I thought everyone had two mothers: First she had Greta and Tina; then just Greta; then no one. So Yvonne Craig found her father. Hunter Davies met her

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Indy Lifestyle Online
YVONNE CRAIG is 56, an attractive, dark-haired, intelligent woman. She is married to the vicar of north Lambeth, but doesn't look it, which is a slur for a start. How should vicars' wives look? Well, she appears dynamic, a no-nonsense sort of woman who would look good in big shoulders, directing some thrusting campaign. She's done a bit of that, despite her life as a vicar's wife and raising three children. She's been a Labour councillor, a magistrate, and now works full time for the Church of England as their national training officer. So no one can say she ended up badly or has had a wasted life.

Yvonne Craig has a secret that she has lived with all her life, until now. It concerns who her parents were, and how she was brought up - something that would now be done openly and is socially acceptable, but not when Yvonne was little.

'My first memory in life was when I was four,' she says. 'I'd just started convent school and the Reverend Mother stood up and said: 'Every girl has got to take this letter home to their parents.' It hit me like a blinding flash. That was the first day I realised other girls had fathers. Until then, I thought I was normal. I thought all children had two mothers. From then on I knew I was different, knew there was something wrong.'

One of her mothers, the younger, she called Tina, a babyish corruption of tiny. The other mother she knew as Greta, a corruption of greater. She had no idea which, if either, was her biological mum. And she didn't ask. 'I was scared to, I suppose. The subject was never discussed. They were loving and kind and looked after me very well, but they would never discuss that.'

As she grew, she began to pick up a bit of the story. From neighbours, she learnt she was adopted, which is what her 'mothers' had told people. From relations, she gathered that Greta and Tina used to work together as managers in a Luton factory. 'Greta was the highest-paid businesswoman in town, something she was very proud of.'

Suddenly, in 1936, when Greta was 39, she and Tina had thrown up their good jobs, and the home they had made together, and went off to London and opened a corner shop in Hammersmith. Six months after their arrival in London, so they told relations back in Luton, they adopted a little girl, Yvonne, the daughter of a friend who had been killed. After four years, they returned to Bedfordshire, opening another shop.

'So I believed and accepted I was adopted. I hoped and prayed that the death of my mother had been clean, that I had been a wanted baby and that my father, for whatever reason, could not be blamed. He'd loved me and would have kept me, if he could.

'When I was 11, I was on the beach with Tina one day at Worthing when she started crying. I learnt that someone wanted to marry her, but she couldn't choose between me and him. He then said he would take me as well, but Greta said no, she wanted to keep me. In the end, Tina did leave to get married. It was a terrible shock to me. I used to visit her at Easter and the summer hols, and cried buckets when I left her. I still didn't know at that time who my real mother was.

'It was only in my teens that I began to look at photographs of Greta when she was young and realised I looked like her. I decided she must be my mother. But I never said anything. I suppose I didn't want to admit to myself I was illegitimate.

'Then I found a diary of Greta's, and, later, scraps in the house, which showed she'd had a brief affair with a married man. Look, read the bits in the diary where she's agonising: 'Shall I end it all . . . nothing seems straight.' Then she meets him again, 'and he explains all'. She obviously went to London to have me. On my birth certificate, which I got a copy of much later, I was born in Hammersmith, Yvonne Inskip, but she lied and gave herself a married name, and a non-existent husband and a nonsense background.'

Were Greta and Tina lesbians? 'I don't know. They slept together in the same bed. And they had lived together for many years before they had me. But Tina did get married, and Greta did have that affair. It could have been love, or that she just wanted a baby. I don't know. In those days, just after the war, it was not unusual for women to live together. So many men had been killed in the war. Teachers, for example, often lived together, and no one muttered about their sex lives.

'You have to remember that being an unmarried mother was a social disgrace in those days. Greta went to great lengths to hide it from her own family. And from me. When I realised Greta must be my mother, I felt horror, shock, shame, anger. I didn't like bringing friends home. I felt I didn't have a right to be here.

'What I did to hide all my worst fears was throw myself into being very good and very clever. At school I covered my gym slip with endless badges. I wanted to damn well show that though I might not have a father, I was better than them.'

When she was 16, working hard for her O-levels and helping out in the shop, her mother had a stroke, from which she never really recovered. 'Things were dicey. We gave up the shop and I had to nurse my mother. At 18, I won a place at Cambridge - the first person ever from my convent school, but I thought I wouldn't be able to go. A marvellous doctor came to my help. He got my mother into care. I was able to go to Cambridge, but I had become virtually homeless. In the vacs I did stay with an aunt, Greta's sister, but that was stormy.

'My mother, right up to her death, never told me what happened. It was only when she was dying, and I was sitting with her in hospital, that a doctor said to her one day, what's that scar? She gestured towards me. The scar was where she'd had a Caesarean. She uttered no words. Just that gesture, but I knew what she meant.'

Yvonne went to Newnham College, where she read anthropology, and met Richard Craig, reading theology at Emmanuel. 'I deliberately got engaged as quickly as possible.'

That sounds a bit cold and calculating, considering you've been happily married to him for 33 years. 'I loved him, but it was deliberate. I wanted a new name, a new start, a new identity as quickly as possible.'

She told her husband what she knew about herself, that she presumed she was illegitimate, though at that time she still had no proof. Then she wiped it from her mind. She told nobody else, not even her own children, and got on with her life for the next 20 years.

About 10 years ago, after suffering a fairly serious heart problem, she had to go into hospital. The treatment team included a therapist, whom she told about her childhood. 'The therapist said I should not have been hiding it all these years. I had to tell my children, talk about it, not keep it submerged.'

On an impulse one day, she walked into the Austrian Embassy in London and asked for any details of a gentleman she thought might be her father. 'I'd found this name on certain letters of my mother's after she died, a surname only, plus an initial. She'd often talked about a friend who came from Austria. In minutes, they had pulled out an index and revealed the man's full name, a copy of his passport photo - and the fact that he'd been married with five children. He'd died in 1945.

'The information knocked me sideways, and rather scared me. I did nothing for two years, then I managed to get a copy of his death certificate. When I held it, I felt for the very first time that I knew he existed, that I did have a father.

'I wanted to trace his children - my half-brothers and sisters, relations I never knew I had. Richard was against it. He said they might not be up to such surprises. Perhaps my father had been a pillar of society. They might not want to hear of his secret from the past.'

But Yvonne followed her instincts. She has now met all her living half-sisters and brothers, and they have become friends. 'My children now have aunts, uncles and cousins they never knew they had.

'I now feel better physically and emotionally than I have done for years. Even the heart problem is much better. I think a lot of my problems were due to suppressed anger, because I thought my father had deserted me.

'I would not wish any child to go through the pain, tears, therapies and anger that I went through. So my advice to any woman thinking about having a child without a male partner is - don't. We don't know enough. There is no research.

'Families need men, or else children grow up finding it difficult to trust men. A child needs to see man-woman relationships, rows, reconciliations. It is asking too much of a woman on her own to give all that to a child.

'The implicit message of two women together is that men are untrustworthy. That's what a child will pick up. My mothers loved me, but I picked up that I hadn't been wanted. You can't control how children will react.'

But wasn't the main problem in your case the times your mothers lived in? Today, social attitudes are different. I know lesbians and single women with children, and nothing is being hidden from them. 'Ah, it might be all right when they are very young. What happens when they are teenagers? We are in uncharted waters. By giving up fathers we are punching holes in our social structure. The results could be as destructive as punching holes in the ozone layer. Don't do it.'

(Photograph omitted)