TV and radio presenter Nicky Campbell was adopted a few days after he was born in 1961 by Frank and Sheila Campbell. His biological mother, Stella Lackey, was unmarried, and had travelled from Ireland to give birth. Although she sent Christmas cards for the first five years of Nicky’s life, they had no direct contact. It was not until he was in his twenties that Nicky decided to try and track down Stella and his biological father, Joseph.
Although he discovered that his biological heritage was Irish, Nicky still thinks of himself as Scottish and it is his adoptive family, the Campbells, that he’s closest to. For this reason, Nicky makes the unusual decision to investigate his adoptive family’s history. “I’ve traced my birth family”, says Nicky at the start of his journey, “but this is the chance to find out more about the roots of my adoptive family, the people who I think of as my real mum and dad.”
Nicky’s father, Frank Campbell, died in 1996. Nicky starts by trying to discover more about his father’s service with the Indian army during the Second World War. Frank never spoke about his experiences, but Nicky and his adoptive sister Fiona remember their father’s discomfort whenever a war film was on and his life-long hatred of the Japanese.
In 1941 Frank was offered the chance to transfer from his Highland Regiment to the Indian Army. He accepted and was posted to Calcutta. Frank and his men fought against the Japanese in what has come to be known as ‘the forgotten war’. The Burma Campaign was the longest of the entire war and the troops who served there fought in some of the worst conditions on any battlefield. Nicky is amazed to hear what his father went through.
Frank was in India when his father, Argyll Campbell, died. They had had a very difficult relationship and were estranged by the time Frank left for the war. Frank never had a good word to say about his father, who pushed him into a career in medicine and offered criticism rather than encouragement. Nicky looks through old correspondence to see what he can discover about Argyll’s character, soon learning that, although had a glittering career ahead of him when he left university, a progressively worsening illness caused him great problems during his working life.
To uncover more about his grandfather’s early years and the events that affected him, Nicky travels to his ancestor’s birthplace in Brisbane, Australia. Here he uncovers some shocking revelations from his grandfather’s childhood, which help him begin to understand why Argyll drove Frank as hard as he did.
Nicky also explores the lives of Argyll’s wife’s family. He was nine when his grandmother Anne Beatrice Cowell died. Nicky is amazed to discover that her parents were amongst the first to settle in Brisbane and despite several stories of hardship and tragedy, made a successful life for themselves and their children.
Nicky sums up his experience. “I’m so proud of this extraordinary family I was adopted into. All the stories I’ve heard somehow all contributed to making my dad the most wonderful dad that I could have had. I’ve come to understand more about his father and his relationship with him. It couldn’t have been for me more fascinating, revealing and enlightening. A family of which I am so proud and a dad of which I’m so proud. I just wish he were here to share it.”