Tiffany Curry: I don’t know who I really am, where I was born or who my parents are
PUBLISHED: 10:14 03 November 2016 | UPDATED: 10:14 03 November 2016
Tiffany Curry was evacuated from Vietnam as a baby. She has no idea where she came from, but, she tells Sian Lewis, she’s writing her own story now...
Tiffany Curry is a mother, a partner, a much-loved friend and a successful event manager. All these things she knows to be true. But ask her a simple question like, “When’s your birthday?” and you are met with a smile.
“Well... umm, I celebrate on 2 April,” she says. “But I have no idea when I was actually born. I don’t know who I really am, where I was born or who my parents are.”
It is all explained in such a breezy way, it’s hard to imagine a more down-to-earth heroine for such an epic story.
Tiffany was just a bundle of baby when nuns found her by the side of the road in Vietnam’s Mekong Delta. It was early 1975 and the 20-year war that had claimed more than a million lives had entered the final bloody weeks. The nuns took Tiffany to an orphanage, and that’s when the story she knows began.
“I was on the last plane out of Saigon as the city fell,” she explains. “It was April 1975. The plane before had crashed, killing 138 people. So I feel doubly lucky to be here today.”
As Tiffany talks, she turns the pages of a black and white photo album on the table in front of her. The images inside, put together by the nurses who willed her back to life, chart her remarkable journey to a new home in England.
There is a grainy shot of her being cradled by a nurse, and one showing rows of cribs lying on the driveway to the American Embassy in Saigon, each one containing an orphaned baby waiting to be evacuated.
Then Tiffany lays a doll’s outfit on top of the album. “This is what the nurses dressed me in,” she says. “I was so malnourished that I was too small for baby’s clothes.”
In fact, she was so tiny that even three months later, when her adoptive mother held her for the first time her wedding ring slid easily onto Tiffany’s wrist.
Tiffany was saved, along with 2,500 other babies flown to new lives with adoptive parents in the UK and the US, as part of then American president Gerald Ford’s ‘Operation Babylift’.
“I don’t know if that would happen today, which is heartbreaking,” she says. “People seem so much more hardened to images of children suffering in warzones.”
But in the mid-1970s couples like Tiffany’s adoptive parents were queuing up to provide a home for the war babies from Vietnam.
Richard Hatton, the man Tiffany would grow up to call Dad, was one of London’s leading theatrical agents – the man who got Sean Connery his first Bond film. Tiffany’s mum, Lisa Thomas, was an actress, who starred alongside Raquel Welch in One Million Years BC. They lived a glamorous life, with dinners at The Ivy and Christmas hampers from Fortnum & Mason.
“My first memory is my bedroom in our house in Kensington,” says Tiffany. “It was a tall townhouse. I think it’s the Portuguese Embassy now.”
Growing up, Tiffany knew about the photo album and she knew she looked different from her younger sister, but she asked no questions.
“I was aware that I am adopted and my sister, who is four years younger, isn’t,” explains Tiffany. “I used to tell people, ‘She’s real’.”
“I didn’t want to learn Vietnamese or know anything about that culture. I was confident and my parents made me believe I could do anything, but I certainly didn’t want to stand out from my friends.”
That all changed in 2001, when Tiffany spent three days in Vietnam. “My now ex-husband Philip arranged it as a surprise en route to his sister’s in Singapore. I felt utterly at home. I felt this real sense of warmth and found myself scanning faces in the street to see if anyone looked like me. Of course they didn’t because, having grown up in the West, I was five times the size of them.”
When Tiffany and Philip travelled the world for nine months after their 2002 wedding, they spent an entire month in Vietnam.
“I loved it,” says Tiffany. “But it made me realise that I am probably not pure Vietnamese. My face looks more western. Maybe my dad was GI and that’s why my mum couldn’t keep me.”
Although Tiffany wants to know more, there are no records of her before the orphanage – so a DNA test would be the only way to provide geographical clues. “Which I’d love to do – but only if someone else pays,” she laughs.
“Not knowing my past hit me the hardest when I had my children.” Her daughter Emma is now 10, and her son Charles, is eight. “They look like me, so who do I look like?”
Having a family of her own also brought Tiffany back to Sussex, where she’d spent family holidays as a child. “My parents had a holiday house in West Wittering. We’d come down every weekend. I had lovely memories of the area.”
Tiffany and Philip sold their Twickenham home and bought a house in Littlehampton. Then when they separated nearly five years ago, Tiffany moved to Arundel. “I’d been a regular visitor to the Wetlands centre and the Farmers’ Market with the kids,” she says. ‘It’s a great place to live.”
Tiffany is a familiar face in the town’s Red Lion pub, which is run by her partner Chris Lawrie.
After years searching for answers she now hopes to offer some for other women, which is how HerEvent was born. Pre-children, Tiffany worked in event management at Olympia – now she has hired the venue for her own event.
“That really was a gulp moment,” she admits. “But I am passionate about what defines us as women. We take on so many roles: career woman, lover, mother, friend – yet many of us struggle with balancing them all.”
Tiffany and her business partner Nicola are staging a brand new show, which includes self-discovery workshops, advice and tips from lifestyle and work/life balance experts – plus a combination of shopping and eating.
There may be no record of where Tiffany Curry comes from, but this is one woman who will leave her mark on the world.