Fern Britton has opened up about the family secret that inspired her latest novel, Daughters of Cornwall, revealing why she felt the story was so vital to tell.
Sharing her story in Good Housekeeping's July issue, out now, the TV presenter and novelist explained how she discovered that her grandmother had given birth to a "secret" son after being approached by him at the start of her career.
"I was 23 when I found out my family’s secret," she told us. "I had started in TV, working in Plymouth, when I received a letter from a man who had seen me on screen, asking if I was Ruth Britton’s daughter. When I wrote back to say that I was, he replied saying, ‘I know this sounds extraordinary, but I think I am your mother’s half-brother.’"
It turned out that Fern's maternal grandmother, Beryl, had given birth to a baby boy out of wedlock before the First World War, and that he had spent years trying to track down his birth mother.
After revealing that she asked for evidence before bringing the story to her family, Fern explained: "In secret, Beryl had arranged a private fostering for him and continued to see him, love him and send whatever money she could spare for his keep."
Fern continued: "It must have been very difficult, because by then, she had married my grandfather, Gerald, and went on to have three children: my mum, Ruth, and her brothers, Paul and Peter. It was a secret that she took to her grave."
Explaining that she carefully considered how to tell her own mum the news, Fern added: "After one Sunday lunch, my mum was doing the washing-up and I was drying, when I said, ‘I’ve received a letter from a man who says he is your brother, and I believe him.’ My mum said slowly, ‘I’m not surprised.’
PRE-ORDER NOW Daughters Of Cornwall by Fern Britton (Harper Collins), RRP £12.99
"She told me that when my grandmother was dying, she had said, ‘I’ve been a very wicked woman. I have done wicked things.'"
Fern continued: "It seemed awful to find out that she had carried this guilty secret around with her for years. I wanted to show that she had nothing to be ashamed of, and that inspired me to write my latest novel, Daughters Of Cornwall."
The book, released on 11 June, follows three generations of the same family, beginning with Clara and Bertie, who fall in love at the start of WWI and conceive a child, but aren't able to marry following his death in the trenches, forcing Clara to keep their son a secret.
Daughters of Cornwall (Harper Collins) by Fern Britton is published on 11 June.
You can read Fern's full story in the July issue of Good Housekeeping, out now.
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