Martin Sixsmith

Martin Sixsmith was born in Cheshire and educated at Oxford, Harvard and the Sorbonne. From 1980 to 1997 he worked for the BBC as the Corporation’s correspondent in Moscow, Washington, Brussels and Warsaw. From 1997 to 2002 he worked for the Government as Director of Communications and Press Secretary first to Harriet Harman, then to Alistair Darling and finally to Stephen Byers. He is now a writer, presenter and journalist. He is the author of Philomena, as well as the novels Spin and I Heard Lenin Laugh, and the non-fiction books Moscow Coup: The Death of the Soviet System and The Litvinenko File: The True Story of a Death Foretold. He lives in London.

When she fell pregnant as a teenager in Ireland in 1952, Philomena Lee was sent to the convent of Roscrea, Co. Tipperary, to be looked after as a ‘fallen woman’. She cared for her baby for three years until the Church took him from her and sold him, like countless others, to America for adoption. Coerced into signing a document promising never to attempt to see her child again, she nonetheless spent the next fifty years secretly searching for him, unaware that he was searching for her from across the Atlantic.

Philomena's son, renamed Michael Hess, grew up to be a top Washington lawyer and a leading Republican official in the Reagan and Bush administrations. But he was a gay man in a homophobic party where he had to conceal not only his sexuality but, eventually, the fact that he had AIDs. With little time left, he returned to Ireland and the convent in which he was born to plead with the nuns to tell him who his mother was, so that he might see her before he died. They refused. His desperate quest left a legacy that was to unfold with unexpected consequences for all involved.

 

(Photo © Kate Eshelby)