Seduced by a married man when I was a virgin, I heartbreakingly had to give up my baby boy. 57 years later, I finally found the son I never forgot, writes best-selling author LESLEY PEARSE

Two years ago, novelist Lesley Pearse stood in the lobby of the Haymarket Hotel in London, her heart pounding, when a middle-aged man approached her. “The caretaker saw me hug the man and then cry,” Pearse, 79, recalled.

“Later he asked, ‘What was going on?’ I said, “I’ll tell you tomorrow.” But he wasn’t on duty the next day.’ She chuckles. “He’s probably still waiting to find out.”

What the janitor saw was more extraordinary than any plot twist in Pearse’s novels, which have sold more than ten million copies worldwide. The man was Pearse’s long-lost son, whom she had last seen as a baby 57 years earlier. She gave birth to him at the age of 19, after being abandoned by the (married) man who had seduced her when she was still a virgin.

Estranged from her family, Pearse lived in a mother-and-baby home in north London. With no one to help with childcare so she could work, Pearse had been warned that raising a baby would be impossible. Still, she was determined to keep her son, whom she named Warren.

The night before Warren’s adoption, 1964

For the first three months she became a live-in housekeeper for an elderly couple, but they treated her cruelly, accused her of being a ‘whore’, refused to pay her wages and eventually threw her out.

She was taken care of by a friend, but because she only received £4 a week in social security money, she was unable to provide anything towards the rent. After a month, she approached an adoption association to give up her son to a family who could care for him.

Within weeks, Pearse was told a family had been found. She received no further information. She would later find out they were a military family.

“The little time we had left together was like the days before an execution; “I couldn’t stop crying,” she says. ‘I was still breastfeeding. I had to get him on the bottle quickly, but he didn’t like it and kept screaming.’

On that day, Warren was taken by a social worker from the adoption agency office. The door closed in Pearse’s face as she kicked and screamed at it. ‘I went home to the carrycot with the little dent where his head had been, and his hair was still on the sheet. I was tormented.”

She quickly met and married a kind man, became pregnant again, lost the baby, and then left her husband. “Under other circumstances that marriage might have lasted, but I was too fucked up,” she says.

The time we left together was like the days before an execution

Pearse married and divorced twice more, had three daughters (and later two grandchildren) and worked in everything from telesales to Playboy Bunny. “I’ve had more fun at a bus stop,” she says of the latter, which involved waiting not for movie stars but for “northern businessmen in London on a jolly.”

Still, she continued to think of Warren and marked each birthday with tears. “That was always a day I had to get through,” she says.

‘His 18th birthday was the worst. Because he was adopted by an army family, I was afraid he would join up and be sent to Northern Ireland. I just hoped that one day he would try to find me.”

Pearse talks to me from her colorful home in Torquay, Devon. She is contentedly single, fiercely positive and clearly reluctant to dwell on the many difficult times documented in her recently published memoir. The long and winding road.

“People always said, ‘You should write your life story,’ but I didn’t want it to be a cloying memoir; I despise that,” she says. ‘I was always a fan of Catherine Cookson, but then I read her autobiography about her mother’s drunkenness.

Lesley was reunited with son Martin in 2022

Lesley was reunited with son Martin in 2022

I thought, “Oh, come on! You ended up in a nice house and as one of the most successful writers in the world. Let’s go further than that!”

Pearse was born in Rochester, Kent. When she was three years old, her mother died of blood poisoning after a miscarriage. Pearse’s Royal Marine father was away and the mother lay dead for three days before neighbors spotted Pearse and her brother Michael, five, in the snow without coats.

‘I always think about how alone my mother must have felt. She was a nurse, she would have realized how serious things were, but we didn’t have a telephone in those days. We must have been so hungry and cold with no heating.’

Because their father could not stop working, she and Michael were placed in separate Catholic orphanages: hers was in London, Michael’s in Gloucestershire. The nuns were especially kind to Pearse (older girls were treated much more harshly), but she still remembers the terrible cold and horrible food.

‘We had to stay in the dining room until we had eaten the last bit. Even if it had congealed on the plate.”

After three years their father remarried and the children came home. Pearse was excited, but their stepmother was an unaffectionate, unfriendly woman, so she left home at the age of 16 and barely communicated with her family from then on.

‘For years I was very preoccupied with my problems with my stepmother. She had this tough attitude that you leave home at 16 and have to fend for yourself. But I’ve had that out of my system for a long time. I realized that she was responsible for making me the way I am,” she says with characteristic positivity.

Pearse prefers to dwell on happy times, especially her life in London in the swinging 1960s after her first marriage ended. ‘It was the summer of love and we were part-time hippies. At the weekend we painted flowers on our faces and went outside barefoot.’

Her second husband John Pritchard (“a tortured soul”) was a trumpeter who performed with Steve Marriott of the Small Faces and toured with an up-and-coming musician named David Bowie. ‘David was so much fun. I remember him coming by once with two pineapples in his pink sweater, because I was pregnant and looking forward to it.’

After marrying husband number three, truck driver Nigel, Pearse began writing.

She realized she had a talent for it because she had won awards for sending funny letters to women’s magazines. She has completed her first novel, Georgia, for several years, while her children played at her feet and while she ran a gift shop in Bristol. She then spent another seven years finding a publisher.

Like Georgia was released in 1993, Pearse’s store collapsed financially, leaving her bankrupt and suffering from depression. She divorced Nigel and moved into a ‘grim’ flat in Bristol with her youngest daughter Jo, then aged 12.

Still, she forced herself to keep writing. Success did not come overnight, but her third novel, Charity – about a woman who gave her son up for adoption – was a bestseller in 1995. She has subsequently published 31 books.

Pearse searched fruitlessly for Warren for decades. (In 2010, she even wrote a piece in the Daily Mail about her quest to find him.) In 2022, while finishing her memoir, Pearse visited some cousins ​​in Ireland. They told her that Warren had contacted them after an online DNA test revealed to him that they were related. He wanted to meet his mother.

“The day before I had told my cousin that I no longer believed in God, but then I turned to her and said, ‘I believe in Him now!’

I was so excited that I could have flown home without a plane.”

Pearse discovered that her son had been renamed Martin and was a marine engineer who had settled in Houston, Texas for work. They spoke on the phone and met in London shortly afterwards. “He still had that exact baby face. We couldn’t stop giggling.

I had so many questions about his life, but you couldn’t ask them all, so we just sat there, looked at each other and grinned.’ She discovered she had three more grandchildren and a great-grandchild, all of whom, astonishingly, lived in Kent, near Pearse’s birthplace.

Since then, she has visited Martin (“it was hard to call him that at first!”) and his partner in the US and they often call each other. But Pearse knows better than to be too heavy-handed.

‘Every time you speak, you try to cram as much in as possible, but it’s impossible to fill in all the missing years. I am satisfied to know that he has become a fine man, a son to be proud of.’

Lesley’s autobiography The long and winding road is published by Michael Joseph, £22. To order a copy for €18.70 until March 17, go to or call 020 3176 2937. Free UK delivery on orders over £25.