JOANNE Lees, 33, became a figure of intense speculation after the murder of her Huddersfield boyfriend Peter Falconio in the remote centre of Australia. She endured a long list of upsetting untruths as she was exposed to public scrutiny. Now she has finally told her story of the traumatic events. In the first of three extracts, she talks about her upbringing in Huddersfield and how she met her boyfriend
WRITING my story is a strange process.
I am not a writer and I don't pretend to be. But I do have a story and the only way I know to begin is to tell you about myself, things the headlines wouldn't ever have revealed.
I was born on the September 25, 1973. For the first eleven years of my life it was just me and my Mum.
I grew up in Huddersfield, Yorkshire, which is famous for being the birthplace of Rugby League.
I was only a child but I would always try to make Mum feel better. Maybe that made me older than my years, but it was just how things were.
I spent years asking my Mum if I could get a dog and when I was 11 she finally gave in.
Not long after, our family expanded again when she married. Now I had a dog, a stepfather, Vincent, and pretty soon, a baby brother, Sam, who I adored and still do today.
The relationship between me and my Mum changed but the truth was, she was much happier.
Now my Mum had an adult to confide in. I loved her and wanted her to be happy so it was easy to accept the changes that Sam and Vincent's arrival meant for our relationship.
My Mum was busy and I got on and did my own thing, safe in the knowledge that she was there if I needed her.
As far back as I can remember I have been fascinated by different countries and faraway places.
When I was a little girl my Mum couldn't afford expensive overseas holidays, but she didn't let that stop us from getting away from home.
We'd go on day trips to the seaside and weekends away to London. We would head off on outings to visit castles, museums, zoos and parks.
I think my desire to travel was genetic.
In the 1970s, when my Mum was in her early twenties, she hitchhiked throughout Europe with friends.
As I got older, she would often reminisce about her adventures. I'd listen intently while she described the places she's been to and the people she had met.
After years of listening to my mother recount her travels it is probably not surprising that after leaving college I started work in a travel agency.
Every day I was surrounded by holiday brochures, every day I would sell someone a holiday or book someone a flight. I enjoyed going to work and met interesting people from all walks of life.
Everyone I dealt with had a story to tell.
I was settled in my job, working hard and travelling whenever I could.
I was twenty-two, single and having a great time hanging out with my friends. I felt secure within myself and though I would have liked a boyfriend I didn't need one.
Up to that point I had never met anyone I wanted to be with. Things changed one evening in June 1996.
I hadn't planned to go out that night but my friend Martin Jaffier (who I sometimes call Jaffa) invited me and a small group of friends round to his house for a few drinks.
After a few hours, and a few beers, we decided to kick on to our local nightclub.
We were dancing and laughing and having a great time when I locked eyes with a man across the dance floor and he gave me the most endearing smile.
He was tall, with dark-brown hair and olive skin. It was strange. Without even speaking, some connection was made. I knew right then that I was going to be his girlfriend.
Time passed and as I chatted and danced I was always aware that this man was in the room. When I looked at him, he would be looking back. It was electric and I felt my senses were heightened.
At the end of the night I started to leave and I felt a hand lightly touch my shoulder. I turned around and it was him.
He introduced himself as Peter Falconio. He had a gorgeous smile and his dark-brown eyes twinkled when he looked at me.
We chatted and I introduced Pete to my friends. Then I did something that shocked my friends and, if I'm honest, probably myself.
I left the night-club with Pete. I had never gone off with a stranger before, but this was different.
I just knew Pete was a good person and that I wanted to spend time with him.
* No Turning Back is published by Hodder & Stoughton, £16.99.