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Headlines UK

Woman, 35, reveals she’s given birth to a baby girl with her 21-year-old stepson

A weight-loss influencer who traded in her husband for her stepson has announced the birth of their first child together. 

Marina Balmasheva, 35, from Russia, married her new husband Vladimir ‘Vova’ Shavyrin, now 21, ahead of welcoming their baby girl, who has not yet been named. 

The Russian blogger – with more than half a million followers on Instagram – has known Vladimir since he was seven after previously being married to his father Alexey Shavyrin, 45, who now cares for their five adopted children. 

She divorced Alexey after 10 years together and he has previously accused her of seducing his son when he came home on holiday from university.

Marina and Vladimir’s little girl was born yesterday in the maternity hospital in Krasnodar, weighing slightly over 8lbs.

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Marina Balmasheva, who traded in her husband for her stepson, has announced the birth of their first child together (pictured)

Marina Balmasheva, 35, from Russia, married her new husband Vladimir 'Vova' Shavyrin (pictured), now 21, ahead of welcoming their baby girl, who has not yet been named

Marina Balmasheva, 35, from Russia, married her new husband Vladimir ‘Vova’ Shavyrin (pictured), now 21, ahead of welcoming their baby girl, who has not yet been named

The Russian blogger - with more than half a million followers on Instagram - has known Vladimir since he was seven (pictured left, together, when he was seven) after previously being married to his father Alexey Shavyrin, 45, who now cares for their five adopted children

The Russian blogger – with more than half a million followers on Instagram – has known Vladimir since he was seven (pictured left, together, when he was seven) after previously being married to his father Alexey Shavyrin, 45, who now cares for their five adopted children 

Her new husband Vladimir was not present at the birth. It is unclear if this is due to COVID-19 restrictions or personal choice. 

Marina posted pictures of her daughter to her many fans but said her partner had instructed her not to show the girl’s face. 

‘Dad does not want to show our daughter yet,’ she said. ‘That’s why the view is only from the back… We are thinking about the name.’  

Marina and Vladimir's little girl was born yesterday in the maternity hospital in Krasnodar, weighing slightly over 8lbs (pictured)

Marina and Vladimir’s little girl was born yesterday in the maternity hospital in Krasnodar, weighing slightly over 8lbs (pictured)

Her new husband Vladimir was not present at the birth. It is unclear if this is due to COVID-19 restrictions or personal choice. Pictured, the blogger at the hospital following the birth

The blogger pictured at the hospital following the birth

 Her new husband Vladimir was not present at the birth. It is unclear if this is due to COVID-19 restrictions or personal choice. Pictured, the blogger at the hospital following the birth

The blogger divorced Alexey (pictured together) after 10 years together and he has previously accused her of seducing his son when he came home on holiday from university

The blogger divorced Alexey (pictured together) after 10 years together and he has previously accused her of seducing his son when he came home on holiday from university

Marina said she was a ‘complete mess’ after the birth yesterday which followed her waters breaking as she watched Game of Thrones. 

‘Everything is very good with us,’ she said. ‘[The baby] did not sleep too well at night, but [she] has been sleeping since 6am.’

Earlier, she told her followers details of her pregnancy and revealed how she went through a succession of plastic surgery treatments to make herself attractive to her new spouse who she calls ‘the most charming blue-eyes in the world’. 

Marina (pictured while pregnant) posted pictures of her daughter to her many fans but said her partner had instructed her not to show the girl's face

Marina (pictured while pregnant) posted pictures of her daughter to her many fans but said her partner had instructed her not to show the girl’s face

'Dad does not want to show our daughter yet,' the blogger, pictured with her new husband, said. 'That's why the view is only from the back… We are thinking about the name.'

‘Dad does not want to show our daughter yet,’ the blogger, pictured with her new husband, said. ‘That’s why the view is only from the back… We are thinking about the name.’

Marina (pictured with her husband) said she was a 'complete mess' after the birth yesterday which followed her waters breaking as she watched Game of Thrones

Marina pictured with her husband

Marina (pictured with her husband) said she was a ‘complete mess’ after the birth yesterday which followed her waters breaking as she watched Game of Thrones

'Everything is very good with us,' the influencer, pictured with her husband, said. '[The baby] did not sleep too well at night, but [she] has been sleeping since 6am.'

‘Everything is very good with us,’ the influencer, pictured with her husband, said. ‘[The baby] did not sleep too well at night, but [she] has been sleeping since 6am.’

She said: ‘So many people tell me to use makeup because of my young husband. But there is one thing – he fell in love with me with all my scars from plastic surgeries, cellulite, excessive skin and personality. And I do not want to seem better than what I am.’ 

She also told how she insisted on a prenup so that she keeps all her money and assets in case of divorce from her new husband.

Marina’s ex complained that ‘she seduced my son…He had not had a girlfriend before her. They were not shy to have sex while I was at home. 

Marina pictured preparing the nursery with her 21-year-old husband

Marina's little girl, pictured

Marina pictured preparing the nursery with her 21-year-old husband, seen left, and her little girl, pictured right

Marina (seen while pregnant) now says her previous marriage was 'not living but pretending'

Marina (seen while pregnant) now says her previous marriage was ‘not living but pretending’

Marina said that Vladimir's mother - another ex-wife of Alexey's - would help them care for the baby. Pictured, with Vladimir

Marina said that Vladimir’s mother – another ex-wife of Alexey’s – would help them care for the baby. Pictured, with Vladimir

‘I would have forgiven her cheating, if it wasn’t my son. She was running to my son’s bed from our bedroom when I was sleeping. After that she was coming back and lying in bed with me as if nothing had happened.’ 

She now says he previous marriage was ‘not living but pretending’. She told her followers: ‘Did I have regrets that I destroyed the family? Both yes and no.

‘I was ashamed that I killed the stability of “mum and dad”. Did I want to return to my ex? No. Do I feel anger and hatred towards him? Not any longer.

Marina previously told how her adopted children dealt with her relationship changes, saying it was 'absolutely calmly.' Pictured, with Vladimir

Marina previously told how her adopted children dealt with her relationship changes, saying it was ‘absolutely calmly.’ Pictured, with Vladimir

The blogger also told how she insisted on a prenup so that she keeps all her money and assets in case of divorce from her new husband (pictured)

The blogger also told how she insisted on a prenup so that she keeps all her money and assets in case of divorce from her new husband (pictured)

‘He is a good person and a wonderful father to our children…. How did children take the changes? Absolutely calmly.

‘What [do I have] today? I am married. I moved to a bigger city. I love and I am loved.’

She previously said that Vladimir’s mother – another ex-wife of Alexey’s – would help them care for the baby.

Marina told how her husband fell in love with her with all her 'scars from plastic surgeries, cellulite, excessive skin and personality.' Pictured, husband of Marina Balmasheva on his 21st birthday

Marina told how her husband fell in love with her with all her ‘scars from plastic surgeries, cellulite, excessive skin and personality.’ Pictured, husband of Marina Balmasheva on his 21st birthday

Marina admitted she underwent plastic surgery to make herself attractive to her new husband. Pictured, photos of her before, aged 32, (left) and after, aged 35, (right) plastic surgery

Marina admitted she underwent plastic surgery to make herself attractive to her new husband. Pictured, photos of her before, aged 32, (left) and after, aged 35, (right) plastic surgery

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Headlines UK London

Food parcel scandal: How much food can you buy with a budget of £15.20?

The dispiriting photo shared by a parent in receipt of a Government school meal food parcel – where the items appeared to add up to around £5 – has left many suggesting that they could provide a healthy, more satisfying box of food for the same price. 

Fierce criticism of the scheme, which this morning saw Prime Minister Boris Johnson meet once again with food campaigner and football star Marcus Rashford, came after a Twitter user, RoadsideMum, shared an image of what she’d received from the £15-a-week per child scheme paid for by the Government. 

The photo showed a sparse package from suppliers Chartwells, run by £24.8billion-earning Compass Group UK & Ireland, and was designed to feed one child not at school for a week. The items included bread, a few slices of cheese, two carrots, a small tin of baked beans, three apples, a portion of pasta, two small Soreen loaves, and three Frubes yoghurt tubes.  

FEMAIL sent out a reporter to see exactly how far a food budget of £15 could stretch…and whether their purchases could be transformed into healthy, child-friendly dishes.

Here we reveal how £15 can create filling lunches to last for a week, including pasta with beef meatballs and an omelette, with fruit and snacks for dessert, shopping at Aldi and a local greengrocer. 

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And how FEMAIL got on… reporter Jo Tweedy spent £14.19 on a one-week shop for a child – including meat, dairy and fresh fruit and vegetables – after shopping at her local greengrocer and Aldi supermarket

The Chartwells box that sparked the row over free school meal parcels, which is supposed to sustain a child for a week

Parent @RoadsideMum on Twitter shared a dispiriting photo of the food parcel she’d received from Chartwells under the Government’s free school meal parcels scheme; it was estimated the food cost around £5.22 with the remainder of the £15 allocated to profit, delivery and packing

By Jo Tweedy

Mask firmly on, I headed out to a local fruit and veg shop and then a cut-price supermarket to see just how far I could get £15 to stretch – determined to bring home better food than the meagre-looking items sent to Twitter user @RoadsideMum in the photo that went viral yesterday.

Making a list before I went to ensure I didn’t get tempted by spontaneous purchases, the remit was clear – include a good mix of fresh, tinned and dried foods that could be used to create healthy, satisfying lunches for a child for the homeschooling week, with some treats thrown in.   

First stop, my local greengrocer, where rows of delicious-looking healthy fruit and veg had been fetched at dawn from a West London wholesaler.

My basket ended up with seven pieces of fruit – a combination of plums, apples and satsumas – as well as salad (vine tomatoes and a cucumber) and plenty of veg – broccoli, carrots, a red pepper, onion and baking potatoes. 

FEMAIL reporter Jo Tweedy went shopping with a set budget of £15, the same amount being allocated to English schoolchildren accessing free school meal parcels during lockdown

FEMAIL reporter Jo Tweedy went shopping with a set budget of £15, the same amount being allocated to English schoolchildren accessing free school meal parcels during lockdown

After spending £6.59 on fresh fruit and vegetables at her local greengrocer, Jo headed to cut-price German supermarket Aldi to spend her remaining £9 budget and came away with a bag groaning with dried, tinned and fresh foods

After spending £6.59 on fresh fruit and vegetables at her local greengrocer, Jo headed to cut-price German supermarket Aldi to spend her remaining £9 budget and came away with a bag groaning with dried, tinned and fresh foods

I could, I’m sure, have paid less at any one of the major supermarkets…but my bill still only came to £6.59, leaving me with almost £9 left to spend on dried foods and other fresh products. 

I decided to make for one of the UK’s low-cost food stores to try and eke out as much as I could from the remaining £8.51, using the calculator on my phone to ensure I stuck to the budget. 

Arriving at my local branch of German supermarket Aldi, I decided to first stock up on easy lunches from the dried goods aisle. 

Fresh from the wholesaler that morning, the fruit and veg in Jo's basket came to £6.59

Fresh from the wholesaler that morning, the fruit and veg in Jo’s basket came to £6.59

More than enough for one child for one week, Jo picked up carrots, baking potatoes, broccoli, cucumber, red pepper, apples, vine tomatoes, plums, satsumas and an onion

More than enough for one child for one week, Jo picked up carrots, baking potatoes, broccoli, cucumber, red pepper, apples, vine tomatoes, plums, satsumas and an onion

At Aldi, a 20 pence bag quickly filled up with fresh, tinned and dried goods including eggs, pasta and cans of soup

At Aldi, a 20 pence bag quickly filled up with fresh, tinned and dried goods including eggs, pasta and cans of soup

My basket quickly became heavy with two tins of soups, family bags of pasta and rice, and a loaf of wholemeal bread – plus tuna and tinned tomatoes – but I barely dented the budget by more than £3. 

Meat and dairy came next. While it definitely wasn’t easy keeping my remaining budget in tact, I managed to add in fresh beef meatballs, mild cheddar, bacon lardons and two pints of milk – and some sweet treats too in the shape of chocolate oat biscuits and baked cheese snacks. 

HOW FAR DOES £15 REALLY GO?  FEMAIL TESTS THE BUDGET…

At the greengrocers

Carrots x 3 

Baking potatoes x 2 

Broccoli x 1

Cucumber x 1

Red pepper x 1

Apples x 3 

Vine tomatoes x 3 

Large plums x 2

Satsumas x 2

Onion x 1 

Total 

 26p

85p 

72p 

36p 

75p 

 94p

£1.04 

92p

 50p

 25p

£6.59 

The receipt from Jo's shop in Aldi - goods including rice, pasta, cheese and meatballs were bought in family sizes and then divided per 1/4 or half a portion to get the correct prices listed below

The receipt from Jo’s shop in Aldi – goods including rice, pasta, cheese and meatballs were bought in family sizes and then divided per 1/4 or half a portion to get the correct prices listed below

Allowing for treats including chocolate oat biscuits and baked cheese snacks, Jo's eventual bill came in at under £15

Allowing for treats including chocolate oat biscuits and baked cheese snacks, Jo’s eventual bill came in at under £15

 At Aldi supermarket

 Wholemeal bread – 1/2 loaf

2 free range eggs 

Family pack penne pasta 

Family pack easy cook white rice 

1/2 tin tuna 

Yoghurt tubes x 3 

Bacon lardons 1/4 pack 

Oatie chocolate biscuits whole pack 

Large can of sweetcorn 

2 pints of semi-skimmed milk 

Chicken soup 

Chopped tomatoes 

Baked beans 

Tomato soup 

Beef meatballs – 1/2 pack 

Baked cheese snacks – 7 packets 

Mild cheddar – 1/4 family pack 

 Shopping total

 22p

 23p

29p 

 79p

49p 

29p

37p 

45p 

37p 

80p 

31p 

35p 

29p 

31p 

87p 

73p

44p 

£14.19 

And what can you cook with it? Five hot lunch ideas on a £15 budget…

MONDAY: Jacket potato with a topping of baked beans and cheese, with fruit and a chocolate biscuit

Plenty to go on...Jo found providing a warm, hearty lunch covering all of the major nutrition groups was easy to achieve on £15 a week per person

 Plenty to go on…Jo found providing a warm, hearty lunch covering all of the major nutrition groups was easy to achieve on £15 a week per person

TUESDAY: Chicken soup, served with cheese and salad sandwiches on wholemeal bread, with a yoghurt or fruit for dessert

WEDNESDAY: Penne pasta with beef meatballs and lardons cooked in a simple tomato sauce (using chopped tomatoes, olive oil and salt and pepper), served with grated cheese, with a chocolate biscuit and fruit for dessert

THURSDAY: Tuna rice salad, with red pepper, broccoli and onion, served with carrot sticks and fruit or yoghurt for dessert 

FRIDAY: Cheddar cheese omlette with carrot sticks and salad, served with fruit or yoghurt for dessert 

How will these groaning bags transform into hot lunchtime meals for five days? 

There’s plenty of options: Penne pasta with beef meatballs and lardons cooked in an easy-to-make tomato sauce, served with grated cheese. 

Or perhaps a tuna rice salad, with red pepper, broccoli and onion, served with carrot sticks. With fruit, yoghurt and chocolate biscuits all options for pudding. 

The final bill for my whole shop came to £14.19 – after I’d divided up the price of some of the family packs I’d bought (cheese, bread and meatballs)…and obviously doesn’t include delivery or the logistics of picking and packing that the companies being paid by the Government scheme face. 

However, assuming firms like Chartwells can negotiate strongly on high street prices, it certainly feels like profits are being put long before decent meals for kids.

WHO IS CHARTWELLS? THE FIRM BEHIND THE LUNCH SLAMMED BY MARCUS RASHFORD

The company behind the lunches are Chartwells, which is the education catering specialist of £24.8billion-earning Compass Group UK & Ireland.

On December 8, Chartwells announced it had joined the Child Food Poverty Taskforce formed by Marcus Rashford MBE.

Chartwells managing director Charlie Brown said at the time: ‘Marcus Rashford’s campaign shines a much-needed spotlight on the issue of child food poverty.

‘We know how important nutritious food is to educational attainment, and that food provision is a real struggle for some families, so we fully support widening access to free school meals.

The Chartwells box that sparked the row over free school meal parcels, which is supposed to sustain a child for a week

The Chartwells box that sparked the row over free school meal parcels, which is supposed to sustain a child for a week

‘We’re now going to be working with the taskforce to provide healthy meals during school holidays for those entitled to free school meals. As the first school caterer on board, I believe our insights and our networks in schools will be valuable, to make a real difference to young lives.’ 

Until December this year Tory donor Paul Walsh was the chairman of Compass, the millionaire showing on Electoral Commission documents giving the party £10,000 in 2010.

Companies House documents showed he resigned just over a month ago on December 1, nearly a year after he announced he would.

Categories
Headline USA Los Angeles

Rob Lowe claims Prince Harry now has a ponytail

Prince Harry may have taken one step too far in his attempt to embrace the Los Angeles lifestyle, according to actor Rob Lowe, who claims that the 36-year-old is now sporting a ponytail. 

Rob, 56, made the wild claim during an interview with James Corden on The Late Late Show, during which he revealed that he had spotted a man he believed to be Harry driving around their Montecito neighborhood with a long hairstyle. 

‘I just ran into your countryman, the English treasure, Prince Harry, at the stoplight 10 minutes ago,’ Rob told British-born comedian James, before telling him that he may have a ‘scoop’ regarding the royal. ‘It was very, very quick — don’t totally quote me on it — but it looked like he’s wearing a ponytail. 

Scoop? Actor Rob Lowe claims that Prince Harry is now sporting a ponytail, after spotting the Duke driving around their Montecito neighborhood with what looked like 'long hair'

Scoop? Actor Rob Lowe claims that Prince Harry is now sporting a ponytail, after spotting the Duke driving around their Montecito neighborhood with what looked like ‘long hair’ 

Unlikely? The 36-year-old Duke of Sussex appeared in a promotional Netflix video released in the first week of December in which he was seen modeling his signature short hairstyle

Unlikely? The 36-year-old Duke of Sussex appeared in a promotional Netflix video released in the first week of December in which he was seen modeling his signature short hairstyle 

Something different... Rob was adamant that the man he had seen was Harry (pictured in October), despite TV host James Corden expressing serious doubts over his story

Something different… Rob was adamant that the man he had seen was Harry (pictured in October), despite TV host James Corden expressing serious doubts over his story  

‘I’m just saying. It looked to me as a casual observer that his hair had grown very long and was pulled back very tightly by what I can only assume was a ponytail.’

Unsurprisingly, James was quick to voice doubt over Rob’s celebrity spot – insisting that the actor must have confused Prince Harry for another local man, telling him: ‘A ponytail? I’m certain that isn’t true. 

‘Do you know what I think’s happened? I think you didn’t see Prince Harry.’ 

However Rob was adamant that he had in fact seen the royal, confessing that he actually followed the man in question to Harry and Meghan Markle’s $14.5 million Montecito mansion to make sure that it was him. 

‘It was him because I have to say… I followed him to the house to see if the car went in,’ Rob admitted, noting that he was all the more aware of who he had seen because Prince Harry has been so ‘reclusive’ since moving to the neighborhood in the summer of 2020.  

‘He lives about a mile from me,’ Rob shared. ‘He’s been very reclusive. Seeing him in the neighborhood is like seeing the Loch Ness Monster, and I finally saw him. I finally saw him driving his car.’ 

Double check: The actor confessed that he followed the man he saw to the $14.5 million mansion Harry shares with Meghan Markle in order to make sure it was in fact him

Double check: The actor confessed that he followed the man he saw to the $14.5 million mansion Harry shares with Meghan Markle in order to make sure it was in fact him  

Making a change? Harry (pictured with Meghan in March) has worn his hair in much the same style for years

Making a change? Harry (pictured with Meghan in March) has worn his hair in much the same style for years 

Prince Harry was seen as recently as early December, appearing in a promotional video for Netflix in which he modeled the same short, neat hairstyle that he has worn for years so it seems incredibly unlikely that he has grown a ponytail in the month since then. 

Rob’s unconfirmed sighting of the Duke comes almost one year to the day since the anniversary of Harry and Meghan’s decision to step down as senior members of the royal family in a move that is widely known as Megxit. 

Since then, the couple have lived in three different homes: first, a secluded property on the exclusive Vancouver Island in Canada, from which they moved to Tyler Perry’s sprawling Beverly Hills mansion, which they resided in for several months before settling down in their own Montecito home. 

In addition to Rob, the couple have a host of high-profile neighbors, including their close friend Oprah, as well as Ellen DeGeneres, who reportedly purchased a home near the couple at the end of last year.

While Harry and Meghan have not been seen out and about on many occasions, they have been busy working on their future careers since moving to Los Angeles, inking deals with Netflix and Spotify in the last six months alone. 

In September it was revealed that they had signed a multi-project deal with Netflix that is believed to be worth up to $150 million, and will see them work on a range of productions, including documentaries, feature films, scripted shows, and children’s programming. 

Three months later, Harry and Meghan announced that they had signed an exclusive podcast deal with Spotify, with the pair debuting a trailer for their new show, Archewell Audio. This deal is reported to be worth ‘up to $40 million’. 

Neighborhood: Rob said he lives 'about a mile away' from Harry and Meghan's Montecito home (pictured). The couple also count Oprah and Ellen DeGeneres and neighbors

Neighborhood: Rob said he lives ‘about a mile away’ from Harry and Meghan’s Montecito home (pictured). The couple also count Oprah and Ellen DeGeneres and neighbors 

Categories
Headlines UK London

They met by chance as Covid struck and the result was a lockdown love story like no other

Anthony had arrived late, keeping us all waiting at the dinner table, and I was tired, grumpy and longing to go to bed.

It was the first evening of my holiday in France, so as soon as I could, I made my excuses to leave the room.

And that’s when I heard the dreaded sentence, murmured by my host as I closed the door. ‘Her name is Blanche and she is 12 weeks pregnant,’ he said, in confiding tones — leaving me spitting with anger that my secret had been revealed to a complete stranger.

The fact that I was having a baby on my own, by means of a sperm donor, wasn’t something that I felt ready to talk about. Being single and childless at the age of 42 was, to me, a source of great shame.

Blanche, 42, and Anthony, 63, (pictured together with Ottilie) met by chance as Covid struck and the result was a lockdown love story like no other

It wasn’t that I thought there was anything wrong with a woman of my age not having children: it was that I’d always wanted to have children and I felt that I had failed. Growing up, I had it all worked out. At 30, I was going to have my first child and then, shortly afterwards, my second.

Getting married at 31, I was a little off the mark but the situation still seemed promising. However, all too soon, my marriage hit the rocks and, by the time I was 35, we had filed for divorce.

At 35, female fertility starts to rapidly decline; I couldn’t have been more conscious of the fact. By 40, with a string of unsuccessful liaisons behind me, I was growing desperate.

And then I met ‘Mr Right’. He was witty, intelligent, interesting and great company. I could see myself growing old with him, and I very much wanted his children.

But within a year we were seeking relationship counselling.

‘I’m desperate to have a baby,’ I explained.

Blanche said that being single and childless at the age of 42 was a great source of shame which prompted her to have a baby on her own by means of a sperm donor (pictured with her daughter)

Blanche said that being single and childless at the age of 42 was a great source of shame which prompted her to have a baby on her own by means of a sperm donor (pictured with her daughter)

‘I love her but I don’t want a child,’ he said.

‘Well, that’s a deal breaker,’ said the counsellor. And she was right.

I was utterly devastated. I had always thought the challenge lay in finding the right partner: never had it crossed my mind that that very man might not want a child. But he didn’t, and I did, and there was nothing we could do about it.

That Christmas, I sat through a school carol concert in floods of tears. The stage was lined with children, singing sweetly, while their parents, all around me, looked on proudly.

And I sat in the midst of them and felt utterly desolate, feeling their love wash over me and fearing I’d never have a child.

Being single and childless at the age of 42 was, to me, a source of great shame 

I was 42 and single, and my childlessness had become a torment. I could no longer visit friends with young children. I was blocking posts from new mothers on Facebook, and I couldn’t even stand by the photocopier at work because it looked onto a noticeboard announcing new births.

Worst of all, I found it hard not to believe my childlessness was all my fault. I’d been too picky. I’d been too difficult. I’d been too wary. I’d been too hesitant.

I’d spent too long with the wrong men and lost the good men I might have kept. And now, I felt, I’d messed everything up. I had always wanted to have children and I would not be having them.

Not, that is, unless I braved it on my own and used a donor.

Becoming a single parent had never been part of my plan, but now I saw it as my only option.

Fortunately, I had one thing on my side: I had frozen eggs. Soon after my divorce came through, at the age of 37, I had taken myself off to a clinic near London’s Baker Street and had my eggs ‘harvested’.

Anthony (pictured with Ottilie) had been an empty-nest widower when he met Blanche Girouard

Anthony (pictured with Ottilie) had been an empty-nest widower when he met Blanche Girouard

Every year since then, I’d paid £300 to have them stored — and now they sat, 16 of them, ready to be defrosted and then fertilised.

Choosing a donor wasn’t easy. When you fall in love and have a baby, you don’t worry about the fact your partner might have flunked his A-levels, have a squiffy eye or a grandmother with dementia. When you’re looking for a sperm donor, you most certainly do.

For days I scrolled through donor ‘profiles’ on sperm bank websites, scrutinising and comparing every detail. In the end, I opted for the man I felt most drawn to.

Like me, he sang in a choir, came from an academic background and had a father who had told him bedtime stories. He had a lovely deep voice (audible on a recording), a cute baby photograph and an impressive string of achievements to his name. But, best of all, he had written a wonderful letter to his donor children, making it clear that he would be there to ‘talk and listen’ in the future, if they wanted to make contact, and signing off ‘with loving thoughts through time and space’.

As we started as a couple, my stomach was burgeoning, a baby girl growing within me 

This donor’s sperm came from a sperm bank in Europe. It cost me €639 to purchase one ‘straw’ and another €295 to have it shipped over to London.

Still clinging to a shred of hope that I would one day have a baby with a man I loved, I decided to have only half my frozen eggs defrosted and fertilised — then I sat back and waited to hear what had happened.

From eight eggs I was lucky enough to get five embryos, three of which made it to day five — the age at which they were most likely to survive after implantation.

Each embryo was graded and, as soon as my womb lining was thick enough, the best was transferred, using a catheter, into my uterus. Two and a half weeks later, a urine test revealed I was pregnant.

But by six weeks, the foetus that had seemed so promising had stopped growing, and I was told I had no option but to miscarry.

I didn’t want to be awake when I lost my first chance of having a child, so I chose to have my womb scraped under general anaesthetic. When I came round, I was crazy with grief. So crazy, in fact, that I got in touch with my ex-boyfriend, hoping against hope that he might have changed his mind about having children and rescue me from this awful situation.

Blanche said that she aware that Anthony is not Ottilie’s father — and so is he — but being a trio together makes her soul soar

Blanche said that she aware that Anthony is not Ottilie’s father — and so is he — but being a trio together makes her soul soar

But, of course, it wasn’t to be. So back I went for another attempt.

This time, I threw everything at it: biopsy (to select the best embryo for transfer); embryo glue (to keep it stuck to my womb); daily hormone injections, patches and suppositories (to thicken my womb lining and aid implantation and growth), and a course of acupuncture (to improve my chances).

On Boxing Day 2019, I discovered that, once again, I was pregnant. This time, at the six-week scan, I heard my baby’s heartbeat, as fast and loud as the hooves of a galloping horse.

Now, it was February half-term and I was supposed to be skiing in the Pyrenees. Except that I was 12 weeks pregnant, couldn’t ski and had been forced to tell my host.

Which is how it came about that he told Anthony.

As it happened, Anthony couldn’t ski either. Or, at least, he took one look at me and decided not to ski.

For five days, we went off walking while the rest of the party took to the slopes. It was bizarrely warm for February. The sun shone on our backs as we walked through woods and fields, climbed hills to look at ruined Cathar castles and tried to push open the doors of medieval churches.

On the very first day, when we stopped for lunch, he had asked me if I had wanted to have children. ‘I know that you know,’ I said and I looked at him directly.

Blushing, he began asking a torrent of questions. ‘I think you’re heroic,’ he said, when I’d finished explaining. ‘I don’t feel heroic,’ I answered. ‘I feel sick.’

I had suffered from car sickness from early on in my childhood. Being pregnant in the Pyrenees, it was even worse. So when Anthony drove around mountain bends slowly, for the sake of my heaving stomach, I was very grateful. When he stepped in front of me, as I slid down some scree on a hillside, I thought him a very nice man.

And when he offered to drive me to the airport, when he wasn’t going there himself, I suspected that he might be thinking I was quite nice, too.

For a week we had done nothing but walk and talk. Now, on our last car journey together, we fell silent, not knowing what to say.

‘It would be a pity,’ he said eventually, ‘if we lost touch.’ And I agreed. Then he dropped me off and drove off into the night, leaving me feeling his absence, but sending a flurry of messages only a few hours later, as I knew he would.

It soon transpired that he was not at all put off by my pregnancy. In fact, far from it. He had been married, very happily, for 25 years when his wife died unexpectedly from a heart condition.

Now, nine years later, at the age of 63, he was rattling about, on his own, in a seven-bedroom house in Wiltshire, falling asleep in front of the 10 o’clock news and wondering what to do with his life.

A father to four children, aged between 26 and 31, the prospect of adding another was one he positively welcomed. He liked the idea of filling his house back up with family. And the fact my child would be a similar age to his three grandchildren (all under three) made it even better.

Almost at once, he told his family about me and my baby and, though taken aback, they were unfailingly supportive.

My preference was to get to know each other slowly, meeting up occasionally for nice outings and spending plenty of time with one another’s friends and family.

But that wasn’t what happened. Within a month, the country had descended into lockdown — forcing new couples to stay together or stay apart. The prospect of being together, having only met a few weeks earlier, seemed preposterous. But it was that or nothing, and we both felt ‘to hell with it, let’s go for it’.

So we did — first in Wiltshire and then at my home in London. And slowly, we started to come together as a couple. We shared experiences. Saw each other at our weakest point and lowest ebb. Looked for solutions and found compromises. And, most importantly, wanted, and kept trying, to make things work.

Meanwhile, my stomach was burgeoning, my breasts were engorging, a baby girl was growing within me and I was beginning to panic about giving birth.

The new restrictions meant I was allowed only one person with me when I was in active labour. Who should that be? My mother? A friend? A doula (who helps women when they’re giving birth)? Or Anthony?

For months, I debated the options. But, in the end, the answer was clear. It was Anthony who had consistently supported my choices about how and when I would give birth. It was Anthony who had sat through lengthy Zoom sessions about hypno-birthing, doing his best to tell me to ‘be calm and relaxed’ when I was anything but, and driving me to the local hospital, at three in the morning, when I became worried it had been too long since I had felt the baby kick.

Finally, at the end of August, my time came. For two nights, I stayed at my home in London, suffering contractions. On the third night, the exhaustion and pain began to overwhelm me and we went to St Mary’s in Paddington.

For two days we waited in our birthing suite, and on the third day she came. Not in a rush. Not in a haze of medication. But in an agony of un-medicated pushing, with four midwives holding up my legs and Anthony joining them, egging me on.

‘Would you like to hold her?’ they asked me, and I retorted ‘No’. Nothing had prepared me for such pain. And no one had told me that after pushing out her head, I would have to push again to free her shoulders.

But seconds later, I had changed my mind, and, then, there we lay, mother and baby — slimy, sweaty, exhausted but happy.

Thanks to lockdown, I’d told very few people I was pregnant. Now, though, I wanted everyone to see my gorgeous baby — and I didn’t care a jot how she had come about.

Anthony held Ottilie skin to skin on the night she was born, with an expression of the utmost tenderness on his face. Now he sits up, half asleep, to keep me company during night-time feeds. Changing her nappies, bathing her and singing her songs, he’s shown nothing but love and dedication to us both from that very first day.

Of course, I’m abundantly aware that he is not her father and so is he. I refer to him as ‘Anthony’ and he calls Ottilie ‘my girlfriend’s baby’ and sometimes I do find that upsetting.

But the truth is as it is: Anthony has his own children and Ottilie has her own father, and I wouldn’t want to deny the significance of that for either.

What the future holds for me and Anthony and for Anthony and Ottilie we can’t yet know. But what I do know is that I never imagined this could happen.

Gone are all my feelings of self-loathing and desolation. My heart is full of love and my soul soars with delight. Being a mother to Ottilie is the best thing that has ever happened to me. Being the three of us, together, makes me happy and content.

‘Present ecstasies thrive on the very anguish of the past,’ wrote the Oxford poet Elizabeth Jennings. As far as I’m concerned, she was right.

ANTHONY’S STORY:

‘Come and stay with us in the Pyrenees — it’ll be great fun!’ A throw-away invitation, accepted on a whim. After all, I had never been to the Pyrenees, so why not? I arrived at night to join the party — late for dinner but in time to spot a girl with a flash of white hair and a welcoming smile. So I met Blanche.

It was a skiing week, which suited neither Blanche nor myself. I had a car, so we were paired off to look after ourselves. We both like walking, and after walking there were restaurants to be enjoyed. And we talked.

The more we talked, the more there was to talk about. We discussed her pregnancy: the anonymous donor father, the relationships and disappointments along the way.

Blanche asked me about my 25-year marriage, which had unexpectedly ended nine years before with my wife’s sudden death. What was being a widower like? What had been my relationships and disappointments? My four children: what did they do, how had they coped?

Given our age difference, I never thought this might lead to a relationship. But at the end of the week, I realised I was going to miss Blanche and the intimacy of these conversations. Five days with someone who is intelligent, attractive and apparently interested in you is a rare gift.

On the evening drive to the airport she played me Lauridsen’s O Magnum Mysterium. I played it on repeat after dropping her off. Also repeating in my head was the promise that we should see each other again.

Lockdown began and initially we were apart, reading our favourite books to each other, emailing daily recordings: Blanche read Strange Meeting by Susan Hill, while I chose The Betrothed by Alessandro Manzoni. I was wryly amused by the aptness of the titles.

We then decided to spend our time together. Blanche’s pregnancy was now obvious and one friend warned that I didn’t appreciate the commitment I was taking on.

But it was exactly that commitment which appealed to me. I had had a happy marriage and I love my children: I know both the challenges and the rewards.

Blanche’s decision to have a baby had always struck me as brave and impressive. The fact that the baby’s father was an anonymous donor created space for me to have a significant role in her life. I was very moved when Blanche asked me to be there for Ottilie’s birth.

Holding Ottilie for the first time I felt emotional and rather stunned. It is incredible to think how far we have travelled since our meeting in the Pyrenees less than a year ago.

Ottilie adds a creative dimension to our relationship: as she grows, our relationship grows too. My hope is in my future with Blanche, and a future for Ottilie within my family. I look forward to that.

n An audio diary of Blanche, Ottilie and Anthony’s story is available in the podcast Wonder of Wonders at thingsunseen.co.uk

Categories
California Headline USA Los Angeles

TikTokers including Charli and Dixie D’Amelio slammed over Bahamas trip

Charli and Dixie D’Amelio have come under fire yet again after taking a private jet to the Bahamas with friends amid the pandemic, but Dixie’s boyfriend Noah Beck has defended their trip, claiming they ‘needed to get away from it all.’

The D’Amelio sisters joined Noah, Chase Hudson, Madi Monroe, and others at the Atlantis resort in Nassau last week, as California became the first state to record more than two million confirmed coronavirus cases.  

Charli, 16, and Dixie, 19, never shared they were going on the trip, nor did their friends, but the news they were in the Bahamas spread like wildfire after they were spotted by fans —  with some even sharing pictures of themselves posing with the influencers. 

Under fire: Charli and Dixie D’Amelio are facing backlash for joining fellow influencers Noah Beck, Chase Hudson, Madi Monroe, and others on a trip the Bahamas last week 

Yikes: The TikTok stars never shared they were going on the trip, but the news they were in the Bahamas spread like wildfire after they were spotted by fans who shared photos of them

Yikes: The TikTok stars never shared they were going on the trip, but the news they were in the Bahamas spread like wildfire after they were spotted by fans who shared photos of them 

The @TikTokRoom Instagram account posted a fan’s TikTok video of the group wearing masks while posing together in the Bahamas as well as a picture of a maskless Madi on a private jet, which she shared herself. 

In the photo, Madi, 16, is holding a glass of bubbly and leaning against her Louis Vuitton duffle bag while sitting sideways in her seat on the jet.

‘I’m on my way @bryant,’ she wrote, tagging TikTok celebrity photographer Bryant Eslava, who was also on the trip. He later shared a video of himself going down a water slide at the resort.  

Madi left her whereabouts vague by tagging ‘Somewhere in the Middle of No Where’ as her location, but fans weren’t fooled. 

While they tried to keep their destination hidden, their followers did not. A number of people tagged the Atlantis or the Bahamas when posting the snapshots they took with the influencers.  

At least they're wearing masks! Dixie, 19, flashed the peace sign while posing with two fans at the resort

At least they’re wearing masks! Dixie, 19, flashed the peace sign while posing with two fans at the resort 

Meet and greet: The TikTok sensation posed with another follower on the same day

Meet and greet: The TikTok sensation posed with another follower on the same day 

Fooled? Dixie's boyfriend Noah, 19, shared a few TikTok videos of them in what appeared to be a hotel room at the time of their trip

Fooled? Dixie’s boyfriend Noah, 19, shared a few TikTok videos of them in what appeared to be a hotel room at the time of their trip

Noah, 19, also shared a few TikTok videos of himself with Dixie in what appeared to be a hotel room at the time of their trip. 

As of Friday, the state of California has had a total of 2.59 million confirmed coronavirus cases and more than 28,000 deaths. Roughly 870,000 of those cases are from their home city of Los Angeles. 

There have been a total of 21.7 million cases across the country, with the number of deaths soaring to 365,000. 

The backlash has been swift, with critics slamming the TikTok stars — particularly Charli and Dixie — for irresponsibly going on a group vacation during the pandemic.  

One Twitter user called out Charli for being a hypocrite, recalling how TikTok’s most-followed star just filmed an Instagram Live talking about the importance of staying home and social distancing.  

‘If you’re using this time to hang out with your friends since you don’t have school, please, I’m asking you, please stop being so inconsiderate to others,’ Charli said on December 29 — just days before the news of her trip went viral. 

Away: Noah also posted a clip of Dixie sleeping in what looked like a hotel bed after watching Grey's Anatomy

Away: Noah also posted a clip of Dixie sleeping in what looked like a hotel bed after watching Grey’s Anatomy 

Welcoming 2021: It seems the couple celebrated New Year's Eve at the resort

Welcoming 2021: It seems the couple celebrated New Year’s Eve at the resort  

Not so secret: Madi, 16, shared a photo of herself holding a glass of bubbly without a mask on a private jet, tagging TikTok celebrity photographer Bryant Eslava, who was also on the trip

Not so secret: Madi, 16, shared a photo of herself holding a glass of bubbly without a mask on a private jet, tagging TikTok celebrity photographer Bryant Eslava, who was also on the trip

Letting loose: Bryant posted a video of himself going down a waterslide at the Atlantis resort in Nassau and tagged his location as the Bahamas

Letting loose: Bryant posted a video of himself going down a waterslide at the Atlantis resort in Nassau and tagged his location as the Bahamas

Letting loose: Bryant posted a video of himself going down a waterslide at the Atlantis resort in Nassau and tagged his location as the Bahamas 

‘You may think this isn’t going to affect me or it isn’t that bad. You are putting other people at risk to get hurt and to be in pain.’   

‘Charli ‘D’Amelio won person of the year… she’s literally in the Bahamas rn with 15 other people during a pandemic and has been doing so all year what,’ one critic tweeted.   

‘I really can’t understand how influencers like Charli, Dixie, Madi, Avani, Noah, etc decide it’s a great idea to go to the Bahamas while we’re in the middle of a pandemic…like c’mon people are dying every day,’ another added. ‘I’m a bit disappointed ngl. They’re supposed to be good role models.’

The sisters have kept mum about both the trip and the backlash, but Noah defended their getaway this week in an interview with Pap Galore, saying it was ‘really fun.’

‘It is what it is, you know,’ he explained of the backlash. ‘I think, especially the business we’re in, it’s, like, you need some time to kind of disconnect for a little. That’s what that was meant for.’  

Gotcha: Charli hasn't said a word about the trip, but eagle-eyed followers noticed her tan as soon as she came back

Gotcha: Charli hasn’t said a word about the trip, but eagle-eyed followers noticed her tan as soon as she came back 

Outrage: The influencers were slammed online, with critics calling them 'selfish' and 'irresponsible,' but Noah defended the trip, saying they took a private jet

Outrage: The influencers were slammed online, with critics calling them ‘selfish’ and ‘irresponsible,’ but Noah defended the trip, saying they took a private jet

‘It was just a little trip to get away,’ he added. ‘Wanted to get away from everything and we took a private jet, so it was just us.’

The TikToker insinuated that critics of the trip were jealous of their lifestyle and would join them in the Bahamas if they could.  

‘Let’s say, it’s just kind of funny because let’s say, that someone who’s commenting on our stuff, like, “You guys need to stay home,” and stuff like that. Let’s say we DM one of them, like, “Yo, we want to fly you out to the Bahamas.” If they say, “Yeah,” then you screenshot it and say, “This you?” or something like that,’ he said. ‘It’s just not even worth it.’

He went on to claim that the group trip to the Bahamas was important to their mental health because they ‘just needed this little time away to get kind of a reset.’

Noah’s cavalier comments only fueled the backlash as outraged critics slammed him for being ‘selfish’ and ‘tone-deaf.’ 

‘Noah Beck saying “I went to the Bahamas just to get my mind off things” is the epitome of rich and white privilege,’ one person wrote.

Response: Noah, pictured with Dixie in September, claimed the trip was important for their mental health because they 'just needed this little time away to get kind of a reset'

Response: Noah, pictured with Dixie in September, claimed the trip was important for their mental health because they ‘just needed this little time away to get kind of a reset’

Not helping: Noah's cavalier comments only fueled the backlash as outraged critics slammed him for being 'selfish' and 'tone-deaf'

Not helping: Noah’s cavalier comments only fueled the backlash as outraged critics slammed him for being ‘selfish’ and ‘tone-deaf’

Another tweeted: ‘So Noah Beck said that him and his friends went to the Bahamas so they could just “get away” and “disconnect” ??????? they’re all dumb as hell.’    

‘They’re absolutely nothing but selfish spoiled tone deaf brats who have had everything handed to them on a silver platter,’ someone else commented. 

The D’Amelio sisters’ latest drama comes a little over a month after they were accused of being rude to their personal chef in the first episode of their new YouTube series Dinner with the D’Amelios. 

Throughout the meal, Charli and Dixie made faces and gagged in response to their chef Aaron May’s offerings. Charli later asked for ‘Dino nuggets’ while Dixie ran outside to throw up after eating a snail that was in the traditional paella. 

Both the sisters and the chef insisted that the outrage was misplaced as the snail scene was set up by their producers who wanted to get a reaction out of Dixie.  

Charli lost over a million followers in one day, but she gained them almost as quickly. Just days after the controversy, she became the first TikTok star to reach 100 million followers on the platform. 

Categories
Headlines UK

Psychic who predicts the future using ASPARAGUS claims 2021 will see TWO royal divorces

A psychic who uses asparagus to predict the future has claimed 2021 will see two royal divorces and an important announcement from the Queen in June.

Appearing on This Morning today, Jemima Packington, 65, from Bath, said Prince Harry will return to the UK for ‘his big showdown’ with the Royal Family in March, and will be told “no change”.

Dubbed ‘Mystic Veg’, Jemina – who correctly forecast ‘success’ for England’s World Cup winning cricket team in 2019 – reads the future by throwing a bunch of Vale of Evesham asparagus tips into the air and interpreting the way they land.

On the show, new Friday hosts Alison Hammond and Dermot O’Leary asked her to do a live reading to predict whether the Olympics will go ahead.

Appearing on This Morning today, Jemima Packington, 65, from Bath, explained how she uses asparagus to predict the future

After throwing the vegetables onto a flat surface, she deduced they will take place, but they will be ‘remote’ and on Zoom.

Jemima, who is the world’s only known ‘asparamancer’, also predicted that we will start to see an easing of lockdown and will feel ‘so much happier and brighter’ in June this year. 

Speaking about the royals, Jemima explained: ‘In June the Queen is going to make an announcement coinciding with her official birthday; we’ve also got to remember that William, Duke of Cambridge, his birthday is in June, so I think that is very significant.’

She added: ‘There’s going to be a couple of royal divorces,’ to which Dermot replied: ‘That’s quite a bombshell.’

Jemima, who is the world's only known 'asparamancer', also predicted that we will start to see an easing of lockdown and will feel 'so much happier and brighter' in June this year

Jemima, who is the world’s only known ‘asparamancer’, also predicted that we will start to see an easing of lockdown and will feel ‘so much happier and brighter’ in June this year

Jemima continued: ‘Harry’s going to come over for his big showdown with the Royal Family in March, and he’s going to be told “no change”.’

The psychic told how she knew she had ‘the gift’ from the age of seven, and her first prediction was ‘something precocious’. 

‘We were eating asparagus with our fingers, some fell on the floor, I came out with something, parents went quiet, turns out old Aunty did tea leaves and they thought, it’s skipped a generation,’ she explained.

Asked why asparagus does the trick as opposed to other vegetables, she revealed: ‘It’s Vale of Evesham, it is a sturdy, earthy vegetable, it seems to work, it’s a bit like casting rooms.’ 

During the segment Dermot asked whether Alison will find a boyfriend in 2021; but while she will have ‘many admirers’, Jemima forecast an arrival of a ‘four-legged’ companion.

After throwing the vegetables onto a flat surface, Jemima deduced the Olympics will take place, but they will be 'remote' on Zoom - much to the amusement of Dermot O'Leary and Alison Hammond

After throwing the vegetables onto a flat surface, Jemima deduced the Olympics will take place, but they will be ‘remote’ on Zoom – much to the amusement of Dermot O’Leary and Alison Hammond

‘I was actually thinking about getting a dog,’ Alison exclaimed. 

Jemima later added that Alison will have a new man in her life whose name begins with ‘H’ and will also see ‘lots of comings and goings’.

‘You’ll be kept busy and be prosperous,’ she concluded.

Viewers at home largely enjoyed the bizarre segment, with one branding it ‘the best thing on TV this year’.

Another remarked: ‘Great poker face with the asparagus lady @radioleary I could hardly tell you weren’t a true believer.’

Jemima has enjoyed mixed success with her asparamancy in the past; last year she claimed Donald Trump would win the US election, but he lost to Joe Biden

Jemima has enjoyed mixed success with her asparamancy in the past; last year she claimed Donald Trump would win the US election, but he lost to Joe Biden

Though others admitted they could hardly believe what they were watching, with one tweeting: ‘Throwing asparagus around to predict 2021? I need to find some more cupboards to empty.’ 

Jemima has enjoyed mixed success with her asparamancy in the past; last year she claimed Donald Trump would win the US election, but he lost to Joe Biden.

However, she did forecast that the ‘major UK political parties’ would see a ‘shake-up sooner than predicted’ following the arrival of Sir Keir Starmer as Labour leader. 

Viewers at home largely enjoyed the bizarre segment, with one branding it 'the best thing on TV this year'

Viewers at home largely enjoyed the bizarre segment, with one branding it ‘the best thing on TV this year’

Categories
California Headline USA Utah

Couple sell their home and all their possessions to live and work in a souped-up school bus

A high-flying couple have been living the dream since selling their four-bedroom house and virtually all their possessions to live and work in a souped-up school bus – even having a baby along the way.

Gianna and Jake Bachowski, from Sarasota, Florida, owned a spacious 1,400 sq ft home and had jobs in real estate and hospitality respectively.

But the couple, both 32, longed for a more nomadic lifestyle and, after discovering a community of families living in converted vans online, decided to follow suit. 

Gianna and Jake Bachowski, from Sarasota, Florida, sold their four-bedroom house and virtually all their possessions to live and work in a souped-up school bus

Jake and Gianna, who had both been keen travellers when they were younger, met in 2013 before tying the knot in 2016 and having daughter Luna later that year.

And they soon started thinking of ways they could combine being together as a family with seeing the world. 

‘When we had steady jobs, to look at us, you’d think we were living the American dream, quote unquote,’ said Jake.

‘We had a nice four-bedroom house right next to the park, we had cars – we had all those things.

The couple completed around 75 per cent of the renovation of the bus themselves but had a little help with the carpentry

The couple completed around 75 per cent of the renovation of the bus themselves but had a little help with the carpentry

Gianna and Jake decided to set up their own lifestyle consultancy business working from the road (pictured in the first van)

They now help other families looking to transition to a more nomadic lifestyle (Gianna during pregnancy)

Gianna and Jake decided to set up their own lifestyle consultancy business working from the road and now help other families looking to transition to a more nomadic lifestyle

‘But life was hectic. I was working two jobs, Gianna had her career and we had Luna too. There were times when we barely saw one another.’  

Then, in 2018, they stumbled upon an online community of families who had ditched the nine to five to live, work and travel in camper vans.

The couple eventually decided to join the community by selling their possessions and embarking on the adventure of a lifetime. 

‘We’d been talking for a long time about what our dream life looked like, and both agreed it included unlimited family time, travel and adventures,’ said Jake.

The bus now works as a fully-functioning home and has beds, a wet room and toilet, an oven, a stove, heating and solar panels (Luna and Capri pictured)

The bus now works as a fully-functioning home and has beds, a wet room and toilet, an oven, a stove, heating and solar panels (Luna and Capri pictured)

In late 2018, Jake, Gianna and Luna set off in their first Mercedes van with no real plan of where they wanted to go (pictured at Christmas 2019)

In late 2018, Jake, Gianna and Luna set off in their first Mercedes van with no real plan of where they wanted to go (pictured at Christmas 2019)

In late 2019 the pair discovered that Gianna was pregnant and began shopping around for bigger vans ¿ but found that anything suitable came with a hefty price tag. Instead they spotted an old school bus

They bought it for just $4,800 (£3,542) before ripping it out and converting it into their dream home

In late 2019 the pair discovered that Gianna was pregnant and began shopping around for bigger vans – but found that anything suitable came with a hefty price tag. Instead they spotted an old school bus for sale for just $4,800 (£3,542) and began converting it

‘Van life seemed perfect. It was Gianna’s idea originally, but I was fully on board.

‘Of course, we had some concerns – mainly about health and safety – but the material side of things didn’t bother us. Quality family time far outweighed any possessions.

‘We didn’t think our daughter needed a whole room full of toys – it was more important to us that she should see the world and learn about other cultures.’

Agreeing to take the plunge together, Jake and Gianna sold their home and virtually everything else – a task they found surprisingly easy.

Using the money they had made, they bought a secondhand Mercedes-Benz Sprinter Van and converted it into the perfect home on wheels.

The couple later upsized to the school bus when they found out Gianna was pregnant with their second child

The exterior was also given a makeover with a lick of paint to convert it from yellow to gray

The couple later upsized to the school bus (left and right) when they found out Gianna was pregnant with their second child

The couple bought the old school bus (pictured during its conversion) for just $4,800 after finding that a new van would be anywhere from $55,000 to $70,000

The couple bought the old school bus (pictured during its conversion) for just $4,800 after finding that a new van would be anywhere from $55,000 to $70,000

The bus is now the Bachowski family's full-time home and the couple have since welcomed baby Capri who was born on the road in July 2020

The bus is now the Bachowski family’s full-time home and the couple have since welcomed baby Capri who was born on the road in July 2020 

‘We watched a lot of YouTube tutorials and had help from family too, which was great,’ said Jake.

‘It was strange to reduce a four bedroom home to a 90 sq ft van, but getting rid of possessions was surprisingly freeing.

‘We donated a lot, so it was good to know it was going to other people in need.’

Finally, in late 2018, Jake, Gianna and Luna set off, with no real plan of where they wanted to go.

The pair left Florida and travelled through Tennessee, Arkansas, Iowa, Colorado and Utah, before ending up in California. 

The pair first bought a secondhand Mercedes-Benz Sprinter Van and converted it into the perfect home on wheels

The pair first bought a secondhand Mercedes-Benz Sprinter Van and converted it into the perfect home on wheels

The couple, along with daughter Luna, converted the 90 sq ft van Mercedes van into the perfect mobile family home

The couple, along with daughter Luna, converted the 90 sq ft van Mercedes van into the perfect mobile family home

After initially selling their four-bedroom home, the couple used the money to finance the renovation of the first van

The money also funded their new lifestyle on the road

After initially selling their four-bedroom home, the couple used the money to finance the renovation of the first van (left and right) as well as to fund their new lifestyle

Jake said: ‘Utah was one of our highlights. It’s the most indescribably beautiful place – just untouched nature for miles and miles.

‘You can wake up and watch the sunrise over mountains with nobody else around. We felt so connected with nature there.’

At first, the couple used the money from their house sale to finance themselves, but in June last year, they decided to set up their own lifestyle consultancy business.

Working from the road, they now help other families looking to transition to a more nomadic lifestyle.

Then, in late 2019, as they approached the first anniversary of the day they started their trip, the pair discovered that Gianna was pregnant.

‘It was amazing, we were so happy,’ said Jake. 

The pair left Florida in the Mercedes van and travelled through Tennessee, Arkansas, Iowa, Colorado and Utah, before ending up in California

 The pair left Florida in the Mercedes van and travelled through Tennessee, Arkansas, Iowa, Colorado and Utah, before ending up in California

They headed back to Florida and began shopping around for bigger vans when they found out Gianna was pregnancy (pictured waving goodbye to their first van)

They headed back to Florida and began shopping around for bigger vans when they found out Gianna was pregnancy (pictured waving goodbye to their first van)

‘We knew that having another baby while on the road would present challenges, but Gianna is an incredible mother and so supportive.

‘Like everything, we knew we’d get through it together.

‘We decided to start heading back to Florida so we could set up a base and have access to antenatal care.

‘We also knew we’d need another van with more space now we were going to be a family of four.’

They headed back to Florida and began shopping around for bigger vans – but found that anything suitable came with a hefty price tag.

Instead they spotted an old school bus for sale for just $4,800 (£3,542).

The Bachowski family are still Florida for now but the couple plan to continue travelling around the States with their children before hoping to one day ¿ depending on pandemic restrictions - going further afield and touring through Europe

The Bachowski family are still Florida for now but the couple plan to continue travelling around the States with their children before hoping to one day – depending on pandemic restrictions – going further afield and touring through Europe

Jake and Gianna now post regular updates about their unconventional life on Instagram, where they have more than 52,000 followers (first van pictured in Florida)

Jake and Gianna now post regular updates about their unconventional life on Instagram, where they have more than 52,000 followers (first van pictured in Florida)

‘The vans we’d seen before were anywhere from $55,000 to $70,000, so it was substantially cheaper,’ Jake said.

‘We decided to go for it and got the bus in April – but baby number two was due in July, so it was a hectic summer of making sure the conversion was done.

‘We parked up outside the home of some family in Florida, who kindly let us use their facilities while we got everything sorted.

‘We did about 75 per cent ourselves, then got some help with the carpentry. Now, the bus has beds, a wet room and toilet, an oven, a stove, heating, solar panels – it really is a fully-functioning home.’

By the end of last summer, the bus’s transformation was complete and it is now the Bachowski family’s full-time home.

The couple have since welcomed baby Capri who was born on the road in July 2020.

Jake, who wants to encourage anybody else thinking of living off-grid to do as much research as possible before making their decision, believes that post-pandemic there will be a surge in people wanting to live more self-sufficiently

Jake, who wants to encourage anybody else thinking of living off-grid to do as much research as possible before making their decision, believes that post-pandemic there will be a surge in people wanting to live more self-sufficiently

Jake and Gianna now post regular updates about their unconventional life on Instagram, where they have more than 52,000 followers, but Jake admits: ‘Van life might look glamorous on social media, but it’s not without its challenges.’ 

He added: ‘We get messages every day from people asking us how we do things like keep a routine for the children, tackle bills, organise our finances – and even maintain an intimate relationship in such a small space. 

‘To us, there’s nothing like this lifestyle. We wouldn’t change it for the world.’ 

The Bachowski family are still Florida for now but the couple plan to continue travelling around the States with their children before hoping to one day – depending on pandemic restrictions – going further afield and touring through Europe.

Jake and Gianna plan to buy some land for a more permanent base when the girls reach school age – but have vowed to keep their bus so that they can travel in their free time.

They also hope to open a homestead where they will host other travellers but, for now, they are enjoying making priceless memories and teaching their daughters about the world.

Jake said: ‘The girls are exposed to all sorts of different cultures, languages, religions and so on. We hope it’s teaching them that the world is vast and you must treat everybody you meet with kindness and respect.

‘They are such happy children. We take them to a different playground every single day, and seeing their joyful faces is one of the best things about this life.

‘People sometimes think it’s an isolated life and ask how we make sure the girls are socialising, but there is such a friendly community of other van families.

‘We’ve made lots of friends and found a sense of community that we never really had before.

‘People can search their entire lives to find a sense of belonging – and here, we have it.’

And Jake, who wants to encourage anybody else thinking of living off-grid to do as much research as possible before making their decision, believes that post-pandemic there will be a surge in people wanting to live more self-sufficiently.

He concluded: ‘People don’t need or want to be in big cities anymore. We yearn for natural beauty and the beauty of humans.

‘In the van, we are self-contained, so feel very safe – plus, there is nothing like waking up in nature.

‘There are days that feel challenging, like when we have to hunt for water or find somewhere that’s safe to park up without risking a knock on the window from someone telling us to move along.

‘But regret is the worst feeling in the world, so we had to take a chance – and now we’re following our dreams.’

Categories
Headline USA

Conspiracy theory that Helen Keller was a fraud who ‘DIDN’T EXIST’ ignites social media

One of the most bizarre conspiracy theories to come out of TikTok is that Helen Keller never existed.

The outlandish conspiracy theory has been earning momentum among Gen Z for some time, with teens insisting that the author and activist — who was blind and deaf and lived from 1880 to 1968 — ‘didn’t exist’ or was at the very least a ‘fraud.’

Now the troubling knowledge that so many young people doubt Keller’s existence and accomplishments have reached the ears of adults, who are horrified by the trend. 

Say what? One of the most bizarre conspiracy theories to come out of TikTok is that Helen Keller never existed

The outlandish conspiracy theory has been earning momentum among Gen Z, with teens insisting that the author and activist 'didn't exist' or was at the very least a 'fraud'

Outlandish: The conspiracy theory has been earning momentum among Gen Z, with teens insisting that the author and activist ‘didn’t exist’ or was at the very least a ‘fraud’

Activist: Keller was was blind and deaf and lived from 1880 to 1968 and is known for overcoming her disabilities and advocating for the disabled as a community

Activist: Keller was was blind and deaf and lived from 1880 to 1968 and is known for overcoming her disabilities and advocating for the disabled as a community

According to Newsweek, the first evidence of the conspiracy theory on TikTok was a now-deleted video by user @alleyesonharshita, who used the hashtag #helenkellerwasntreal and racked up over 600,000 views.

Posted in May 2020, the video questioned what Keller accomplished, saying: ‘It’s time for the lies to end.’ 

It’s not the only one. That same month, Medium published an essay titled ‘The Generation that Doesn’t Believe Helen Keller Existed,’ which cited similar content using the hashtag #HelenKellerisoverparty.

The writer said that Keller has become an ‘urban legend,’ writing: ‘Generation Z literally does not believe Helen Keller existed. And frankly, I’m having a hard time accepting that she did myself.’

Meanwhile, TikTok user @krunk19 has earned two million views for his own video casting aspersions on Keller.

‘We’ve gotta talk about this whole Helen Keller thing, ’cause I’ve had enough,’ he says. ‘I’ve heard it my whole life. She’s deaf, she’s blind, she’s amazing. No, guess what — she lied.

Naysayer: Several TikTok videos have furthered the claim that Keller was a fraud, including one by @krunk19

Naysayer: Several TikTok videos have furthered the claim that Keller was a fraud, including one by @krunk19

Misinformation: Though @krunk19 labels his page as a satire account, he hits on several points that teens are using to argue that Keller was a fraud

Misinformation: Though @krunk19 labels his page as a satire account, he hits on several points that teens are using to argue that Keller was a fraud

'She's a liar. Her and that monster Anne Sullivan pulled the wool over our eyes, and nobody's thought to question it,' he says in the video

‘She’s a liar. Her and that monster Anne Sullivan pulled the wool over our eyes, and nobody’s thought to question it,’ he says in the video

‘She’s a liar. Her and that monster Anne Sullivan pulled the wool over our eyes, and nobody’s thought to question it.’

While @krunk19 says in his bio that his account is ‘purely satire,’ the viral success of the video has spread the conspiracy theory — and not everyone is laughing.

On January 5, screenwriter Daniel Kunka shared a viral Twitter thread that insists that Gen Z’s mistrust of Keller’s story is not a joke.

Guys, something insane happened to me today,’ he wrote. ‘I am on a text chain with my teenage nieces and nephews along with my mom (their grandma) and today my mom asked them if they knew who Helen Keller was…

‘And their response was that Helen Keller was a fraud who didn’t exist.

‘At first I thought they were trolling grandma, which is admittedly fun. But after awhile it was clear they weren’t joking. 

Mind-blowing: On January 5, screenwriter Daniel Kunka shared a viral Twitter thread that insists that Gen Z's mistrust of Keller's story is not a joke

Mind-blowing: On January 5, screenwriter Daniel Kunka shared a viral Twitter thread that insists that Gen Z’s mistrust of Keller’s story is not a joke

‘”How could someone be deaf and blind and learn how to write books?” My nephew admits she probably existed but was probably only one or the other.

‘I still thought I was getting trolled so I asked if I was getting trolled and they were adamant — Helen Keller was a fraud.  

‘This is like a real thing. “Well how do you know she’s real if you weren’t there to see her?”

He replied: ‘Cause I’ve seen THE MIRACLE WORKER. Do you think Abraham Lincoln is real even though we didn’t see him?’

‘Then they sent me an eye-rolling emoji,’ he said. ‘They all believe Abe was real and did the things he did. They don’t believe Helen could have been blind and deaf and did everything that she did,’ he wrote.

‘Cause the things he did were actually realistic,’ they told him.

‘They are sticking to their guns. They believe people around her “pumped her up” and wrote the book for her. The do not believe in Helen Keller. And apparently 15 million others on TikTok feel the same way. 

No way! Commenters were shocked and horrified, with several saying the conspiracy theory is abelist because it expresses disbelief of what disabled people can do

No way! Commenters were shocked and horrified, with several saying the conspiracy theory is abelist because it expresses disbelief of what disabled people can do

‘And we wonder what the cost of four years of “fake news” and “conspiracy theories” is… We’re all just one TikTok away from being erased from an entire generation,’ he wrote.

Twitter users are horrified by the revelation, with several calling it extremely abelist.

‘It’s important to point out the role ableism plays in this: this is not remotely shocking to me as a disabled person because we constantly hear things like “disabled people can’t do X” or “disabled people are lying about their conditions,”’ wrote one.

‘As a disabled person, I’m zero percent surprised at this. It’s massively ableist, but our society as a whole is. Tell your nieces and nephews that disabled people can do a hell of a lot of bada** things,’ wrote another.

‘Tell them they are being ablest as hell and shame them for it. Keller wasn’t perfect but she was real,’ tweeted a third.

‘I’m sorry, but news reels from the 1920s with an elderly Keller and Sullivan are on YouTube. These kids are gullible and not terribly bright (ironically, least of all in street smarts) if they believe this conspiracy theory. Per usual, the gullible fancy themselves to be truthers,’ another wrote. 

Origins: Keller was born healthy in Alabama in 1880, but lost her sight and hearing at 19 months old after an illness, likely scarlet fever

Origins: Keller was born healthy in Alabama in 1880, but lost her sight and hearing at 19 months old after an illness, likely scarlet fever

Accomplishment: At age six, she started working with Anne Sullivan, who taught Keller how to spell out words on her palm to better communicate, as well as how to read

Accomplishment: At age six, she started working with Anne Sullivan, who taught Keller how to spell out words on her palm to better communicate, as well as how to read

Special skill: Keller could also lip read by putting her fingers on people's lips

Special skill: Keller could also lip read by putting her fingers on people’s lips

She accomplished quite a lot as an adult, writing articles and books including 'The Story of My Life' and 'Helen Keller¿s Journal'

She accomplished quite a lot as an adult, writing articles and books including ‘The Story of My Life’ and ‘Helen Keller’s Journal’

Political: She was also a disabilities advocate, an activist who helped co-found the ACLU, and a member of the Socialist Party

Political: She was also a disabilities advocate, an activist who helped co-found the ACLU, and a member of the Socialist Party

Keller, whose existence and accomplishments are well documented, was born healthy in Alabama in 1880, but lost her sight and hearing at 19 months old after an illness, likely scarlet fever.

In the years after, she came up with her own hand signals to communicate with her parents, but would grow frustrated and sometimes threw tantrums.

At age six, she started working with Anne Sullivan, a then-20-year-old teacher from the Perkins Institution for the Blind in Boston. Sullivan taught Keller how to spell out words on her palm to better communicate, as well as how to read by feeling raised words in cardboard before turning to Braille.

Later, she learned to speak from Sarah Fuller of the Horace Mann School for the Deaf, as well as how to lip-read with her fingers on the other person’s mouth.

As a young woman, she graduated cum laude from Radcliffe College. 

She accomplished quite a lot as an adult, writing articles and books including ‘The Story of My Life’ and ‘Helen Keller’s Journal.’

She was also a disabilities advocate and an activist who helped co-found the ACLU.  She was a member of the Socialist Party and the Industrial Workers of the World, and in 1964, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Johnson.

She died in Connecticut in 1968. 

Categories
Headlines UK

Teens claim their strict parents control every aspect of their lives

Teens have shocked the world with video claiming their strict parents controled their life. 

The unnamed girls, from the US, shared video on TikTok claiming they had very strict parents who monitored what they wore, listen to, their friends and the messages they sent. 

One 19-year-old from Minnesota claimed her parents make her use the app Life 360, a family safety service which allows members of a family circle to see where the others are at all times. 

Another claimed she has bars on her window even though her bedroom is on the second floor, while a third who is 17 says she can’t listen to rap music and that her parents demand her password so they can go through her phone. 

Participants claim they were making the TikTok videos in secret and deleting the app from their phones afterwards, prompting horrified viewers to say the parents were abusive and that their children should try to escape. 

An unnamed 19-year-old college freshman from Minnesota has revealed the strict rules her parents put her through

The student said she could not message her friends or be on social media without her parents going through her messages

The student said she could not message her friends or be on social media without her parents going through her messages

The discussion was prompted by a user who asked people to post videos, saying: ‘Tell me you have strict parents without telling me you have strict parents.’

After explaining she was 19 and a college freshman, the student claimed: ‘I’m not allowed to have my phone or my laptop up in my room past 9 o’clock. They have to be downstairs unless I’m doing homework.’

She went on to say she’s not allowed to have social media, and that her father fully controls a Facebook account she had created to find a college roommate – not letting her post anything on there. 

‘I can hardly hang out with people, especially if it’s like new people that they’ve never met before. Making friends and hanging out with them is hard,’ she added.

The teen said her grades determined a lot of her life and that her parents controled her wardrobe

She added her father also controlled her finance, even though she was 19

In a TikTok video, the teen explained her grades dictated a lot of what she was allowed to do, and that her parents controlled her finances

Claiming her grades determine a lot of things in her life, she added her parents requested that she keep her geolocation on at all times on the family safety app Life360.

According to the student, even her fashion choices arent her own. 

She said: ‘I have clothes I can and cannot wear, and my mom refuses to buy any kind of fancy lingerie or anything like that.’

She finished by adding that her father regularly looks through her phone, which includes the messages she sends and the pictures she takes.  

‘He controls everything in my life like my bank account, which I do not have access to and he can get all emails that I get sent to him,’ she said. 

People were horrified by the teen's claims, with some worrying she was being raised to have no agency in life

People were horrified by the teen’s claims, with some worrying she was being raised to have no agency in life 

In a following video shared a day later, she explained she was able to send the viral video to TikTok because she has social media accounts that she hides from her parents by deleting the apps from her phone before handing it in at 9 o’clock. 

Another girl filmed her own video claiming her parents are equally strict, and take her phone away for a month if they ever see her using it without a case. 

She was only allowed to use the popular picture-based app Snapchat from this year. 

One unnamed girl claimed her bedroom window had bars even though she was on the second floor

Another girl claimed she was not allowed to listen to explicit music or rap

Other teens claimed their parents were strict on Tiktok. One, left, claimed her bedroom window had bars, even though it was on the second floor and the other, right, said she could not listen to rap 

Like the girl from Minnesota, she claims her mother goes through everything on her phone. 

She then showed that her bedroom window had bars – potentially to discourage her from sneaking out – even though she lives on the second floor of her parents’ house. 

Another girl claimed she was not allowed to listen to music with explicit lyrics or rap, and said she had to give the password to all her electronic devices and accounts to her parents so they could go through them. 

Many of the 3.8million people who watched the video from the college student sympathized with the student, with some saying they had gone through the same thing with their parents. 

‘It’s weird and it makes life really hard. My parents would dead*** not let me hang out with anyone they didn’t know. And then would refuse to meet anyone. My mom straight told me she wasn’t interested in meeting my friends. Made s*** impossible,’ one said. 

Others said the girl’s family situation was really ‘sad.’ 

‘This is so sad. These women will have a hard time with agency later on and making decisions as these parents traumatized them into thinking they need guardians all the time,’ one wrote. 

‘that’s actually kinda sad, ‘another said. 

Some criticized the parents for the way they were raising their daughter.  

‘I’ve never heard of life 360. It sounds like hell for these adolescents/young adults,’ another said, addressing the app the teen’s parents used to monitor her every move.  

‘Think some of this stems from viewing women/girls as property therefore extremes are taken to “preserve virginity” aka uphold the family’s honor. For others tho it’s just a total power and control mindset,’ one said. 

‘I swear people have kids just so they can have something in their lives that they know they have control over,’ another wrote.  

Categories
Headline USA

Inside the ‘Twin Flames’ universe

A couple who run an online spiritual community that claims to help members find their soul mate have faced accusations that they promote cult-like practices and have even encouraged members to change their gender in a bid to find love.  

Jeff and Shaleia Ayan, who live in Michigan, are the founders of the Twin Flames Universe, an online community which offers virtual tutorials, workshops and therapy sessions designed to lead people to their so-called ‘twin flame’. 

‘A twin flame is your best friend in the entire universe,’ Jeff explained in a 2017 YouTube video. ‘This person was designed for you by God, and you were designed for this person by God, to be your eternal companion… for all of eternity.’ 

Members of the Twin Flames Universe are given access to a special Facebook group, which has more than 15,000 members, as well as dozens of YouTube videos with titles like ‘does my twin flame know they’re my twin flame?’ and ‘manifest twin flame miracles’. 

Jeff and Shaleia Ayan, who live in Michigan, are the founders of the Twin Flames Universe, which offers online tutorials, workshops and therapy sessions designed to lead people to their so-called ‘twin flame’. They have faced accusations of running a cult-like organisation 

Other offerings, including one-on-one therapies, and access to Google Hangout ‘classes’ during which members were offered advice on their relationship problems, require a subscription. 

According to Vanity Fair, the cost of accessing the ‘full run of this therapeutic reality show, and its offshoots, costs $4,400.’

While dozens of followers claim the organisation has had a positive impact on their lives, several former members have spoken to Vanity Fair and Vice about what they consider to be Jeff and Shaleia’s exploitative and cult-like practices.

Jeff, who is in his early 30s, and Shaleia, who is in her mid-30s, vehemently deny any allegations of wrongdoing and claim the attacks are part of a conspiracy theory to ‘destroy’ the Twin Flames Universe. 

The duo, who claim to have a direct connection to God, work with a team of coaches to help guide their members towards their twin flame, who might live in another city, or even country. 

Sometimes these matches are people they already know; sometimes they are other members of the community. 

These matches are always between one ‘masculine’ partner and one ‘feminine’ partner, however the group uses these terms to refer to energy, rather than a person’s sex or gender, meaning you could be a woman but have a ‘divine gender’ that is masculine. 

Jeff and Shaleia claim their close connection with God means they can confirm a person’s true ‘divine gender’, even if it is not one they identify with.

The couple told Vanity Fair that members who ‘discover a new divine gender’ are never pressured to change their outward appearance. But the publication notes that ‘many of them do; starting with their names, pronouns, dress, and hair.’

One transgender man spoke positively of discovering that his ‘divine gender’ was masculine after being guided by members of the community and his coaches. 

Jeff and Shaleia vehemently deny any allegations of wrongdoing and claim the attacks are part of a conspiracy theory to 'destroy' the Twin Flames Universe. Above, a grab from a recent video denouncing the attacks

Jeff and Shaleia vehemently deny any allegations of wrongdoing and claim the attacks are part of a conspiracy theory to ‘destroy’ the Twin Flames Universe. Above, a grab from a recent video denouncing the attacks

‘I was guided perfectly through pointed, logical questions and meditation to the truth,’ he wrote in a blog post. He added to Vanity Fair: ‘It wasn’t forced on me in any way.’

However others insist that members are actively encouraged to outwardly adopt their ‘divine gender’. Ten ex-members told the publication the ‘Twin Flames Universe is coercing vulnerable people who have never experienced gender dysphoria to transition’.

One former member added: ‘If those people in there are happy, I hope so. But I just think it’s all too likely that indoctrination made them believe that they were trans when they were f*****g fine before.’ 

All current members disagreed, saying that no one has pressured them to transform anything about their bodies or lives. Jeff and Shaleia rejected the idea that they coerce people to change their gender. 

Jeff also referred to himself as ‘Father Christ’ and said Shaleia is ‘Mother Christ’, positioning them as the undisputed leaders of the group with an intimate connection to God.  

He later justifying the statement by saying it was a reflection of the belief that everyone is a divine being but added he is also the ‘Second Coming’ of Jesus. 

Former members speaking to Vice leveled a range of accusations against the Twin Flames Universe and accused Jeff and Shaleia of building a ‘cult empire’ that exploited its members. 

Ex-members and parents of current members claimed followers were encouraged to cut off communication with their families, an isolation tactic that is common in cults.  

When asked for comment by Vice, Jeff and Shaleia denied they are running a cult. ‘A cult is a (sic) organization of abuse that systematically takes from and harms its members to enrich its founder,’ Jeff said. ‘We created an organization of love and harmony which heals and enriches everyone in it and everyone who is connected to anyone in it.’ 

According to Vanity Fair, Jeff and Shaleia also ‘filed two lawsuits that named seven former Twin Flames Universe members and one family member as defendants, variously accusing them of defamation, false promotion, unfair competition, and additional charges. Among other things, the complaints allege that their negative accounts of Twin Flames Universe online or in the Vice story are false, cooked up to make the spiritual community look bad and to steal their clients, drive people away, and promote the ex-members’ businesses.’

MailOnline has contacted the Twin Flames Universe for comment.