How a US woman learnt she was Sierra Leone royalty

A film is to be made by Disney about a woman who was adopted in the US and then discovered that she was a Sierra Leonean princess after looking into her ancestry.

Sarah Culbertson told the BBC’s Newsday programme about how the discovery changed her life 17 years ago.

The actress and dancer had hired a detective to help trace her origins, finding out that her American birth mother had died, but that her father was alive and living in Sierra Leone.

She was cautious about contacting him as it is “not always a happy ending” but she said that in her case “it was beautiful”.

“The first thing he said to me when I found him through a private investigator, he said: ‘Please forgive me I didn’t know how to find you after you’d been placed in adoption, your name had changed, everything had changed.’”

When she went to meet her family in Sierra Leone in 2004, she said her welcome was overwhelming.

“This whole new world opened up, it was a beautiful welcoming part.

“My uncle, the paramount chief said, “Our daughter has come home, she can be a chief and she’s a princess in this country.’”

It may sound like a fairy tale fit for Disney but she said the country’s recent history was anything but.

The West African nation has been scarred by its 11-year civil war, famous for its blood diamonds, which had ended in 2002.

This prompted the new princess to start non-profit projects in areas like public health, education.

With her family’s help, she set up Sierra Leone Rising to establish clean water wells, sustainable agriculture, prosthetics for amputees and an initiative to combat period poverty for girls.

She said that one of the best things about being a princess was “you get to wear some fun clothes” – but mainly it is the responsibility that she enjoys.

“I’ve had to step into a place that I never expected. Into a strength inside of myself that I have found, to do work, to rally people, to work together,” she says.

“I co-wrote a book about it called A Princess Found and we’re turning it into a movie with Disney.”

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