The vast dining hall at Butlins was jam-packed with hundreds of happy holidaymakers and little Andrew Lovell — a youngster no more than five years old — was having the time of his life.
As he tucked into his bowl of corn flakes, he chatted excitedly about the day ahead with his dad Arthur, mum Joyce and brother Stephen.
It was the late Sixties and suddenly, half-way through breakfast, the little boy noticed something that would change his life for ever.
‘In the middle of the room, amid this sea of white, working-class families, was a black mother with her three children,’ says Andrew, who is now 52.
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Andrew Lovell from M People believed he was adopted by his parents until he was 33, when a shattering secret changed his life
‘I remember seeing how different they looked — and then, looking down at my own hands, seeing the dark skin and thinking: “Hang on, I look more like them than the people I’m with.”
‘Until then, it honestly hadn’t occurred to me that I was different to my family.
‘It had a profound impact on me. I’d been so confident, so happy to take part in the talent shows on holiday, but after that I simply shut down. I can remember Mum saying: “What’s the matter? What’s got into you?” But I didn’t say a word because I didn’t want to upset her.’
It was a seismic shock for the little boy, even though he’d always known he was adopted. Joyce and Arthur Lovell had made no secret about adopting five-month-old Andrew in the summer of 1965, months after Joyce had suffered a devastating stillbirth.
The fact that this white, working-class couple from New Cross, South-East London, had adopted a black baby might have been unusual at the time, but given the melting pot of ethnicities in their area, it was in no way extraordinary.
However, the Lovells were harbouring a secret that would not be uncovered for another 30 years. For while Andrew had indeed been adopted, his real mother was much closer to home than he realised.
When the truth emerged, it left Andrew feeling bitterly betrayed. He suffered a breakdown and was driven to the brink of suicide. He says the emotional scars are still healing.
Today, he’s exuberant and eloquent with no trace of shyness. A qualified cranio-sacral therapist, he is also a wedding celebrant.
Eagle-eyed music fans may recognise him as the drummer in platinum-selling Nineties band M People. In 2012 he married Faye, 36, a personal trainer, and the couple live in Chalk Farm, North London.
Odd one out: Andrew (far right) with his parents, Arthur and Joyce, and brother Stephen
Andrew remembers his childhood as loving, with a real ‘sense of family’. Brother Stephen was seven years older and the four of them lived in a small flat above a shop.
Arthur, a printer, worked day in day out to provide for his young family, while Joyce — ‘a no nonsense fierce bull of a woman’ — held various part-time retail jobs.
Andrew recalls the word ‘adopted’ being mentioned at a very early age.
‘I remember a lady coming up to my mum while I was in the pram and saying: “Is this your baby?” and Mum said: “Yes, but he’s adopted”.
‘I had no idea what that meant — but later, an older friend said that “adopted” meant that your mum and dad weren’t your real mum and dad.
‘It didn’t bother me then. There were other adopted kids at school and I knew my family loved me.
‘But, looking back, it did impact on my self-worth. There was always that thought: “Your mother has given you away and it’s obviously your fault, so don’t upset this lovely family who’ve taken you in.”
A swimming trip with his father during his childhood
‘When I was 13, I distinctly remember looking in the mirror and saying out loud: “Don’t rock the boat. You’re in a happy family, they love you, so don’t upset them.” I had alopecia, and now I wonder if that was the stress fermenting in my body.’
Astonishingly, throughout his childhood he never once asked his parents about his birth family. ‘It just never felt like the right moment,’ he says.
‘At school, I’d question everything. Whether the teachers were right . . . why they had the right to tell us anything. I was very anti-authority. But at home, no questions, no anger.’
Kicked out of school at 15, Andrew trained with Lewisham Council to be a plumber. He had run-ins with the police, and as a teenager once spent two nights in a cell for anti-social behaviour.
This proved a turning point, as he decided to pour his energy into music. He taught himself to play the drums and in 1992 got his big break with dance music band M People, shortly before they signed a lucrative deal.
Touring the world and staying in five-star hotels was everything the young boy from New Cross could have dreamed of — but the nagging question about his birth parents still gnawed at him.
Incredibly, though, it would not be until Christmas 1998 — when Andrew was 33 and at the height of his musical success — that his parents decided to be completely honest with their son.
‘Until that point, we’d never even touched upon the subject,’ he says. ‘But two years earlier, I’d begun a relationship with a lovely woman and the thought of having children made me want to know more about my birth family.
‘I felt old enough to ask Mum and Dad in a respectful way, so in September 1998 I did.
‘They were obviously quite shocked and they asked for time to think about what to say.
‘On Christmas Day evening, I was upstairs at my parents’ home when Dad called me into the living room. He and Mum were sitting on the sofa and Mum was hunched over, staring at the floor. She couldn’t look at me. I was really nervous.
Melinda Messenger is joined, by Shovell, of M People, on stage at the Brit Awards nominations announcements in 1999 – just a year after he had learned his family secret
‘Dad then said: “It was a secret that we’d hoped to take to the grave, but you want to know so we’ll tell you.
‘“Your mum, Joyce, is your real mum. You are NOT a mistake, but she made a mistake.
‘“I don’t know if it was an affair or a one–night thing, and I don’t want to know, but you were born from that situation.”’
Andrew says he experienced a ‘tsunami of emotions and questions’ in the seconds after the revelation. ‘This wave of shock, anger, betrayal, fear, love, whats, whys — it smashed me to bits,’ he says. ‘I couldn’t speak.
‘I looked at Mum, who still couldn’t look at me, and I felt her shame and guilt at not wanting to be seen as a scarlet woman. I asked who else knew and they said no one, not even my brother.
‘In fact, the only time my mother spoke was to say: “I don’t want your brother to know” and I felt such hatred for her at that point. All those times she’d looked at me, knowing the truth, over the past 33 years and she’d never said a word.’
Arthur went on to explain that he’d had no idea the baby wasn’t his until he had arrived at the maternity ward in February 1965 to see Andrew in his wife’s arms.
‘Mum apparently looked up at him and said: “I made a mistake” — and Dad turned on his heels and left the building. It would have been an incredible shock.
‘They told everyone I’d been stillborn. But, apparently, I stayed with my mum at the hospital for ten days, being breastfed, before social workers took me away to be fostered.
Jez Edwards, Shovell, Sally Gray and Linford Christie at BBC Television Centre, London in 1999 for the show ‘Linford’s Record Breakers’
‘I can only guess what my parents went through in those few weeks. It was 1965, a time when people didn’t go on programmes like Jeremy Kyle to air their problems.
‘Dad was born in 1923 and fought in the war. Mum was born in 1931. They were of a generation which kept themselves to themselves. So for my mum to commit adultery with a black man and go on to have his baby would have meant so much shame.’
The ‘bereaved’ couple went home together without their baby. No one knows what happened behind closed doors for the next three weeks, but a decision was reached and the couple went to court to fight for the baby. Andrew was ‘adopted’ five months later by his mother and Arthur.
‘I know they had to fight to keep me — even my brother had to stand up in court and say why he’d like to have a little brother,’ says Andrew. ‘I have so much love for Dad — taking on another man’s child and loving him so dearly. I feel incredibly lucky.’
But the Christmas Day grenade devastated Andrew. ‘I couldn’t get over the betrayal by my mother,’ he says. ‘All I’d ever wanted was to be loved by my real mum — and she’d been there all the time. How could she do that to me?
‘I don’t actually remember much about the days afterwards. I joined the band on tour again and went a bit crazy on drink and drugs. It’s all rather a blur.
‘Mum and I spoke on the phone a few times over the year and, weird as it sounds, we didn’t discuss what had happened. It wasn’t just the elephant in the room — it was a whole herd of elephants.’
Thirteen months later, the stress of the bombshell led Andrew to a breakdown in the recording studio.
‘One minute I was chatting to someone, and the next I was shaking uncontrollably and wailing and had sweat pouring out of me,’ he says. ‘I believe it was PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder). When I’d recovered a few hours later, I drove straight to my parents. I needed answers.
‘I walked in and said: “Mum, you didn’t tell me that you loved me and you haven’t held me and that’s what I need because I need to be loved. I saw your shame and your guilt that day, and you were more caught up in that than you were showing love to me.”
‘She stood up and said: “I’m really sorry. Of course, I love you” and she held me in her arms. That’s all I ever wanted. To be loved. It was so powerful.’ He wipes away tears, moved by the memory.
‘For that year, I felt so angry and betrayed that I couldn’t forgive her. But I’ve put myself in her shoes since and realised that they did what they thought was best at the time. I just wish they could have told me sooner.’
Though that reconciliation may have been the start of the healing process, Andrew says he plunged into depression soon afterwards.
‘I hit rock bottom. I had all these thoughts about my upbringing. Who was I? I’d lived a lie. It was a very scary time and some days I was there on my hands and knees just crying.
‘The band broke up; my girlfriend left me. One day I was sitting in my car and thought: “I can’t take this pain any more” and thought about suicide.
Eagle-eyed music fans may recognise him as the drummer in platinum-selling Nineties band M People
‘I came up with a plan and was about to buy what I needed when a voice in the back of my head said: “You’re not going to do it” — and that made me stop.’
Years of counselling and therapy followed. Andrew stopped drinking, embarked on a healthier lifestyle, and in 2010 found love with Faye.
But it has taken until now to reach a point where he feels ready to search for his biological father. The death of Arthur, his beloved adoptive dad, in December 2014 at the age of 91 means he feels he can embark on the search without regret or recrimination.
Joyce is now 86 and in a care home suffering from Alzheimer’s.
‘I know Dad would give his blessing but Mum would be horrified that I’m airing dirty linen in public,’ he admits. ‘But I feel that everyone has an urge to know their origins.’
Earlier this year, Andrew took a DNA test via an ancestry website and appeared in a new television show, The Secrets In My Family (Mondays at 9pm on UKTV’s W Channel), in order to try to trace his father.
The details about his biological father are scant. His name may be ‘Wally’ or ‘George’ and he is believed to have worked with Joyce at the Peek Freans biscuit factory in Bermondsey in 1964.
Via the DNA results on the website, he has managed to find a first cousin — Ericka — in the U.S. who must know the identity of his father, given the fact that one of her parents will be his sibling. But although he has sent a message to her, she has yet to reply.
A third cousin, Maggie, also in the U.S., has also been in touch and the pair are working together to uncover the truth. But as yet, the identity of his biological father remains a mystery.
Andrew appears circumspect about the reality of finding him, but the journey of discovery has not been in vain.
‘I don’t know if my biological father is even alive,’ he says. ‘I would love to hug him and thank him for giving me life, but over the past year I’ve felt the influence of Dad [Arthur] more and more. He’s taught me to be what I am today: honest, true and upright.
‘For a long time after I discovered the truth, I questioned the value of everything. What was the point? Where was the value in life?
‘But I was with Dad when he died, holding his hand as he slipped away. I looked around the room and his whole family was standing at his bedside.
‘Everyone was peaceful and I thought: “This is the point. Look what he’s done for everyone here. Look at what he’s done for me. He’s done nothing but love me. What a beautiful man.” ’