Mob target Emilio Di Giovine knew it was an offer he couldn’t refuse… a rare reunion with his daughter, the Mafia Princess.
The former crime boss left an Italian hideaway to join celebrations – in Lancashire, of all places – for Marisa Merico’s 50th birthday.
It was a milestone both father and daughter never expected to see.
For Marisa recalls loved ones being killed as she grew up – before taking over the Mafia reins herself when her dad was in jail for two murders and other crimes.
And Giovine, 70, has had a bullet with his name on since turning informer on Milan’s feared ’Ndrangheta gang.
Marisa says: “It is such a celebration, as at one stage I didn’t think I would make it to 50.
“It could have been very different, given my former life.
"Many people in my family died young because they were involved in the Mafia.
“Many were gunned down or died as a result of drugs, so the fact I’m here today celebrating with Dad is very special.
"It is the first time in 43 years he has been back to England and 27 years since he has left Italy.
“When I met him at Manchester Airport I just hugged him so tightly, it was such an emotional reunion.
"I can’t believe he is here, where I have lived most of my life. It’s surreal.”
The birthday bash at a country hotel near Marisa’s Poulton-le-Fylde home marked the first time she had seen her father in more than six years.
He now lives under a secret identity and is even airbrushed out of family photos.
Giovine became a marked man after testifying against his fellow ’Ndrangheta mobsters.
He ran a drugs and arms racket before being jailed in the late 1980s and ’90s.
That was when Marisa – then just 22 – took over, smuggling arms and cash across borders and mixing with notorious mobsters.
She was jailed for two years and nine months for using £1.6million of laundered Mafia money to buy a house in England.
Marisa was held in Durham Prison alongside murderers Rose West and Myra Hindley.
But Marisa turned her back on crime and spoke about her past in an interview with the Sunday Mirror six years ago – after a cloak-and-dagger meeting with her dad.
These days, she is a contented grandmother of two.
When not giving talks about her life, she is studying for an honours degree in criminology and wants to help prisoners change their lives.
Marisa’s life story was turned into a book – Mafia Princess – and is being filmed for Italian Amazon Prime.
She wore a Versace dress as her kids Lara, 28, and Frank, 19, joined her at her bash – and The X Factor finalists Tre Amici were the star turn.
Giovine says: “I’m so proud of Marisa, she is so lovely and beautiful. To be here is so wonderful.
"I was absent for so many birthdays that I had to be at this one.
“Family is everything, to be here with Marisa in England is a dream come true. I was so emotional when I saw her, I cried like a baby.
I missed out on so much and I am very sorry for that.
“I was flying around the world or in prison, I didn’t spend the time with her that I should have.”
Marisa says: “There were many times Dad hasn’t been able to be there – my wedding day was one.
“There was a price on his head and a gang were after him. He wasn’t able to give me away. We decided it was too risky. Thank God we did.
"As I pulled up in my wedding car there were men on bikes with guns waiting for him.
“They wouldn’t have thought twice about killing me in the crossfire. As Dad wasn’t there they didn’t shoot but it could have been very different.”
Marisa was born into the mob after her mum Pat – a Blackpool teenager working as an au pair in Milan – fell for Giovine.
His mother Maria was known as Granny Heroin for her ruthless leadership of the city’s Ndrangheta gang.
Anything – anyone – could be used for gain… including Marisa when she was a baby.
Giovine hid contraband in her cot and in panels of his car as he smuggled cigarettes across the Alps on family “holidays”.
Marisa recalls another crime run, saying: “I went to Klosters where Dad did a deal with a big arms dealer and I had to pretend I went to a posh English school.”
Her parents split when she was one.
Pat took Marisa back to Blackpool when she was nine.
But she returned each summer and remembers, aged just 11, posing with a doll in one hand and her dad’s gun in the other.
At 17, she returned to Milan and joined “the firm”.
Marisa delivered up to £500,000 to gangsters in Seville, Spain.
She married henchman Bruno Merico – father to Lara.
Marisa recalls: “Dad sent Bruno and I to Calabria to pick up an arms shipment.
It was a 10-hour drive with me, a distraction in a tight dress, sitting almost on Bruno’s knee as the weapons took up so much space.
At dawn we stopped for a coffee and saw five carabinieri cars at the service stop. We decided if we drove on and didn’t stop it would look suspicious.
“So we had a coffee. By the time we were going the policemen were standing right by our Citroen.
We got in and, cool as you like, took off like Bonnie and Clyde. This was our life.”
Marisa also left sums of £1million at drop-off points to be laundered or used to buy weapons or drugs.
She even hid money in her daughter’s carry cot – just like Giovine.
When police started closing in, Marisa came back to the UK before being nicked herself.
She and Bruno divorced in 2000 and she had son Frank during a relationship with Frank Birley, who was shot dead while Marisa was pregnant.
Mum Pat died in 2012, and Giovine has a new wife – who is 40.
Despite years of missing out on family life, Marisa bears no grudges.
She adds: “I was born into the Mafia. Life was tough at times but I bear no bitterness to Dad. At 50, I finally feel as if I am at peace.”
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