One year during the summer vacation, I was staying with my father in Geneva when my mother asked me to meet the daughter of one of her closest friends. The daughter’s name was Christina, and we were both born in December 1950. Christina’s mother, Tina Livanos, was born in 1929. She was in the same class as my mother at Heathfield School, a boarding school for girls, where many wealthy parents sent their children. At the school, Tina and my mother had become very close friends. My mother really wanted me to meet Christina, so she arranged that we would meet at her house near the lake in Switzerland.
I remember that day very clearly. It was a warm windy afternoon. Christina’s chauffer came to pick me up. At her house, the gardens were lovely - built in a Greek style with formal flower beds and statues of Greek Gods. There was no one in the house except the gardener. He was pruning pink and yellow roses. There was a fragrance of white lilies everywhere. The house was surrounded by tall pine trees.
Christina and I were only about nine years old and we were both very shy. I don’t remember what games we played, but I do remember that we talked a lot about being lonely and sad. Christina told me a lot about her older brother, Alexander, to whom she was very close.
After I met Christina I was a little worried about her. We never met again yet, whenever I saw some news about her in the newspaper, I said a little prayer for her to be happy. She seemed always surrounded by tragedy. Her father was Aristotle Onassis. He was one of the world’s richest men, yet happiness always seemed to elude him too. He and Christina’s mother divorced over his affair with the opera singer Maria Callas. Christina’s brother Alexander perished in a plane crash at the age of 24 in 1973 and the following year her mother passed away at the age of only 45. Her father, Aristotle, died a year later. Within such a short time Christina lost all the people she loved most.
While I was listening to Christina that time in our childhood, I began to think about what a real family is. Many people think that a real family is usually a mother and father and two children. Although many families are like that, there are also a lot of families that are different. My mother, for example, changed husbands four times in twenty years. It was a little confusing for us children, but we were lucky too, for all of our fathers were very nice. Each of them gave us a different skill and each of them did their best to be a good father to us. I didn’t really understand this until I became a teenager. My mother always used let us go and see our real father or stepfathers, wherever we wanted.
Many people here in Japan ask me about my family. They are always surprised when I tell them that, although my own father died when I was only 12 years old, I feel lucky to have been brought up by several stepfathers, for they each taught me different lessons in my life.
My sister Caroline’s father was married to my mother for only two years, but was a real gentleman. I used to meet him sometimes at Heathfields School annual open day. Uncle Freddy is a stepfather, he taught me that good manners and politeness were important. My third stepfather, Dudley, taught me to follow my dreams and encouraged me to sing. My mother was married four times, but I think she was happiest with Dudley. To him life was an adventure, full of challenges and laughter. After my father died when he was 42, Dudley was the first person to fly to England, to my boarding school, to console me. He told me, “Now I will be your father and take care of you, until you grow up.” My last step-father, John Roberts, taught us all to be frugal. He was quite wealthy but he carefully saved his money and invested it wisely. He had a small library of children books and classics and we often talked about the latest books we had read.
Some people may think it must have been hard to have so many step-fathers, but I think that seeing my mother remarry and have more children was a good experience for all of us. It taught us how to mix with others. It taught us that each person in a family has a special role to play. It taught us to love…