Russian lawyer” line that told me any hope of government assistance was gone.
Fighting my way out of depression and the constant nightmares and guilt that stop me sleeping properly to this day, I have bounced from part-time job to part time job, but a chance conversation with singer/songwriter Doris Brendel led to Emily’s Song. I wanted to send a message to Emily, so wrote lyrics based around that special day at the beach, and Doris wrote the song. It was Doris who first suggested we use the song to raise money for charity, and remembering that moment when a phone call saved me Reunite International was an easy choice. She organised the musicians, and singer Sam Blue took time out from touring with Dizzie Rascal to provide the vocals.
The song became a focal point for me to campaign to raise awareness about parental child abduction, as I became more and more aware of the sheer numbers involved and determined that if I could save just one child and parent from this nightmare I could live with myself a little more. I had been a TV producer years before I met Emily’s mother, so knew my knowledge of how the media works would give me an advantage other parents might lack in being able to raise the profile of the issue. Unfortunately, to date, the poor sales of Emily’s Song and lack of response from the media and public has shown me that there is a general assumption that this is nothing more than a domestic issue across borders. With a general attitude fostered by both press and governments against immigration in general adding to this sympathy for these vulnerable children is at a pitiful low. I shall never stop the fight, but know I am up against the tide of opinion held by most.
As part of my self diagnosed therapy I started writing again. I have a novel ready to be published, and started writing more song lyrics, and poems that I might have written for Emily were she still here with me. The best of those so far is Emily’s Star. My intention was to find a way to explain to Emily about my mother passing away that wouldn’t distress her. I remember when we used to go to the car at night in winter that we’d always pause as Emily pointed up to the sky saying “Stars!” so the die was cast, and the poem flowed from that.
As an optimistic post script to this tale, I returned to film making scripting and directing a music video for Doris Brendel. “Going Out” is a single on her new album released on July 1st 2012 and Stewart Addison, the cameraman/editor invited me to join his collective of film makers at Film Division. Hopefully other record labels will give me commissions to direct mor music videos for their artists, and the fight to clear my debts and return to the Russian courts to see my Emily can begin again. Meantime I fight the nightmares, depression and guilt by continuing to campaign in the hope that public opinion will change and make governments around the World value their most vulnerable citizens as highly as their adults. It’s ironic that if it were me and not my more precious daughter who was abducted there would be both a public and media outcry for action and the Foreign Secretary working behind the scenes to get me home safely. At least 2000 British children have been abducted since Emily, many of the stories I’ve heard mirror my own, and yet no-one even talks about society’s forgotten children.
Today (Friday 7th June) I went to see My local MP Alison McGovern, having been warned by her office staff previously that she wouldn't get involved I went fearing the worst, but when I explained that my campaign isn't just about Emily, but about raising awareness and working to help preventing other cases like Emily she was very helpful, and I have to say I was pleasantly surprised. It is important to remember that Emily and the other abducted children are very much British citizens, and should be awarded all the rights and protections we all benefit from... These are not just domestic legal cases... If your car is stolen and taken abroad you do not expect to have to go to a foreign court to explain that the car was stolen... If an oil worker is abducted by terrorists there is a media outcry... Over 2000 British children have been illegally abducted by a parent or guardian in the five years since Emily, and no-one talks about it... Now is the time to remember every single one!
Someday I WILL write a book based on the entire story of what happened to Emily, but even five years on it is too painful right now for me to live that nightmare in such detail.
...and now the poem...
By Neil Winnington
Stood at her window as bedtime draws near,
Emily stares at the sky, which is clear,
"Why are those magical stars in the sky?"
She asks her old Daddy, who always knows why
"That's where the angels have turned on a light,
To watch over children asleep through the night,"
"So how do the angels know who they should see?
And what if an angel forgets about me?"
Daddy just smiles, as all Daddy's do.
"Each child has an angel, and there's one for you!"
"I have my own angel?" she asks in surprise!
"Why yes, from your bedtime, right through to sunrise."
"So how can an angel see through my curtain?"
"Oh angels use magic, of that I'm certain."
"So what if a monster, with fur that is red,
Comes out to eat me from under my bed?"
"Well I check for monsters, at least every day,
And the angel and me, we just chase them away!"
"Can we leave a gift for my angel to find?
Or would they forget it and leave it behind?"
"Angels get a heavenly gift in the morning,
If children go straight to bed, without warning."
"So my angel gets presents if I go to bed?"
"Well that's what your Grandmother had always said."
"I miss seeing Nanna, now she is gone,"
Daddy just points where the brightest star shone
"Look Emily, Nanna has turned on her light,
It's Nanna who'll watch you asleep through the night."
"My Nanna's an angel, and that's her new place?"
Emily wipes all the tears from her face.
"Why yes, and she kisses you as daylight breaks,
And flies back to heaven before you're awake."
But our little Emily makes not a peep,
She's waiting for Nanna, She's fallen asleep!
I have written other poems as well as other song lyrics, and I may in future publish a book of children's poetry. Emily's Star is simply more personal, yet also seems to strike a cord with a lot of people.
Next time I shall delve into my darker side and tell you a little of the background to my latest book of eroticacacacaca haha. Until then please ask friends to Google Search Emily's Song by Sam Blue, support our crowdfunding project to make the animation of Emily's Star a reality and do check out my books at http://t.co/SqHJbnO4FI ...better still buy one... buy all three, and one way or another you are certain to have a smile on your face!