The actor Lesley Sharp was given up for adoption in 1960 aged six weeks old. “If you’re adopted, you can’t help but feel, somehow or other, deep, deep, deep down inside that you don’t belong,” she says. “It makes you feel like you’ve got a question mark inside you.”
One way to cope with this is to trace your birth parents and in 1990 the Scott & Bailey star made contact with her biological mother, Elsie. Lesley learnt her biological father was a married man, Norman Patient. Knowing his name, she even identified him in a picture in a local Manchester paper, an image of an elderly man at a bowls club that made her angry on Elsie’s behalf.
Now ready to learn more about Norman, who’s no longer alive, Lesley first goes to see her aunts, Nancy and Margaret, Elsie’s sisters. Astonishingly, it turns out Margaret worked as Norman’s secretary for 18 months. “He was a very nice man,” she says.
A more difficult meeting awaits, as Lesley next goes to meet Norman’s children, her septuagenarian half-siblings Doris and Tommy, for the first time. “I feel vulnerable,” she says of an encounter that initially takes place off camera. Neither knew of Norman’s affairand tell of a loving grandfather. “There’s a proper picture I’ve been given of a human being,” says Lesley, who has to revise her mental image of a “two-dimensional and slightly bad guy.”
What about Norman’s background? His surname is distinctive and it turns out that a distant cousin, John Patient, has been researching the family tree. It’s research that centres on the village of Tilty in Essex, home of Charles Patient, who seems to be Lesley’s great great grandfather. Except is he? Charles was certainly married to Lesley’s great great grandmother, Hannah Bush, but records show the couple wed two days after she’d had her son, William, Lesley’s great grandfather, baptised. A wedding certificate shows him going by the name William Bush.
Whatever the truth, it’s clear that Charles was a man who liked family. 1871 census records reveal Charles and Hannah to be raising 10 children. Moving forward to 1911, when Charles was an octogenarian, his household includes two boys, George Maybury and William George Keen. Who were these youngsters?
Looking at school records, Lesley discovers they were Barnardo’s children, waifs who were fostered. But what happened to the boys? Lesley discovers that George was among the British Home Children, sent to find a new life in Canada.
Meeting George’s grandson, also named George, she sees a picture of a “scrap” of a boy with a squint, a child whose mother died in childbirth. Helped by Barnardo’s and Charles Patient, though, he made a life for himself in the New World, marrying a local farmer’s daughter.
Reflecting on her own love for her adoptive father, Jack, Lesley says she feels an “incredible warmth” towards Charles Patient. “Depending on who you’re adopted by, I think it can have a profound effect on your life, for good or bad, and I got very lucky,” she says, “and I think George did, too.”