Growing up, Emma Cooper had adored her dad Ray. The two were so close her three siblings used to joke she was his favourite.
After he died in a motorcycle crash in 1998 when she was 19, Emma was devastated.
And, because of her wonderful memories of him, she put a disturbing nagging doubt she had always felt to the back of her mind.
Why did she look so different to the dad she loved?
It was 12 years later, as Emma planned her wedding in 2010, that she uncovered the bombshell family secret her mum and older siblings had kept from her.
When she ordered her birth certificate for the wedding paperwork, she found no father listed.
Those childhood doubts came rushing back – and Emma was unconvinced by mum Frances’ explanation that she and Ray had not been together when she was born.
Last year Emma finally gave in to her curiosity and took a £79 ancestry DNA test. And it led to her discovering her real dad Trevor Ranger had lived just down the road from her throughout her childhood.
Now she has traced him – and the they are making up for those long lost years apart.
“I’ve been brought up on a lie – the family secret,” said Emma, now 38.
“If I had been told the truth, it would never have been as hurtful as what I’ve been through emotionally.
“The lies have been so damaging compared to what the truth would have been.”
Now she is thinking about renewing her wedding vows with husband Pete, 38 – so her biological father can walk her down the aisle.
“All of a sudden I’ve got this parent who’s like me – we keep the same breeds of dogs, we both like our cars and we both like sailing,” she said.
“We even have the same crap taste in wine. It’s wonderful.”
Hugging her, Trevor, 58, said: “I was really pleased to hear from her. We need to make up for lost time.”
Both share the same blue eyes and fair skin – it was Ray’s black hair and olive skin that always confused the young Emma.
Yet Ray had always treated her as his own, and as she grew into her late teens he taught her guitar and also took her for spins on his motorbike.
“We were so close, but it always really bothered me I couldn’t see any similarities,” said Emma, of Rochester, Kent. Her insecurities were reinforced after his death at 53 when she claims her mum, now 73, went cold on her.
Their relationship deteriorated and they haven’t spoken since 2012.
At Easter last year, Emma persuaded her older sister to take an ancestry DNA test with her.
The results showed her sister could only be a half sibling – meaning Ray was not her birth father.
“Now I knew the truth, I couldn’t really take it in,” Emma said. “All sorts of things go through your head.”
She decided to ask her aunts what they knew, and finally discovered the truth.
Emma was told her mother had slept with 18-year-old Trevor when she was in her early 30s.
The aunts also told Emma her three older siblings had known all along and been sworn to secrecy.
She used social media and the electoral roll to find out where Trevor lived and then she wrote to him with contact details if he wanted to see her.
“I agonised over what to put in it,” she said. “I didn’t want to give too much information away about myself. I was frightened.
“Was he a good person? Was he going to be some strange drunkard?”
Trevor emailed her saying he was surprised but pleased to hear from her. He revealed he had always felt ashamed about how things had gone with her mum.
The moment they met, Emma stared into his matching blue eyes and knew he was her birth father.
As they hugged for the first time, she says she thought about all of the family moments she missed out on over the years.
“He could have been there at my wedding,” she said. “I always wanted someone to walk me down the aisle. I’ve missed out on grandparents.
"I’ve been looking through his family photo albums, and I’ve not been part of any of it.” Trevor’s family have welcomed her with open arms.
She has a new half- sister a few years younger than she is.
Now Emma and Trevor enjoy sailing together on his boat along the River Medway.
“There’s a security in spending time with close family members, and I didn’t appreciate how much I craved that,” said Emma.
Trevor added: “A lot of time has been lost. I expected her to come looking when she was 14 or 16. Now we’re hoping to go on holidays together and spend a lot more time together on the boat.”
He hopes she goes ahead with her idea of renewing her wedding vows. “I would love to walk her down the aisle, it’s something I’ve missed,” he said.
Emma added: “It would be an opportunity for my biological father and his family to meet my best friends.
"It would be nice to have a better memory than walking down the aisle without my dad on my wedding day.”
A family friend last night said: “Emma fell out with her mum years before she was reunited with her dad.
"Frances gave Emma everything but they fell out because she couldn’t give her the financial support she had in the past.
"Frances didn’t tell Emma about her dad because she was protecting her. She is a very kind lady and is upset that Emma would make all this public.”
Emma denied falling out with her mum over money. “I never harassed her for money. I am financially independent.”
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