Lenny Henry: Heartbreaking way comedian got to know father revealed on BBC show

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Sir Lenny Henry first appeared on British TV screens when he won the talent show ‘New Faces’ with an impression of Stevie Wonder around 35 years ago. Since then the Birmingham-born star went onto fame as a sitcom actor, presenter and equal rights activist. The TV talent recently fronted BBC’s ‘The Big Night In’ during the coronavirus lockdown to fundraise for Comic Relief, which he co-founded, and Children in Need. During a candid interview with documentarian Louis Theroux, the comedian revealed some of the heartache that contributed to his fame today. This included the bombshell revelation that the man who raised him was not his biological father and the crushing way he found out. 

Sir Lenny regaled audiences of ‘Grounded with Louis Theroux’ with the tragic tale from his formative years during the podcast, which aired earlier this week.

The 61-year-old star detailed the agonising decision of whether to reveal the truth about his father in his 2019 autobiography ‘Who Am I, Again?’.

He concluded: “If you’re still worried about what people think about you, you’ve got to get over that.”

The comedian explained that discovering his real father’s identity was a “massive thing” for him and he had “not spoken” to anyone about it before.

Sir Lenny was born Lenworth George Henry in Dudley, Birmingham, to Jamaican parents Winston Jervis and Winifred Louise, who came to the UK during the Windrush era.

From the age of 10, he was instructed to do chores for his ‘Uncle Bertie’, real name Albert, every Friday, but never questioned why. 

He used to live in a bedsit where “everything was in one room” and it was the future star’s job to “sweep, remake the bed and do the washing up”.

He explained that he had “no idea why” he had to do this, but was fed by Bertie, given pocket money and after that “sent” on his way. 

Sir Lenny didn’t question the instruction to help out because he was a “very obedient child” at the time and was fearful of his tough matriarchal mother.

He added: “My mother would have knocked me through three brick walls, she had arms like Popeye, so there was no chance of me going: ‘I’m not doing that, that sounds stupid.’

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“You know the cartoons where you get punched and your eyeballs stay in the same place but your head spins around? It would have been like that.”

Sir Lenny remembered Bertie as a “real blokey bloke” who never really asked about school but merely “just tolerated me being around”.

But when the star turned 11 years old, he would be dealt a life-altering bombshell about the true identity of the man he was assisting.

One day while “cleaning” in his pinnie, Bertie’s son Lloyd who regularly watched him while he studied with Linguaphone lessons posed something to him.

Sir Lenny recalled him saying: “‘You don’t know why you’re here do you?’… and he said ‘That’s your dad… if you don’t believe me go and ask him.’

“So I went in the kitchen and Bertie was in there, cooking chicken and banging the pot on the wall to make sure the rice was done.

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“I said, ‘Lloyd says that you’re my dad, is that true?’ and he said ‘Yeah’.”

The revelation and betrayal of not knowing the real identity of Bertie was devastating and, in tears, Sir Lenny raced home to ask his mother if it was true.

He said: “I was really upset, yeah, because if they had told me when I was little it would have been cool.

“I mean you often get this with kids that have been adopted, you know, who don’t find out until they are 14 or whatever. 

“To find out when I was 11 that was not a good thing but you know in Jamaican culture we had this thing called ‘big people’.

“‘This is big people t’ings, it’s none of your business, come on you’s a child, we are big people’ and ‘big people t’ings meant you had nothing to do with adult affairs.

“This was something to do with them and you were not told, anything could have been happening, somebody could have been shot.”

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