John Le Carré

John Le Carré is a hugely popular spy novelist.  His best sellers include The Spy Who Came In From the Cold, Tinker Tailor, Soldier, Spy and The Night Manager.

He has also managed to survive a terrible childhood that could easily have left him broken and defeated.  An intensely secret man about his own life, he has finally revealed in his recent autobiography The Pigeon Tunnel, how his ownchildhood was blighted by a horrid father and neglectful mother.   

Le Carré, whose real name is David Cornwell, was born in Poole Dorset in 1931 and describes himself as an  ‘emotionally crippled boy, crushed underfoot by his tyrannical father. ‘  Amongst other things he calls his father, Ronald (Ronnie) Cornwall, unpredictable, a conman, fantasist, occasional jailbird and crisis addict, who spent his life ‘walking on the thinnest, slipperiest layer of ice you can imagine.’  Ronnie knew the notorious gangsters The Kray Twins, was continually in debt, imprisoned for insurance fraud and declared bankrupt in 1954.  

For the last third of his father’s life the two men were estranged or at loggerheads. 

Cornwall also reveals that his father assaulted his mother, Olive, who subsequently walked out on the family – he is the younger of two boys - when Cornwall was only five.  Cornwall had no further contact with her until he was 21 and found her living in Suffolk.  She had by then had two more children who were completely unaware of their half brother’s existence.  Cornwall and his mother did not form a relationship.  He writes: ‘to this day I have no idea what sort of person (my mother) was. ‘

In common with many children who have been abandoned or mistreated by their horrid parents, Cornwell held himself together by freezing his emotions:  ‘…from the day of our reunion until (my mother) died the frozen child in me showed not the smallest sign of thawing out.’

Instead he remembers a ‘constant tension in myself that even in great age has not relaxed.’ To his enormous credit he managed to take something positive from his unenviable background.  First he decided to find an identity for himself, looked around to see how others behaved, and extracted what he felt he needed.  He writes:  ‘I knew that in order to do this I had to filch from the manners and lifestyle of my peers and betters, even to the extent of pretending I had a settled home life with real parents and ponies. ‘

Pretending to have a normal life made him an expertin subterfuge and taking on different identities.  Later, he wrote: ‘People who have had unhappy childhoods are pretty good at inventing themselves.’ Also by hiding the horridness of his own family life be became fascinated by the notion of dual loyalties and suspicious behaviour.  He  went to Switzerland to study and at 16 began working for MI5 becoming an MI5 officer in 1958 during the Cold War era.

After furthering his studies at Oxford he taught French and German at Eton College for two years, while continuing to work for MI5 and writing his first novel Call for the Dead (1961).  He subsequently transferred to MI6, the foreign-intelligence service and continued writing using the pseudonym John Le Carré because Foreign Office officers were forbidden to publish in their own names. In A Perfect Spy the scheming con-man character, Rick Pym, is based on his father. 

Cornwell left the Secret Service in 1964 to work full-time as a novelist.

Once Cornwall had become a best-selling author, his father, who he had not seen or heard from for years, began sending him begging letters full of  ‘bullying’ demands that included repaying the cost of his own education.   He also turned up unannounced in America in 1963 when Cornwell was being taken out for lunch by his publisher to  celebrate the huge success of The Spy Who Came in From the Cold.  After a free meal he told Cornwall ‘you maybe a successful writer, son,….. but you’re not a celebrity‘.  He died in 1975. Cornwell paid for a memorial funeral service but did not attend.

Cornwell has been married twice.  In 1954 he wed Alison Sharp; they had three sons—Simon, Stephen and Timothy—and divorced in 1971.  In 1972, Cornwell married Valérie Eustace: they have one son.  For the last 40 years he has lived in Cornwall.

Cornwall, now 85, is still writing. He has revived his war spymaster George Smiley, for the first time in 25 years in a new novel, A Legacy of Spies, to be published in September 2017.

He has never sought fame for himself but his twenty three novels, ten of which have been made into films  have been enjoyed by millions of people round the world. 


ADELE’S incredible voice and emotional songs have turned the singer-songwriter into the biggest selling recording artist of the 21st century.

But her phenomenal success round the world has not come easily.  Although she had a loving, caring mother, her father was absent most of her childhood.   

Her parents, Marc Evans and Penny Adkins, met in a North London pub in 1987.  He was in his mid-20s,  she was an 18-year old art student. They moved in together and she soon fell pregnant.  Adele was born on May 5 1988.  

Marc walked out on mother and daughter in 1991 when she was just three, leavingPenny to bring up Adele on her own. 

Her parents’ attitude to parenthood was poles apart.  Her father moved from London to South Wales,  drank heavily and was so taken up with his own needs he failed to contribute to her upbringing emotionally and financially. 

Not surprisingly he and Adele have not been close.  Adele has said:  “I didn’t know what a dad was supposed to do because I never had one.”

Her mother, on the other hand, was determined to do everything she could for her little girl, including putting aside her own artistic ambitions to become a painter.   

As a result mother and daughter have a strong, loving, secure bond.

Part of Adele’s childhood was spent in a socially deprived area in south London. Nonetheless it was here, in a run-down apartment above a discount store, that Adele wrote her early hits.  

Adele was passionate about music from an early age.  Her mother took on three jobs, freelance masseuse, furniture-maker and organiser for adult learning activities, so she could afford to send her to music classes most nights of the week. 

Adele originally attended a local comprehensive school but it didn’t suit her and she played truant.  Luckily her musical talent was such that at thirteen she was awarded a place atthe renowned BRIT School for Performing Arts & Technology.  Her debut album, 19, on which she played piano, guitar and bass,  made her a star.  Her second album 21, sold an eye-opening 31 million copies worldwide and led to her winning multiple Grammys. Adele also received a songwriting Oscar for the James Bond track "Skyfall."

Adele is a big personality and has no time for fools.  Professionally her unique ability to communicate intimate details of love and loss through her songs has no doubt been cathartic for her and any fan with similar experiences. 

Personally she was silent about her own childhood.  Her relationship with her father only became public knowledge in 2011 when he gave an interview to the Sun newspaper and admitted: “I was a rotten father at a time when she really needed me.”  He also talked about being an alcoholic.   

He has subsequently claimed more than once their difficult past is behind them and they now get on well, but Adele has not confirmed this.  Instead she made it clear that she fell out with him in 2012 when he insensitively commented that she struggled to find love because of her abandonment issues – an indication he didn’t put her wish for privacy first.    

Instead she found a substitute father role model who is  stable and supportive. Following the release of her multi-award winning album, 25, she publicly praised her long-time manager Jonathan Dickins for his help and compared him to the father she wished she had.

She said: “We’ve been together for 10 years, and I love you like you’re my dad….I love you so, so much. I don’t love my dad, that’s the thing. That doesn’t mean a lot. I love you like I would love my dad.”

Adele has also formed a strong intimate relationship with Simon Konecki, an investment banker turned philanthropist who she met in 2011.  

She gave birth to a son, Angelo, a year later when she was 24.  In 2016 she revealed how important Simon and Angelo were to her on 60 Minutes Australia saying: “It’s only because of [Simon] and because of our kid and stuff that I’m all right.”  They married later that year. Adele returned to the charts in autumn 2015 with the ballad "Hello," the lead single from her comeback album, 25, which relates the painful break-up with an anonymous ex.  She subsequently won five Grammys.  

Despite her ongoing issues with her father her international success is a triumph for both her and her loving mother to whom she remains very close.