Secrets of the Son Who Brought Love to George Orwell's Lonely Last Days; EXCLUSIVE: Speaking for the First Time, the Adopted Son Who Knew the Writer Not as a Cold and Distant Genius ...but a Warm, Doting 'Dada'

By Brook, Danae; Spence, Daniel | The Mail on Sunday (London, England), June 22, 2003 | Go to article overview
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Secrets of the Son Who Brought Love to George Orwell's Lonely Last Days; EXCLUSIVE: Speaking for the First Time, the Adopted Son Who Knew the Writer Not as a Cold and Distant Genius ...but a Warm, Doting 'Dada'


Brook, Danae, Spence, Daniel, The Mail on Sunday (London, England)


Byline: DANAE BROOK;DANIEL SPENCE

EVEN now, exactly 100 years after his birth, the peerless prose and striking images of George Orwell are all around us. Big Brother, Room 101, Doublethink and countless other Orwellian phrases have become part of everyday life ... and yet Orwell the man remains an enigma.

Most of us look at the photographs and see a gaunt, austere, intellectual apparently devoid of human warmth.

Indeed, he was said to be a complex, ascetic loner, emotionally stunted by his prim colonial upbringing and scarred by the brutal bullying he received as a scholarship pupil at Eton, as a servant of the British Raj in India and the Leftwing betrayals of the Spanish Civil War.

It is little known that Orwell - real name Eric Blair - craved fatherhood.

Deeply disappointed by his wife Eileen's inability to conceive, they adopted a baby from a Newcastle home for unmarried mothers in June 1944 - ten months before Eileen died during a hysterectomy.

Now, in a moving interview to mark what would have been Orwell's 100th birthday on Wednesday, his adopted son, Richard Blair, has told for the first time of his affectionate memories of a warm, loving father - almost the polar opposite of the cold, distant figure of popular imagination.

He recalled how Orwell read to him at bedtime, played with toy ducks in the bath and taught him country pursuits and sailing. And 59-year-old Richard told how he - anxious not to be compared to the genius of his 'Dada' because 'I don't have the writing thing in me' - lived in deliberate obscurity as a farmer and agricultural machinery consultant for almost four decades.

Richard's cherished memories are of an idyllic Scottish childhood with a doting father ... yet this was cruelly cut short when chronic tuberculosis killed 47-year-old Orwell in 1950. Richard was just six.

'I loved him very much,' he told me in the spotless modern kitchen of his home in Warwickshire, bought, coincidentally, in 1984. 'My father was very involved in my day-today upbringing and my overwhelming feeling is that he was my protector.

'We didn't say bedtime prayers together because he didn't believe in churchgoing - and I don't think he changed my nappies. But I remember him bathing me, the ducks at bathtime, the bedtime stories, the meals in the garden - and how I'd wake him in the morning by tickling his feet.'

HE remembers his father as a real countryman. 'He loved his rifle and would shoot rabbits for the pot.

He always used to say, "Kill to eat, not for fun," so I've always felt fine about killing something to wear or for food.

'He showed me boys' things, like robbing birds' nests for the eggs and climbing trees. And, most of all, he gave me a healthy respect for nature.

'I know he desperately longed for children and when he and Eileen discovered they couldn't, it was he who made the decision to adopt. I don't know who my real parents are but I've never felt anything missing in my life.

I always felt loved - even though he could be distant and irascible and was ill a lot of the time.'

Most of Richard's first year was spent being cared for by a governess at a flat in Canonbury Square, Islington. But his most vivid memories of Orwell are of their life on the wild Scottish island of Jura, where they lived on a small farm and he completed his anti-totalitarian masterpiece, Nineteen Eighty-Four, typing the entire manuscript himself.

'It was sometimes a dark and cold environment,' Richard recalled. 'Very primitive but beautiful. My father first went there at Lord [David] Astor's invitation. I remember David telling me he'd said something to my father like, "You're supposed to go there for a holiday because you're ill, not to live there, you silly bugger."

'Once we found an adder in our path.

Father put his foot on the snake's head and skinned it alive in front of me.

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Secrets of the Son Who Brought Love to George Orwell's Lonely Last Days; EXCLUSIVE: Speaking for the First Time, the Adopted Son Who Knew the Writer Not as a Cold and Distant Genius ...but a Warm, Doting 'Dada'
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