Dhaka, Bangladesh
'I've never needed anyone else': life as an identical twin

'I've never needed anyone else': life as an identical twin

Zuri and Zada, 24, grew up in Ghana and America, and now live in Loughton, Essex. Both are studying for an MA in international theatre. Zuri: We were always in each other's pockets growing up. It was only when we got to high school that we started branching out. I was more outgoing and had a lot of friends; Zada was more reserved. She preferred to keep herself to herself and join in with my friends if she felt like it. We split for our undergraduate degrees - I went to Indiana and Zada studied in Boston - and I think it helped us grow as individuals. We're still always pretty much together now, but this way, Zada has developed the confidence to go and do something on her own if she needs to. Zada: I was never really sure why I was so reserved compared with Zuri, but I always felt awkward going out and trying to make friends. We were so close that I never felt I needed anyone else. All the way through my undergraduate studies, I thought, "Well, I already have the closest friend I'm ever going to find. I don't have any gaps that need filling." If we're not together, we're still always in touch. We're adults, but we still have a very child-like dependency. We see each other as a real source of comfort. It's amazing always to have someone in your corner. Even if I'm wrong, I'm right with her. People on the street are fascinated by us. They'll stop dead in their tracks and say, "Wow - twins!" It's like a routine. Everyone will ask the same series of questions: "Are you identical? Are you telepathic? Have you ever played tricks on your parents? Can you feel each other's pain?" Which is nonsense. But it's almost as if, as a twin, you are public property. People feel compelled to know what's going on in your life. Xanthe and Yazmyne Hale Xanthe and Yazmyne are nine. They are rare monozygotic monoamniotic twins, meaning they developed in the same amniotic sac. Xanthe: The other night, we had exactly the same dream. We sleep in the same bed, and in the morning we woke up, looked at each other and told each other we'd dreamed about driving Mum's car out of the gate and on to the road. It was quite scary. Yazmyne: We have very similar personalities, too. We're quite nervous people - if we have to do things in front of the whole school, we can get very scared, but it's easier to be more confident when there's two of you. Xanthe: We spend a lot of time together at school. We are in the same class and have the same favourite teacher. Yazmyne is my best friend and I am her best friend. We like everything about being twins: if one of us is sad, there's always someone there to make us happy; if we fall over, there's always someone there to pick us up and carry us. We're actually more rare than other twins. We are quite special. We are mono-mono, which means we were nearly stuck together in the womb. Yazmyne: That's why we are so close. I hate spending time apart. I love wearing the same clothes and always encourage Xanthe to do it, but she never lets me. Sometimes I get very sad when people say we are starting to look different. I like being a twin and looking the same. I always want it to be that way. Xanthe: I like it, too, but sometimes I think it would make a good change to be split up occasionally. Because we will have to do that some day, and it might help us. We would never move to different countries, though. Never. We will probably try to get a house next to each other in a nice town and grow up together. Yazmyne always says to me, "How sad would you be if I died?" And I always say, "I would be so sad that I would die, too." We could never be apart. Will and Gabriel Barrie Will and Gabriel, 20, are both students. They split their time between Cambridge, Oxford and London. Will: At the age of 10, Gabe and I decided to go to different prep schools for three years. Being alone so suddenly was a shock to the system, but I think it forged a lot of profound differences in us that other twins don't have. Those three years apart meant the seed was sown for what would become a lifelong rivalry. We've been locked in a sort of battle of one-upmanship ever since. It can be fun - it's always good-natured - but it's very real. As a twin, you're constantly aware of what the other person is doing and how they're performing. There's an acute sense of competition: in exams, in sport, in life. I'd never wish him to do badly but, equally, I don't want him to do better than me, either. It's very easy to feel a failure. Now, we are on quite different academic paths. He's studying classics at Oxford and I'm studying natural sciences at Cambridge; I think we're quite conscious of being very different in terms of what we want to do with our lives. Life would be a treadmill of constant comparisons, otherwise. We talk about most things together - politics, philosophy and current affairs - but rarely our sexuality or our relationships. Not only can it be a little awkward (like discussing your love life with your parents), but there's always the potential for a bit of jealousy - the idea that someone might come along and take your place as the most important person in their life. Gabriel: I'm often characterised as the "evil" twin, but I'm not really sure why. I'm probably a bit more rebellious and outgoing than Will. I am older by 28 minutes, which is quite a lot for twins. I often joke about it to Will: "You'll know what I mean in 28 minutes." Our schooling certainly had a big impact on both of us. Will's was very rigorous and mine was more creative. I don't think it was a coincidence that we ended up on different career paths. Being a twin is a sort of quiet battle to establish your own individual identity, especially when you look as similar as we do. We'd never dream of ordering the same dinner at a restaurant, because that would be weird. We're both very aware of the constant pressure to try to carve out any differences. The bond of identical twins is very different from any other relationship in the world. People always talk about the security of family, versus friends who can come and go. But having a twin is like having the security of family taken to the extreme. I don't think we have ever misunderstood each other. That's very rare. Tina Price-Johnson and Lynne Coppendale Tina, a paralegal and litigation assistant, and Lynne, a civil servant, are 44. They live in London and Doncaster. Tina: There were six sets of twins in our junior school, but we were always known as "the Twins". We were very visible, not shy and retiring, and in the top academic sets. We had an advantage, we could study together: double the brain power. We appeared absolutely identical until I developed epilepsy at 11. I'd have fits in school, full-on grand mal seizures, meaning my classmates had to clear the room and call for help. Everything changed. My illness shattered my confidence. I stopped being my own person and became Lynne's shadow. I started referring to myself as "we". When I look back on it now, I see it in almost comic-book terms: Lynne as the hero and me as the antihero. There was a great deal of resentment, but I know Lynne felt a lot of "survivor's guilt", too. I've picked up more health conditions since - polycystic ovary syndrome, clinical depression, osteoarthritis and chronic lymphocytic leukaemia - whereas Lynne has barely taken a sick day. It has been bitter at times, but today we're more curious about our medical differences than anything, and have signed up for a twins' research programme at King's College London. We haven't had any proper explanations yet for the huge differences in our health, although the fact that I've been on strong epilepsy medication for most of my life will surely have had an impact. It's very hard to feel like "the broken twin", the one that doesn't work, but I would never begrudge Lynne anything. She is a fantastic mother, whereas I've never had the urge to have children; and her daughters love the fact that I have exactly the same genetic makeup as their mum (they're my closest blood relatives after Lynne). Having a twin means having a shorthand - someone who just needs to glance at you to know what you're thinking. Lynne: Tina was always more of a thinker than me; I was a bit dreamier growing up. So I was never really aware of the impact her illnesses had on her self-esteem. I do often feel guilty about being "the healthy one". But in a very selfish way, I'm glad I'm unaffected: I've got two children to take care of, after all. I feel very responsible for Tina, mainly because I am the means of "curing" her: her leukaemia is very slow-moving, but eventually she will need chemotherapy, radiotherapy and probably a stem cell transplant, which I can provide, seeing as we are a 100% genetic match. If I couldn't cling to the fact that I might eventually help her get better, I would probably go to pieces. As a twin, you can never look too far into the future, because the idea that anything will ever happen to your sibling is too much to bear. I just cannot comprehend that happening. With Lynne, I am never alone and I am never lonely. Fraternal twins are a genetic likelihood, but we identical twins, we're just freaks of nature. I'm quite happy with that. Diane Prater and Lauren Tew Diane, a teacher, and Lauren, a retired nurse, are 62. They live in Winchester and Bristol. Diane: Laurie was always the petite, pretty one. I was the hale and hearty one. We lived in a village in Somerset and played together all the time. I can't think of a memory without her in it. Our differences started to emerge when we were about nine and moved to the city, so our mum could find work after our father was taken ill; we continued to grow apart from secondary school onwards. Our relationship was strained by the time I left to go to university in Durham. Most of all, I looked forward to meeting people who would know me as an individual. It was infuriating being seen as the same person when we were so obviously not; Laurie was more popular and had more boyfriends than me, and resentment had started to brew. We had a very pragmatic relationship and often spent time apart; there were periods where I lived overseas for several years, in Denmark, America and Switzerland, and we coped just fine. It was, dare I say it, very easy. Laurie and I are both on our own now - she is widowed and I am divorced. But even though we might not rely on each other as much as some other twins, there is still a profound sense of there always being someone there. There's always someone to play with, someone watching my back, someone who knows how to soothe my hurt and how to inspire me to be brave. Laurie gets my jokes, my anecdotes. She will fall into fits of giggles at the drop of a hat, just like me. We obviously have different reasons for being alone, but Laurie has always been so supportive. Even though we've spent many years apart, she's always been the still point in the turning world for me. That will never change. Lauren: Diane and I have always been very open with each other when it comes to our emotions. We've been there for each other at the hardest times. But there is no degree of "less" when it comes to grief as twins. There is no halving of it because there are two of you. Some things simply cannot be shared. Diane was a huge source of comfort when my husband passed away. She put my broken heart back together. It helps that we share similar views on spirituality and religion. The church in the village where we grew up played a big part in our lives. While we are not Christians, that church is very much "home" for both of us. I've always said that's the only place I could go when I die. My late husband is already there and we have a double grave marked out. Diane, too, has said when she goes she'd like her ashes to be "flung" about the churchyard. For me, there's a real reassurance and comfort in that. That we'll all be together in the end.

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