Helen Carroll

Daily Mail

Enlightened and empathetic, Helen Carroll is a deft interviewer. Whether speaking to a woman who fell in love with her sperm donor, a 38-year-old virgin who gave birth or EastEnders star Peter Dean, alongside the daughter he didn’t know he had, Helen demonstrates compassion and, when appropriate, a sprinkle of scepticism and dry wit.

Helen’s account of how Ellie Ellison met - and fell in love with - her sperm donor grabs you from the very first line: ‘Ellie Ellison met the father of her unborn child for the first time just ten minutes before they climbed into bed together, her wearing a full-length dress and with a rolling pin within easy reach, just in case he turned out to be violent.’ In an unflinching interview, Helen explores the shocking trend for ‘natural insemination’ via sperm donor (‘otherwise known as no-strings-attached sex’, Helen observes archly) while skilfully telling a story that’s as complex as it is controversial. But this is no mere romping tale; there is tenderness and vulnerability here in spades. When asked whether her new partner, who has allegedly fathered 150 children in various parts of the world over the past decade, will stop natural insemination, Ellie says: ‘I didn’t ask him to stop but he decided he would and that makes me feel better because I’m quite insecure.’ Master of the compulsive intro, Helen immediately hooks the reader into the tale of a ‘proud virgin’ in her 30s who, thanks to IVF, had a baby without ever having had sex. She tells the story of Kimberley Godsall, one of only around five heterosexual UK women who have babies without intercourse each year. At her best when writing about family ties, Helen coaxes genuine emotion and candour from her subjects. ‘I used to feel that I wasn’t quite normal, having never had sex, and I didn’t want to die not knowing what it was like,’ says Kimberley. ‘Part of me still does wonder what sex is like, and if I’m missing out, but not enough to have it with someone I’m not committed to. The fact I have my little girl is far more important to me than any of that.’ Helen’s gripping interview with Eastenders actor Peter Dean and the daughter he didn’t know he had – until a genealogy website made the connection – is as warm as it is humorous and touching.Helen conveys the nascent bond between a father and daughter robbed of so many years together. Devoid of mawkish sentimentality, Helen writes that Peter dips ‘his head to hide the tears welling up’ as he admits to feeling sad ‘about all the years with Demi I’ve missed out.’ He continues, ‘However, discovering, aged 80, that I had a second daughter felt like winning the Lottery.’