The Archbishop’s father, his secret wife, an affair with a Kennedy and defaming a Labour Cabinet Minister

He worked his way into the upper echelons of society on both sides of the Atlantic, using a series of adopted personas. But when he died of a heart attack in 1977, alone in a flat in Kensington, his only son – the person closest to him at the end of his life – did not even know his real name or birthdate.

Justin Welby, the future Archbishop of Canterbury, was only 21 years old at the time and studying law and history at Trinity College, Cambridge. He knew his father as an erratic and alcohol-dependent but “really, really brilliant” man who had lived an extraordinary life, although the true details were unclear.

“I lived with him, but I didn’t know him very well,” he said yesterday. Summoned down to London to complete the formalities after the death, the heartbroken son recorded the name of his father as Gavin Bramhal Welby, born on November 28 1914. Neither detail was correct.

The mistake was understandable, as Mr Welby Sr had hidden his identity many times. A chancer, draft dodger and adulterer, he had been sued for libel by a Cabinet minister. There was even a secret first wife that he never spoke of. But he had carefully constructed a respectable persona which allowed him to survive and to flourish, and without which his son would not have had a public school education or possibly a chance of high office.

Gavin Welby claimed a connection to the aristocratic Welbys of Lincolnshire and in particular Sir Charles Welby, the fifth baronet. He also suggested that his family owned a Scottish distillery. These untruths helped him befriend John F Kennedy in America, becoming so close that he even dated the future president’s sister Pat.

In this country, he won over senior members of the Conservative Party and the family of the deputy Prime Minister Rab Butler. He married Butler’s favourite niece, Jane Portal, who had been Winston Churchill’s personal secretary and who would become Justin’s mother.

His powerful connections helped him towards a career in politics and two failed attempts to win a seat in the House of Commons. Gavin Welby earned enough money to send his son to Eton – although he is said not to have passed on enough for Justin to pay his way on a daily basis, leaving him the poorest child in a school house that included two Rothschilds.

The present Bishop of Durham admitted last night that his father had told him “virtually nothing” about his true background. Continue reading

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