In a recent article published by the Express Newspaper, actress Clare Grogan talks about what it’s like to adopt and admits that it is a lot tougher than she had expected.
The article, by Simon Button tells Clare’s story beautifully and highlights the emotional roller coaster of adopting a child.
AFTER miscarriages and IVF actress and singer Clare Grogan never thought she would become a mum. But then Elle came into her life and everything changed.
Being a mum to 10-year-old Elle means everything to Clare Grogan. “She sees the world from such a refreshing angle,” beams the singer and actress as Elle bounces around the room, delighted at getting to play dress-up for our photoshoot.
Clare, whose own love of dressing up helped take her band Altered Images into the charts in the 1980s, smiles. “I know that might change, but Elle’s at that age where she and her friends are still basically sending each other silly pictures – like puppies eating marshmallows,” she says.
Clare’s struggles to become a mother have been well documented. She’s spoken movingly about miscarriages and failed IVF treatments, eventually deciding on adoption. She and her husband – former bandmate Stephen Lironi – welcomed Elle Lucia, who was just eight months old at the time, into their London home in 2005 and Clare confesses parenting isn’t always easy.
“It’s a lot tougher than I expected it to be,” she admits. “When you’ve been through everything Stephen and I did to achieve it, all you want to do for this little person is say ‘yes’. But being good parents means having to say ‘no’ sometimes.
I do genuinely struggle with that, but I want her to grow up with the values I grew up with.”
Glasgow-born Grogan and her two sisters were raised in a council house: “We didn’t have very much, but my parents taught me the real value of life and I think that’s so important. Elle has a much more privileged upbringing, but we want her to know how the world really works.”
Mother’s Day is always a double celebration for Clare, whose birthday is on Tuesday – she’s about to turn 53 – and usually involves a big family lunch. She doesn’t know what Elle is getting her this year but, after a thoughtful Christmas gift – a Tatty Devine necklace with “Mummy” on it that Elle designed herself – she knows it’ll be something nice. Elle covers her mum’s ears and tells me what it is. I won’t spoil the surprise, but Clare’s going to be very pleased.
Lively Elle doesn’t stick around to chat for long, however – she’s too busy trying on every dress she can get her hands on. And, as she and her mum dance to Mark Ronson’s Uptown Funk to loosen up for the photoshoot, they seem to be great mates as well as mother and daughter.
They could just as easily be dancing to Grogan’s own Happy Birthday, which she sings to her daughter every year – “In fact, I sing it to everybody,” she laughs – and Elle has heard all the Altered Images records and seen the videos. “She inspires me to be a singer,” Elle says, adding that she’s not so good at acting.
“She’s a great singer and can really hold a tune,” Clare confirms. “We don’t know where that comes from but we’re delighted about it.”
Now Clare, who shot to fame in 1981 as a star of the hit movie Gregory’s Girl, has added a new string to her bow. She has her own series of children’s books, The Adventures Of Tallulah Gosh, which charts the adventures of a young girl who dreams of becoming a pop star.
The two books in the series so far, Tallulah And The Teen Stars and Tallulah On Tour, are partly based on the author’s own experiences of the pop world.
She’s never been tempted by offers to write her memoirs, even though, as she says, “it was quite an extraordinary double whammy I experienced”. But she did love the idea of drawing on her own story as the basis for fiction.
“I wanted to do something that was fun and would also be a bit of a life lesson for Elle,” she says. “Sometimes I find it difficult to explain to her what I do. I mean, I’ve never had a proper job, apart from when I was a waitress in the Spaghetti Factory in Glasgow when I was still at school.
“Also, I feel very strongly in encouraging girls to follow their dreams. I don’t think that’s about being famous – it’s about finding something you love, being passionate about it and working really hard.”
Clare has always been a hard worker – and she’s a fighter, too, refusing to give up on her dream of becoming a mum. She was in her early thirties when she had the first of several miscarriages and had four rounds of IVF, none of which led to a successful pregnancy. “But I was on a mission,” she says, “and I couldn’t abandon that mission until I achieved my goal. Because I could get pregnant, Stephen and I always assumed, ‘Surely we can go full term.’ That was not to be our story, but there was always a lot of hope attached to the painful process. I have always been reluctant to say ‘no’ to any scenario, so I was like, ‘I’m going to make this happen.’ But there were times, of course, when my nearest and dearest were concerned.”
Clare vividly recalls bumping into an actress friend in the street. She was pushing a buggy and revealed that her lovely little boy was adopted.
“I practically ran home thinking, ‘Of course!’” But it took another two years for the dream to become a reality. “If someone had told me it would take two years, I think I would have felt soul-destroyed,” says Clare. “But at least things kept happening along the way.”
Eventually, she and Stephen were sent a tape of Elle. “And when we saw Elle in that video, Steve and I both felt completely the same way – and that was, ‘This is our child.’”
As part of the process, they visited Elle in her foster home, getting to know her over a couple of months before taking her home to Crouch End in north London. “That way it’s not quite such a shock,” Clare explains, “even though you want to go, ‘Right, you’re mine now!’ Which wouldn’t be the right way to do it at all.”
On the first visit, Elle was sitting on a play mat, surrounded by toys. “She was literally sucking on a dog’s tail,” Clare recalls with a grin. “She had a real dog’s tail in her mouth and I said to Steve, ‘At least we don’t have to sterilise the house from top to bottom.’”
Elle knows she’s adopted.
“It’s something she’s always known. When she used to say things like, ‘Mummy, when I was in your tummy…’ I’d tell her, ‘Well Elle, you weren’t in my tummy.’ I always say, ‘You were a gorgeous present that Daddy and I got.’ As time’s gone by, she’s getting a better understanding of what being adopted means, and sometimes that’s easy for her and sometimes that’s hard for her.”
Elle is certainly a happy child, who has been on TV and film sets and doesn’t hide shyly in a corner. “She loves being a part of this world,” says Clare. “She charms everyone. She’s very at ease. I guess it’s because this is what she knows, but I’m quite surprised at how great she is at fitting in. She can work a room better than I ever could.”
By contrast, Clare was quite shy as a young girl. “I’ve had to conquer that,” says the woman who has been in the public eye from the age of 19. She was cast in Gregory’s Girl around the same time as her pop career was taking off.
Did it go to her head? “Well, I think it would be hard for any young person to be at the receiving end of the kind of attention and the spotlight I found myself under, and not have a moment where you go…” She pantomimes being well and truly chuffed.
“You get used to being treated a certain way with a certain privilege and it happens really quickly. But I honestly think it’s who you surround yourself with. I didn’t change my friends and you can’t change your family and, although they were quite proud of me, it was, ‘You’ll always be one of us.’ That kept my feet on the ground.”
She remains close to her elder sisters Kathleen and Margaret. Losing their mum Patricia seven years ago, aged 78, after she contracted a virus in hospital, was a terrible blow. “We always thought she’d make it out of hospital but she never did,” says a tearful Clare, who began penning the first Tallulah book shortly after her mum’s death.
“I needed to think about all she’d given me in life and I wanted to cling on to all those words of wisdom and an attitude that I didn’t necessarily appreciate when I was young. But as you get older and become a mum yourself you go, ‘I get it now.’ With my mum it was, ‘Things are never as bad as you think – and even though it may feel like a total disaster today, tomorrow I know it will feel less like a disaster.’
“She was a very practical woman, my mum, and she was quite unimpressed with this world. She wasn’t unimpressed or blasé about me, but she’d say,
‘You know what, Clare? I’ve got three daughters and you’re all the same to me.’” Clare beams with affection. “She was always a bit, ‘Get over yourself, Grogan.’ I loved her for that.”
Clare still does gigs, makes (mostly small) films and, having been in EastEnders, Skins and Waterloo Road, often pops up on TV. Having Elle affects what work she’ll take – a bit of filming here, summer gigs there – because, as she says: “It’s too difficult to be away for long periods of time.”
When she goes out on stage now, it’s with an all-girl version of Altered Images. “That’s the beauty of it being called Altered Images because we can alter the image,” she laughs, adding that there’s been no big fall-out with the other band members. She still sees bassist Johnny McElhone and, of course, she is married to Stephen. “But it’s a bit like when you’re at school. You get on with schoolmates at the time, but you don’t always stay in touch.”
Parenting takes up a lot of Clare’s time these days and, according to her daughter, she can be strict. “She’s not afraid to send me up to my room or take away my electronics,” Elle says. But clearly there are no hard feelings. Asked what she wants to do on Mother’s Day, she grins, throws her arms round Clare’s neck and says: “I just want to spend it with my mum.”
Clare’s book Tallulah And The Teenstars is out now in paperback (Black and White Publishing, £11.89) and Kindle e-book (£1.99).
Images repurposed from the Express Newspapers article.