KT Tunstall was approached by the Long Lost Family team to become the show’s first celebrity searcher. She tells Gemma Dunn about her enriching journey.
When KT Tunstall signed up to Long Lost Family, she understandably had her doubts. The Suddenly I See hitmaker, who had always known she was adopted, grew up in St Andrews, Scotland, in a loving family. But it was only after watching the Mike Leigh classic Secrets & Lies that she began to think about finding her birth parents.
“I was watching this amazing cast portray that experience,” she says of the 1996 film. “I met Brenda Blethyn (who portrays a birth mother in the movie) not long after finding my birth mother and told her about it; she was crying and said, ‘I can’t believe you did it’.
“Watching someone go through this experience in a real or fictional way can have a profound effect on you,” she recalls. “[But] it’s a big decision to make because you basically step through a doorway that you can’t go back through again. You can’t make it unhappen, and you’ve got to take the risk of finding out whatever and being OK with it.”
Fortunately for Tunstall, 44, her own search for her birth mother, Carol Ann, paid off. And having successfully tracked her down in 1998, the pair have since formed a good relationship. However, the whereabouts of her biological father remained a mystery.
That was until Long Lost Family - the Bafta-winning ITV series - stepped in. Now in its ninth season, the tearjerker - presented by Davina McCall and Nicky Campbell - has traced hundreds of missing relatives since its inception in 2011, with the help of trained intermediaries, DNA experts and investigators from all over the world.
Tunstall, who is about to start the UK summer festival circuit and has a sell-out performance scheduled at The Picturedrome in Holmfirth in August, was its first celebrity searcher.
And her decision to participate in an episode of the show’s latest seven-part run was not taken lightly. “I needed to have a think about whether I want to do it on camera,” she reasons. “I haven’t really watched telly since about the year 2000, so I wasn’t aware of these kinds of real-life programmes.
“And obviously the worry is ‘What’s the agenda here?’,” she admits. “Are they wanting some sort of salacious, crazy, Jeremy-Kyle style nightmare scenario that is going to get everyone watching?
“But it became apparent very quickly that this was a very emotionally mature, very experienced team, who literally just want to find family members and put them together in the safest and most positive way.
“After I realised that, it was like, ‘Yeah, no brainer’,” she says. “Finding my birth mum was hard on my own, whereas this is a team of researchers with tonnes of experience and access to stuff that I’ll never have. Also there’s amazing psychological and emotional support and I wish I’d had that the first time around.”
Sadly, it wasn’t meant to be, as Tunstall soon discovers (off camera) that Michael died in 2002. “He died quite young - but he’d gone on to have children with a new partner very soon after I was born,” she relays. “My two sisters [Siobhan and Lesley-Anne] were growing up about 35 miles away from me!” “We look like each other, which is absolutely bonkers for all of us,” Tunstall says excitedly.
The siblings have been a fan of the singer - buying her album and seeing her play at festivals - unknowingly. “I can’t imagine what it’s like for them, because I knew there was always a possibility that I had half-siblings in the world but they had no idea,” she muses.
She hopes that sharing her story will also enable other adoptees to take a leap of faith. “It takes courage to ask the question, because you don’t know what you’re going to get,” she says. “You could get a disturbing story that you’ve got to live with for the rest of your life, I was extremely lucky.”
Watch KT Tunstall on Long Lost Family on Monday, July 1.