Archbishop of Canterbury on the 'grim' childhood Christmas he spent alone as his alcoholic father lay bedridden

Justin Welby found dealing with his father's addiction 'very painful'

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The Archbishop of Canterbury has spoken out about the “grim” Christmas Day he had to spend on his own as a child in the midst of his father alcoholism.

The Most Reverend Justin Welby told Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs that he found dealing with his father’s addiction “very painful” and was forced to spend one 25 December all alone, looking for scraps of food while his father, Gavin, stayed in bed.

“I did think this was a pretty bad day. I think I went out once or twice but everything was closed,” he said.

“I didn’t know really what to do with myself all day. I suspect I watched telly a bit. That was a grim, grim day.

“As I grew up he was unpredictable - sometimes very full of rage and anger, expressing that very loudly.”

The 58-year-old also shared his childhood memory of meeting former prime minister Winston Churchill, when his mother Jane Portal was his private secretary.

“I remember my mother taking me to tea [with him]. She worked for him for six years,” he said. “I remember a very, very old man and he cried and I don’t know why and because he cried, I cried and we sat and had tea.”

Churchill, who suffered from depression, “cried quite a lot” according to Portal.


The Archbishop also touched on same sex marriage during his interview with Kirsty Young, explaining that he is trying to bridge the split within the Anglican Church over the issue. 

“In human terms it looks impossible and many people say that we shouldn’t be bothering to try, but in obedience to the work of the spirit of Christ, we have to seek to love one another,” he said.

Welby’s songs of choice were “You’ll Never Walk Alone” by Jerry and the Pacemakers in tribute to Liverpool, where he was Dean for nearly four years, and “The Lion Sleeps Tonight (Wimoweh) by The Tokens.

Somewhat predictably, he picked the Bible as his book, alongside Gibbon’s The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, and the complete series of The West Wing as his luxury.