Corrie star's horror at hell of real-life cult girl
Press » News of the World » 1998-11-29
By Ricky Sutton
CORONATION Street star Joanne Froggatt gasped in horror this week as she came face to face with the sex-abused victim of a warped cult.
Joanne, who plays gullible Zoe Tattersall, has gripped the nation as she becomes ensnared by a group of religious fanatics.
Fans will eventually see Zoe-still grief-stricken by the death of her screen baby-ordered to become pregnant again to serve her new guru.
But at the emotionally-charged meeting, Joanne soothed shattered Christina Jones as she opened her heart about her years as a sex object for monsters she was taught to call 'shepherds'.
The meeting had been arranged by the News of the World after Joanne, 22, carried out months of research for her Corrie role.
As they strolled along the cobbles of the Street, Christina, 22, told how she was Britain's first 'cult baby' born into the Children Of God after her unsuspecting mum joined the sect. "I'd been abused quite substantially, physically and sexually from the age of three," she told Joanne. "I was abused by about 20 men in Britain and India.
"The cult believed in free-love. You were selfish if you didn't 'love' because God's only law is love.
"Within the group, women were treated as sexual objects and they had to sleep with any man. And the sexual freedom wasn't just for the adults, it was for the children as well."
As Joanne and Christina sat on the wall outside her TV boyfriend Ashley's house on Coronation Street, the whole story unfolded.
How she was raised to accept the cult's bizarre beliefs, how her mother- increasingly horrified at the excesses around her- managed to escape, and how mum finally came back to snatch Christina from their clutches when she was 12.
AS star Joanne listened intently, Christina revealed: "My mother Valerie had joined the cult when she was 16.
"They'd come to her school assembly in Maidstone and stayed in touch.
"She met my father within the cult but he left us when I was two," Christina continued.
"I then had a stepfather. We lived in a commune in India but when I was nearly three we moved to Britain."
The Children Of God sect was established in 1949 by late Californian hippy David Berg. The first British commune opened in 1972 in Chislehurst, Kent, but spread to many other parts of the country-usually setting up in rented properties.
There are now about 300 members in the UK and around 12,000 worldwide.
Within the cult, Christina spent her days learning the Bible by heart. "I was taught I was one of the elite," she said.
This struck a chord with Joanne, who was by now on the verge of tears.
Soon her character will be told she has been specially chosen by the mysterious guru Nirab to have the cult's baby. Christina explained to her: "We were told that we were good and those outside were called the 'systemites' and they were all vile and evil and were going to hell.
"But it was always explained to us that there were some who could still be saved. They were the ones we were sent out to recruit. 'But remember,' they would say, 'We are God's chosen few'."
Christina's childhood was spent moving from home to home, each time living in a commune of 30 or 40 people. Bedrooms were shared, halls converted into dormitories and matresses rolled out in living rooms at night.
"We were always squashed in together," she shuddered. "I was very frightened and on edge- always looking out for myself. From the age of four I was already watching my back."
When she was five, she and her mother were sent back to India.
"We called the elders shepherds and we were their sheep," she said. "In all my childhood, I was never allowed outside alone.
"I had to ask a shepherd even if I wanted a slice of bread."
SHE added: "I was never allowed to live in one place for any length of time in case I made a friend. It was divide and rule."
Christina was 11 when her mother-once such a devoted follower-began to see the sect in a new light.
When she voiced her doubts to her shepherd, she was sent back to Britain in disgrace. She was made to leave Christina...and five other children she had conceived within the cult. Christina simply woke one day to find her mother missing.
"I asked, 'Where's Moma?' " she said poignantly. "They replied, 'She's gone. She was no longer good enough for the group and one bad apple spoils the barrel. She's not coming back'."
A year later Christina had to return to Britain because her Indian visitor's visa was about to expire and she had to apply for a new one.
Meanwhile her mother was hatching a plan to snatch Christina and her other children from the cult's grasp.
The opportunity arose at the visa application- mum Valerie had to be present.
Christina recalled: "Mum explained she had read a book and no longer believed that our guru David Berg was a prophet. She sat us down and told us she was very sorry for what had happened and that it was time to live a 'systemite' life.
"I was extremely shocked, but she was my mother and I loved her."
Valerie took her children to their first hideout-a women's refuge.
Then they boarded a coach and travelled up the M1 to Nottingham where Christina was met by her grandparents.
LIFE outside the cult was lonely. At the time, in 1988, there were few support services.
"I heard some people discussing Margaret Thatcher and I didn't know who she was," she said. "Then I was on the school bus and heard a song and caused roars of laughter when I asked who was singing. It was Michael Jackson. It was like being a newborn baby at 12."
After Christina had finished her story, she and Joanne-who is also 22- walked back up the street.
"Christina is so very brave to have been able to handle all that," said Joanne. "It's awful.
"When I began on the cult storyline I thought it was a bit over the top. But since then, the plot has grown and I've begun to understand Zoe's position."
Christina knows how her own mum felt.
She said: "My mother could stand what they were doing to her-the slavery, the abuse.
"But she couldn't cope when she saw it being done to me."