The full heartwarming story of the seriously ill Belfast girl who melted Adele's heart
When Belfast mum Tracy Gibney promised her desperately ill child, Rebecca, that she would get to meet global superstar Adele, she kept her word thanks to a social media campaign. Una Brankin reveals the inspiring story which made headlines around the world.
A fortnight ago, with only 30 minutes' warning, Tracy Gibney had a superstar crying in her arms, at her clinically equipped town house in Belfast's Short Strand. In that moment, Adele was just a young mother reaching out to another, a woman living with the worst maternal dilemma possible: the terminal illness of her child.
The momentous visit by the multi-award-winning singer is the best gift Tracy (38) could have given little Rebecca, an ardent Adele fan, ahead of the child's 13th birthday on Monday.
But, although she won't show it, Tracy will be celebrating the occasion with a heavy heart behind the smiles.
"She's going to be a big teenager, God bless her," said the mother of two and foster mum of one. "But I asked the paediatrician, Dr Armstrong, how long her other wee patients like Rebecca have lived to. She said 13."
Bursting into tears, towards the end of an emotional interview, this remarkable woman apologises, feeling "daft". But who could blame her - it's very difficult to remain dry-eyed when Rebecca's story is told.
It proved impossible for Adele, the moment she met Tracy, on February 29.
"She gave me a big hug - you know, a real one - and started to cry," Tracy recalls. "I said 'ack, don't be crying' but then I did, too, and then her manager started as well. I was, like, 'everybody has to be happy.'
"Adele sat down beside Rebecca and told her that her nails were beautiful, and stroked her hair, and she said, 'your mum has told me all about you'. She admired the Frozen lights and things I have around Rebecca's bedside and said her wee son likes Frozen, too.
"Rebecca lay and stared into her face. She's not completely blind; it's more colour-blindness she has. She doesn't speak - she has never called me mam - but she knew it was Adele.
"She doesn't normally look at people like that."
Rebecca suffers from cerebral palsy and epilepsy, due to complications with her birth. She cannot speak and is confined to bed at her home near the River Lagan in Belfast, where she lives with her older sister Joanna (20), a student, and her second cousin, Katy-Rose (16), who Tracy has cared for since she was eight.
At Christmas 2014, Tracy was given the devastating news that Rebecca had six months to live. The child managed to survive and when Adele announced, the following November, that she was kicking off her 2016 tour in Belfast, Tracy began her now famous Facebook campaign, Make Rebecca's Wish Come True.
The little girl's dream was to meet Adele and her mother was determined to fulfil it. The huge support online was extremely gratifying for Tracy and led to subsequent online chat with Adele's manager, who said she'd see what she could do. But come the morning of February 29, the date of Adele's first concert at the SSE, there was no word back.
"I'd bought two tickets for the concert - they were about £100 each," Tracy explains. "When I didn't hear from her manager, I thought 'that's it; they're not coming'. So, then, there I was sitting in the hairdresser's getting a colour in my hair, when the phone went and it was Adele's manager.
"She said Adele had seen the Facebook stuff and was very emotional, and asked would I let her come to see us. I was in complete shock - I said 'get this stuff off my head' and rushed back to the house and they were there.
"Adele was so genuine - the nicest person I've ever met. She looked beautiful - she had no make-up on and her hair was back, and she has lovely skin. The first thing I said to her was 'you look fantastic'. She must have lost about four stone."
A single mother for the past 10 years, Tracy admits to forgetting to make tea or coffee for the world's best-selling songstress. "I was in so much shock and it happened so quickly, I didn't think. Adele just talked away to Rebecca and gave her signed books and T-shirts and jumpers; for me, too. She was here for 20 minutes, in my house, sitting on my couch and by Rebecca's bed.
"She's a very, very nice person and to be honest, I do think she'll keep in touch. We're friends on Twitter and I sent her all the photos."
Rebecca was born on March 21, 2003, deprived of oxygen, after an extremely difficult labour, and was not expected to survive. A medical team at the Royal Victoria Hospital battled for three months to stabilise the baby before she was able to go home.
Tracy recalls: "I had a difficult birth with Rebecca.
"When she was born, I remember my mum saying 'the child is blue', and they took her away to an incubator and said I'd get her back the next day.
"The nurse took me - there were tubes attached to Rebecca everywhere and they said she was going to die - that's all I could hear: die, die die. We got the priest in to christen her but she's a fighter. She still is.
"When I got the news she had only six months, I thought to myself, 'Rebecca's my daughter and she's not ready'. I was ready to do all in my power to protect her from infections and to keep her alive."
The hospital provided the hi-tech equipment required for Rebecca's home care and a paediatrician and team of community nurses were assigned to help Tracy care for her. With the help of a wheelchair, the child was able to attend Glenveigh special needs school in south Belfast.
"It's a brilliant school - Rebecca was able to go until three years ago. Her spine wasn't able to support her in the wheelchair any more and she's been bed-bound ever since.
"The teachers still come and visit her and Dr Armstrong, the paediatrician, is out like a bullet if Rebecca takes a fit or anything. She's brilliant. I know Rebecca's really ill. She's on a lot of morphine and I just have to take it day by day.
"I put on Adele's music every morning for her and she just goes into her own wee world. She loves her."
Joanna, who's studying health and social nursing at university, helps her mother to care for Rebecca. She's also helping to gather the world-wide coverage of Adele's visit into a scrap-book for Rebecca, and has started an influx of nominations for Tracy to win a Belfast Telegraph Woman of the Year Award.
"Rebecca's dad has not been part of her life. It's just me and Katie-Rose and Joanna. I'm really proud of Joanna - she's at university and she minds Rebecca if I need to go into town or the hairdresser's. She's very, very helpful.
"Katie-Rose is a great wee thing, too. She's my cousin's child - I said I'd take her and foster for her for six weeks and ended up keeping her."
Tracy needs all the help she can get. Caring for Rebecca full-time, she admits she doesn't always get a good night's sleep.
"She's in with me in my bedroom and I've to carry her up the stairs every night. Don't get me wrong - I never moan - but she's getting heavier, and I can't get a lift installed because of an insurance issue over Rebecca's epilepsy.
"She does get a drug which makes her sleep all night - about four nights out of seven. I do get tired but I love her and I just get on with it.
"My house is like a hospital with all these machines. I learned a long time ago from watching the nurses, how to put Rebecca's tubes in and working the suction machine and cleaning, and so on."
From her experience of caring for Rebecca, Tracy doesn't rule out the possibility of becoming a children's nurse one day.
For the time being, she is dedicated entirely to her frail second child, and to throwing her a party to remember on Monday.
"I would love to have brought my wee Rebecca to Adele's concert but there was no way we could," says Tracy, trying to stem her tears.
"She put us in the VIP part and in the middle of the concert she stopped and told everyone she'd met me and Rebecca that day, and was dedicating the next song to us. The whole crowd cheered and I just cried. She sang Rebecca's favourite, Make You Feel My Love.
"It meant the world to me.
"I mean, all the doctors and nurses tell me I'm a good mum, but now I know I've been able to do something really special for Rebecca.
"About four years ago, I told her that one day I'd get Adele to meet her and I wouldn't forget it. And I didn't."