‘The truth – it was a sledgehammer’



Andrew Lovell still does not know for sure who his father is. The 52-year-old may never know.

The father who adopted him has died and his mother is in a home with Alzheimer’s.

But the former percussionist from 1990s chart-toppers M People, who was born and raised in New Cross and Lewisham, has spoken for the first time about how he only found out in 1998 that the person he thought was his adoptive mother had in fact given birth to him.

His mother had had an affair in the 1960s with a work colleague called “George” at the Peek Freans biscuit factory in Bermondsey.

It was only when Andrew was born, and was black, that his mother told her husband Arthur: “I made a mistake.”

Arthur walked out of the maternity ward at that moment. The couple gave Andrew up for adoption. But they could not bear to let him go, and then fought through the courts to “adopt” him.

They had hoped to maintain this lie to their graves – but when, aged 33, he asked them about his biological parents, they told him the truth. And it tipped him into a breakdown which took more than a year to get over.

Andrew has now revealed his story for a television programme, The Secrets in My Family. Growing up in the 1960s and 70s Andrew – who performed under the nickname “Shovell” –- remembers being surrounded by nothing but love, despite being a black child in a white family.

“I’ve got bundles of happy memories growing up,” he said.

“We lived on the third floor above a shop, no bathroom, downstairs toilet in the garden.

“From the very first sports day at the age of five, my mum and dad were there. Football teams, rugby teams, they’d come and support me.

“My first band was a reggae band. So being a reggae band in Lewisham, it would be like a thousand black people, and my mum and dad sitting at the back with a cup of tea saying ‘oh this is nice’.”

But, believing his birth mum had given him up as a baby always haunted him and he was kicked out of school at 15.

“My anger, my attitude to authority, I had a reason for it but I didn’t realise it at the time,” he said.

“It’s always in your subconscious: ‘your mother’s given you away, your mother’s given you away…’ It affects every single thing you do. Your self-worth is on the floor.”

Andrew ditched his plumbing job with Lewisham council when his music career took off with M People, famous for hits including Moving On Up and Search For The Hero. Their second album Elegant Slumming in 1993 won the Mercury Music Prize.

Andrew, who used the nickname Shovell, with his band M People. Pic from PA

But when he thought of what to tell his children in September 1998, he felt he needed to raise the issue of his adoption with his parents. On Christmas night 1998, days after Andrew ended a 17-date tour with two homecoming gigs at Manchester Arena, he heard the truth.

“My dad said, ‘We’d have gone to the grave with this but you asked. Your mum here, Joyce, is your mum’. “My head exploded. I was like ‘wh-at?’ It was a sledgehammer.

“My mum didn’t say a word. She wouldn’t look at me.” For the next year Andrew was in a state of shock, escaping into work and touring with the band.

He had “found” his real mum – but she had betrayed his father.

“It was so overwhelming, like this incredible tsunami of emotion – I just couldn’t control it,” he said.

“Being this geezer from South-east London, I thought I could. I went to some very dark places. I thought about ending it all. One minute I was top of the world, living the dream in the band and the next I was on my hands and knees, literally.

“The only light in that time was my dad’s unconditional love. I feel so, so blessed to have had him. “January 2000 I was in the recording studio and I ended up shaking and crying, proper wailing. I had PTSD. I drove to see mum and dad.

“For the first time in 13 months my mum said ‘I’m sorry, I love you’ and hugged me.”

When Andrew was born, Joyce had stayed with him, feeding him for 10 days until social workers took him and had him fostered for five months. Friends were told Andrew had died at birth – including his elder brother. The couple then decided they wanted their baby son back and had to jump through hoops to “adopt” him. Andrew said:

“This was 1964, attitudes were so different. You didn’t air your dirty washing. Now we’ve got Jeremy Kyle. You got on with it in those days, and you kept your mouth shut.

“Mum would have been racked with shame and guilt and would not have wanted to be seen as a scarlet woman.

“My mum fought for me. She loved me without question. It wasn’t even 100 per cent that she would get me back. My brother had to go to court as a seven-year-old and say he would look after this new baby coming home.

“And my dad had to stand up and say he would take this new child on. It was a real battle, but I know mum fought for me out of love.

“What she did has had huge ramifications but I forgive her, of course I do. I will always love her to bits.

“My dad passed away in 2014 and my mum is in a nursing home with Alzheimer’s but I couldn’t wish for more loving, caring parents. I honestly couldn’t.”

Now 52, Shovell has been married to a personal trainer, 16 years his junior, for four years. He is looking for his Jamaican father after having his DNA analysed at Ancestry DNA. Within moments of clicking on to his profile Andrew found a first cousin, Ericka, in Jamaica.

“She hasn’t responded to my emails – yet,” he said. The Secrets in My Family can be seen every Monday at 9pm on UKTV’s W Channel.

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