Long lost family: Blackpool siblings Donna Cowell and Phil Holme, who lived just a few miles apart are reunited decades later and share their story on ITV's award winning programme tonight

A Blackpool nurse who met her long lost brother after more than four decades said she was “totally overwhelmed” to discover he lived less than three miles away from her home in the resort.

By Nicola Jaques
Monday, 25th January 2021, 3:19 pm

Donna Cowell and Phil Holme, were brought together in a very emotional reunion in Stanley Park, a short distance from both their homes.

The heart-warming scenes will be shared for the first time this week in ITV’s 10th series of award-winning programme Long Lost Family, hosted by Nicky Campbell and Davina McCall.

Both Donna, Phil and their brother Damien had been brought up on the Fylde coast by adoptive families.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

Registered district nurse Donna and Damien had been adopted together after initially spending their early life in the care system during the 1970s.

It was an experience that left them both with deep scars, Donna explained.

“It was really difficult for Damien and I - it can make you or break you and I just never wanted another person to have to experience that,” she said.

Fortunately, the pair were taken on by their adoptive family when Donna was eight-years-old.

Phil Holme and Donna Cowell are reunited in Stanley Park in their hometown Blackpool after decardes apart. They share their story for Long Lost Family. ITV Pictures

However she would later discover they had a younger sibling, leading her to fear he had suffered a similar fate – but completely alone.

Recalling the moment she found out about Phil’s existence, mum-of-four Donna, 48, said: “It was some paperwork my adoptive parents had found that led to our discovery of Phil, so we knew we had another brother.

“It was very emotional but I’m inquisitive. I wanted to find him.

“I had done some digging but what I didn’t realise until I finally decided to approach the programme was that his name had been changed, which meant I could never have found him alone.

Nurse Donna Cowell said she was 'totally overwhelmed' to find her brother lived just a few miles from her home in Blackpool after contacting Long Lost Family. ITV Pictures

“It’s not unusual with adopted children for families to have moved on so to be some distance apart.

“When it came back he was living across from the hospital, I mean what a shock. I’ve gone over and over it in my mind.

“To think he was just across the road, while I was at the hospital doing my nurse training, it was a shock, so overwhelming. Literally, my brother was two minutes away. I could have called and had a brew.

“My biggest fear had always been that he had gone through the same horrendous time Damien and I had so it was a huge relief to discover that wasn’t the case.”

Phil Holme, who was introduced to his sister Donna and brother Damien through award-winning programme Long Lost Family. ITV Pictures

But dad-of-one Phil, 44, born Stephen, just two years after Damien, had not been put into care but adopted at six-months-old. The former Baines High School pupil, describes himself as “the lucky one”.

He said: “I grew up an only child but with a stable and loving, home environment. Not to say it was easy, my mum and dad said even as a baby it took some time to settle and bring me back.

“They shared some details with me and while I did just get on with it - it’s strange. There are times in your life, where you feel you don’t belong.

“Odd ones, going to look through the family tree and feeling very much on the outside, like a cuckoo.”

He was 21 before he learned he had siblings but believes back then he would not have been fully ready for the ‘emotional minefield’ finding his family would bring.

Phil, who served with the British Armed Forces as a combat intelligence analyst and radio operator with the Queens Lancashire Regiment, said it was his search to find a place he belonged that led him to join the military.

And while Donna and Phil say their coming together was with open arms and very natural, it hasn’t been without its difficulties.

Phil, who is currently studying to become a quantity surveyor, was going through a tough time during the series production, as his father, Peter, had been diagnosed with cancer and he had moved back to the family home to be his primary carer.

Peter, a retired policeman, died in January 2020, not long after Phil was reunited with Donna and Damien, missing out on the opportunity to be introduced.

Phil added: “It was tough - I was unsure if I wanted to do the show at first. It was a really hard time for me personally but actually it turned out to be a godsend.

"The show team is extraordinary - the care is just tremendous, honestly we couldn’t have done it without them.”

The Covid-19 pandemic has also limited their chance to spend time together in person and with their wider family.

Donna, who describes herself as the bossy, protective older sister, adds they have all been very supportive, especially mum Carol, who appears in the programme, she says: “My mum is still itching to meet Phil, it certainly hasn’t been easy and after all we went through but we have been in touch constantly and phone calls every week.

“We’re both quite inquisitive by nature and there has been so much we wanted to fill each other in on.

She laughs: What we discovered is we’re both a bit odd but like to have a laugh and just crack on with things. This all has made me who I am.”

Phil adds: “It moulds you as a person. That’s what I've seen too with Donna and Damien, they’re not torn by what’s gone on, same as me. It’s just life. We all have a story to tell.”

Long Lost Family airs tonight, 9pm on ITV