ALAN FRAME reflects on the Telegraph’s startling revelation about the Archbishop of Canterbury’s secret father
There are certain stories which have a profound effect on the reader and leave us hacks open mouthed in admiration at a) the breaking of the story and b) the treatment of it and c) the response to it.
The Express’s revelation by the late great Norman Luck in 1982 that poor Michael Fagan had broken into the Palace and plonked himself on the Queen’s bed (even asking for a cigarette – from memory I don’t think he got it) falls in that category. As did Colin Mackenzie finding Ronnie Biggs in Rio for the Express. Then there was headline in The Times which left me speechless. The front page declared: ‘John Major’s four-year affair with Edwina Currie’. At the time we all agreed it was to be filed under You Couldn’t Make It Up.
But last Saturday The Telegraph had the best of the lot by a country mile: Archbishop: My Secret Father. Not just because it was a genuine scoop obtained without subterfuge, spying, hidden cameras, secret recordings or some embittered and on-the-make spurned lover. But because of the masterly way the paper wrote and displayed the news of Justin Welby’s paternity and the background to it.
Charles Moore, once columnist of this parish in my days as features editor, came across the story through neighbours in Sussex, heard more at lunch with the widow of Sir Anthony Montague Browne (as we now know, the Primate’s real father) and had it confirmed by Justin agreeing to take a DNA test. The other by-line on the seven pages of unputdownable stories was my good chum Gordon Rayner, also late of Express Newspapers. So lots of Crusader pedigree all round.
But there is another factor to all this which in many ways stands out the most. And that is the manner in which the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby and his mother Jane, pictured right, handled what must have been a fairly breathtaking event. Instead of hiding behind a wall of silence, no comment or double-speak, they both won the respect of everyone by talking about it honestly, movingly and not without good humour. As Cardinal Vincent Nichols said: “Upheaval in family life is neither uncommon nor easy to embrace. Every family knows this. But to do so with such steadiness and honesty in the full glare of publicity is remarkable and yet fully characteristic of them both”.
Justin himself said with great good humour that he was slightly disappointed that the test proved he was not after all the first leader of the Anglican community to have had Jewish blood (the man thought to have been his father, Gavin Welby, was born to Jewish parents).
I declare an interest here: I have known Jane Williams and her husband Charles for more than 20 years and about 12 years ago she introduced me to Justin, then a Canon at Coventry Cathedral and in charge of the Cathedral’s reconciliation unit. He was trying (and succeeding) to sort out a long-running and violent dispute in the Niger Delta with locals and Royal Dutch Shell, the oil company operating there.
Justin asked me organise coverage for him and among those who wrote on the issue were Danny McGrory (may he rest in peace) and Michael Evans, two very distinguished Expressmen by then working for The Times. When I first met him, Justin struck me as quiet and thoughtful but good fun and not at all a Holy Joe. He worked tirelessly in very difficult conditions to find a solution to what was a dangerous conflict before being appointed Dean of Liverpool in 2007.
Jane is married to Lord Williams of Elvel, former county cricketer, banker and Mirror Group director. Charles is writing a major biography of Beaverbrook which, if half as good as those he did on Bradman and de Gaulle, promises to be a winner. She is unreservedly proud of her son (‘My Justin’ she affectionately calls him) and with very good reason. At 86 she is still is active and family comes before all else. We had lunch with her and Charles recently and it comes as no surprise that she should have treated the Telegraph exclusive with such honesty and grace. Ditto Justin.
All of which is in stark contrast to the way in which, in the same week, the Prime Minister reacted to the Panama Papers brouhaha.The moral: Don’t obfuscate, be honest and, above all, be straightforward.
It worked for Jane and ‘her Justin’ and it would have worked for David Cameron.