Exclusive photoshoot and interview with Oona King by Alan Olley and Richard Barber for Scope Features
At 11.55pm on Thursday, the moment Oona King had been anticipating for more than 15 years finally arrived: her longed-for first biological child was born.
But rather than elation, that first precious touch of her newborn son’s skin triggered panic and pessimism.
‘I have to admit,’ she confides, ‘as I cradled him, it felt like there was a glass screen between us. I felt really detached from him.
‘I also felt like I was being unfaithful to my three other children.’
It’s a complex reaction because, at 45, Baroness King of Bow, as she’s known in the House of Lords, had to rely on a surrogate to deliver her baby.
She had previously spent more than £70,000 on six failed attempts at IVF and she and her husband, Tiberio, had adopted three children: Elia, eight, Kaia, six, and two-year-old Ariel.
That would be more than enough of a handful for most women — but Oona persisted with her dream of having her own biological child.
A controversial decision — and one she is speaking about publicly for the first time today.
She insists she was not gripped by an insatiable desire to have her own biological child, but simply didn’t want to discard embryos she and Tiberio, 51, had frozen when going through IVF.
‘It’s just that we paid £1,500 a year to freeze our embryos and I couldn’t bear the thought of destroying potential life.
‘I felt my family was complete, yet something stopped me sanctioning those eggs being destroyed. When the chance of surrogacy came up, we went ahead.’
Not that Oona had ever truly believed she would end up with her own healthy baby at the end of it.
‘When you’ve been through so many failed attempts, you never believe there’ll be a happy ending,’ she says. ‘That’s why I felt so detached from our baby when I held him. I just assumed he was going to die.
‘There were a few emergencies when he stopped breathing, but he has since been declared healthy by doctors. Yet I still can’t relax.’
And what about leaving it until halfway through her fifth decade — doesn’t she worry about being an older mother?
‘Not at the moment, no,’ she insists. ‘We’re both very healthy, very fit and very young in our attitude. I’m sure the years will catch up with us, but for now we feel well able to cope with the arrival of a brand new baby.’
Oona claims that, where others see problems, she sees challenges.
And achieving her dream of having a bustling family has certainly been that: one complicated by her high-profile career, the stress of which even led to the temporary break-up of her marriage.
‘Yes, it’s been tough,’ says Oona. ‘But nothing compares to the joy of having a family, so it’s all worth it.
‘The stress of my work was obviously a factor in my not getting pregnant — although it couldn’t have been the only explanation.
‘But I’m a determined person; more than that, I’m resilient. It’s a quality that helps both personally and professionally.’
This from the politician who knew she wanted to be an MP from the tender age of four.
She and her young brother, Slater, grew up in Camden, North London. Their father, Preston King, an African-American who was active in the civil rights movement, and her English mother, Hazel, a teacher from an Orthodox Jewish family, split up when she was four.
She attended Haverstock comprehensive, where she met fellow pupils David and Ed Miliband.
True to her childhood wish, she went on to work in Brussels for the European Parliament in 1991. It was there, at 23, she met Tiberio Santomarco, then 28, an Italian fellow trainee.
They were friends for two years before romance blossomed: they married in July 1994 in Naples, near where Tiberio is from.
Having settled in East London, they focused on their careers — hers working for the GMB union until 1997, his working for a media company — and family wasn’t their ‘top priority’.
She says: ‘If anything, Tiberio was the broody one. I wasn’t yet 30 and I felt I had plenty of time for babies.’
Full story in Daily Mail