'My battle with breast cancer'

by ROSS BENSON, Daily Mail

Koo Stark underwent an emergency mastectomy in the United States in August last year. When her old boyfriend, Prince Andrew, heard what had happened, he immediately sent a bouquet of flowers and a note of encouragement.

She has spoken to Andrew a number of times since on the phone. 'He is always very sympathetic and supportive,' she said.

The reaction of Warren Walker, the father of her five-year-old daughter Tatiana, was very different. When she told him what had happened, and asked that he agree to their daughter staying with her in America whilst she underwent treatment, he replied: 'I'm not agreeing to anything. If you don't want to come back to England, Tatiana will come and live with me.'

Koo started shaking at the memory. She was a woman who had just had her anatomy irreparably reshaped by a surgeon's scalpel. She was in fear for her life and anxious for her daughter's future. 'How could he say something like that at a time like that?' she whispered. 'America is our home. All of our family live there.'

Very easily, it would seem. The consideration that should bind parents together, even in hostile separation, had evaporated long before. Indeed, for the better part of their daughter's young life, the two have been embroiled in a vicious legal battle over their child.

Walker, an American banker, is an heir to the mighty Forbes publishing and shipping fortune (the Boston Tea Party that sparked the American War of Independence took place on a boat owned by one of his forebears). She is a working photographer.

It is an unequal financial contest that has cost Koo all her savings. So far she has spent a six-figure sum on legal fees. It may also have cost Koo her health. She certainly believes it has.

'Cancer can be stress-related and every woman can imagine the enormous distress these problems have caused me,' she said.

Couldn't she have foreseen what was coming and side-stepped before she got knocked over? After all, Koo Stark is not a woman without worldly wisdom. She was married to the Green Shield Stamp heir, Tim Jefferies, and had famously once romanced the Queen's favourite son.

Surely, experiences like that should have taught her to recognise a pitfall before she fell into it?

She laughed at the suggestion. She may have lost all her money but she has at least managed to hang on to her sense of humour.

'It comes down to hormones,' she said. 'Most of my life has been ruled by my hormones. I wanted to have children more than anything in the world.'

She had discussed having children with Prince Andrew, only for the notion to perish in the face of the hostility of the Buckingham Palace courtiers who viewed her as threat to the monarchy.

The subject had never arisen with Jefferies, even though they were married ('We didn't have a very intimate relationship,' she admits). 'So there I was, 38 years old and counting my eggs when I met Warren Walker,' she recalled. 'I was thinking all the time: "Why can't I just meet someone nice, fall in love and have a baby." '

It is a question that confronts many women who have placed career ahead of family, only to suddenly realise that their biological clock is running out of time.

In Walker, a partner in a Boston-based finance company, Koo thought she had found a solution to her dilemma.

They met when he came to view the photographic studio in Kensington she had put on the market. She had just come out of a two-year engagement to former Guards officer Bertie Way, who stood 6ft 7in to her 5ft 4in ('and three-quarters').

She was planning to renovate the Chelsea mews house she and Way had bought together, and of which she was in the process of buying him out.

'Four people came to view the studio and one of them was Mr Walker,' she recalled. 'A storm broke while he was there. Huge pieces of ice were falling out of the sky and he had to stay for an hour.

'When he finally left, he forgot to take his mobile telephone. He rang it, I picked it up, and he said he'd love to come and see the studio by moonlight. Good line, right?'

Not good enough, at least not then. 'I told him my cleaning lady would be happy to show him the studio by moonlight, but that I was off to Jordan on a photographic assignment.'

The 6ft 5in Walker was not so easily discouraged, however. When Koo returned he arranged another appointment and arrived with a 'snack' of Beluga caviar.

'He said how lovely the studio was by moonlight - and how lovely I was. And I must admit, I was very attracted to him. But, as a result of my previous experiences, I was determined to take it slowly.'

Nothing of consequence happened that night, nor in the six months that followed. They would meet for afternoon tea and the occasional dinner. It was only when they went to Mongolia, where Koo was attending a two week 'teaching' by her spiritual guide, the Dalai Lama, that their relationship moved up a gear.

'After the teachings, I took a holiday and went trekking by horse into the wilds with five sherpas, and it was so beautiful. There were fields of sweetsmelling wild flowers, and rivers and lakes with crystal-clear water. Warren had invited himself along. He hadn't told me he couldn't ride and he took several tumbles.

'Then, one night, he crept into my tent and kissed me under the stars of a Mongolian sky with the scent of lavender in the air. When we broke our embrace, he said: "Now you'll have to call me Robbie - that's what my family call me." I thought that was too weird, so I called him "darling" instead. Oh, yes - and we became engaged.'

The icing on this Mills and Boon beginning came when Koo fell pregnant a year after they started seeing each other. 'I was delighted. I couldn't have been happier. I was engaged, I was getting married - and I was expecting a baby.'

Walker did not share her joy. 'He said: "Keep my name out of this - no celebrity stuff for me."' They started rowing, she discovered to her distress that he was seeing another woman, and when the rows grew worse, Walker called off the engagement.

He said: "Let's not get married." He said it was him, that it was nothing to do with me,' said Koo. 'He was refusing to commit. I don't know what was behind all that. If I did, I wouldn't be in the situation I am in today. 'I was a bit upset, and that's an understatement,' she said. 'I had never envisaged having a child out of wedlock. I believed it was in the best interests of my unborn child that I should be married to his or her father.'

The couple tried to patch up their differences. 'He came round to my way of thinking,' she said. A new date was fixed for the wedding. 'Then he went off the idea again. Ten days before the ceremony, he called it off.'

So it was that in March 1997, Koo gave birth in Boston to a 9lb 12oz daughter. She was named Tatiana. Prince Andrew is her godfather. 'I telephoned to ask him and he said he would be delighted,' she recalled.

The christening took place at St Columba in Knightsbridge. Andrew attended the dinner party that evening in Daphne's, the fashionable restaurant nearby.

At first, the birth of Tatiana appeared to have stilled the antagonism smouldering between Koo and Walker.

When he bought a £2.5 million flat in London's Notting Hill there was even the suggestion they might set up home together. But it didn't work out like that. Walker moved into the house leaving Koo and Tatiana in temporary rented accommodation he had arranged for them during the search for a suitable property.

The couple started rowing again and Koo returned to America with her daughter and moved into ahouse in upstate New York. Early in 2000, she was served with a British court order.

Koo adds: 'I do not believe that resorting to court is the best way to settle family disputes. It raises the stress levels, the lawyers invariably create more antagonism and the cost is prohibitive. One of the bigest injustices is that once you get involved in the court system, as far as I can see, no one really benefits but the lawyers.'

But involved she is. At one juncture the FBI burst into the Florida home of her mother , Kathi Caruso, who was in hospital recovering from a stroke. Koo was visiting with Tatiana and was threatened with arrest .

She applied for legal aid because she says she was entitled to it, but it was then erroneously reported that she had been refused it on the grounds she was living in a Chelsea mews house valued in excess of £1 million.

The house was not owned by K oo. In fact it was owned by the Cadogan estate - and is riddled with asbestos and presently uninhabitable.

Koo and Tatiana are currently living in temporary rented accomodation. She refuses to discuss the proceedings and says she has decided to speak about her problems only to set the record straight - particularly on ludicrous claims that sheis suing Walker for sums variously put at between £50 million and £75 million.

And equally false are the claims that he is paying a 'king's ransom' to Koo. To be precise, Koo is the defendant, not the claimant, and all the sums referred to are a nonsense.

There is no doubt that the squabble has now stepped beyond the bounds of law and into the personal.

Despite this, she would dearly love to settle their differences in private for the benefit of their daughter. Whatever the rights and wrongs may be, one thing is clear, Koo and Walker were once very much in love and she is certain that this fraught situation has contributed to her illness.

'I believe I've got cancer as a result of all this personal stress and strain,' she claimed.

It was while she was on holiday in Florida with Tatiana that she learnt she was unwell.

Only a few days after she arrived she was in hospital undergoing an emergency operation that has changed her life for ever.

It came as a shock but not a surprise. For two years she had been complaining to doctors in England about a small lump in her right breast.

'Tatiana had noticed it first. She said: "Mummy, you've got a rock in your bosom. "I said: "Ido?! She said: "Actually, Mummy, it's more like a grape.! I felt it, and she was right, so I went straight to the doctors in London.

'For two years they told me not to worry, that everything was just fine. Then, on July 18 last year, they said the breast cells had changed .

'I asked them if it was cancerous. They said: "No." I asked them if it was precancer. Again they said: "No.î ' A few