I tracked down my long-lost father to an old caravan ..at Iast I didn't feel an orphan; DAY 2: EASTENDER CAROL TELLS OF JOY AT FINDING HER FAMILY .. AND STARTING HER OWN AT 37.
The minute EastEnders star Carol Harrison saw it, parked in a lorry drivers' yard in Norwich, she knew she was in the right place.
Summoning up all her courage Carol, who plays Louise Raymond in the BBC1 soap, knocked on the door and peered inside searching for that familiar face - only to find a stranger.
"Where can I find Victor?" she asked the man inside who, stunned by the sight of the famous actress, went off to fetch him.
A few minutes later an old man, hands clawed with arthritis and dragging his leg, limped in. He took one look at the glamorous redhead they all recognised from the television and simply said: "Tinks!"
That was Victor's childhood nickname for his daughter - short for Tinkerbell - a name he hadn't used for 12 years.
Carol had been just six when her parents split up. She'd seen her lorry driver father briefly at the age of 11 and again at 13, but after that he'd disappeared from her life.
Now, at the age of 25, she was finally reunited with him.
"When Dad said "Tinks" I just couldn't say anything. I was too choked up," Carol tells The Mirror today. "We both had a little cry and then a stiff drink. It was so wonderful being in each other's company again.
"Seeing him limp in took me straight back to when I was a little girl. Dad was shot in the leg in World War Two and when I was learning how to walk, I'd drag my leg just like him.
"We didn't talk tons and tons, Dad was never a great talker at the best of times but I could see how moved he was.
"He just kept saying: `I've missed you, Tinks, I've missed you'. It was so nice to be together again. I had my father back and I didn't feel like an orphan any more."
Carol only felt free to track down her father after her tailoress mother Frances had died. She knew that to do it earlier - or even suggest the idea - would have desperately upset her mother.
Frances had never really recovered from the nervous breakdown she suffered when Carol was nine, and she was dogged by ill-health.
Theirs had been a marriage scarred by violent arguments fuelled by his heavy drinking and her fiery temper - both giving as good as they got.
It was a combustible mix which threatened to ignite almost daily but which never involved the children - except as terrified little witnesses. Carol and her older sister Patricia had lived in fear of the arguments, helpless to stop their adored parents fighting and hurting each other.
"I loved my father and he adored me. I was the apple of his eye," says Carol, 44, who grew up in the real East End.
"He never walked out on us. It was my mum's decision that he should go, she told him to leave. She couldn't stand the rows any more.
"He wasn't a nasty drunk although that did develop with my mother. Most people regarded him as lovely, a wonderful character. To me he was always wonderfully loving.
IT WAS always at the back of mind to see Dad again, but out of a sense of loyalty to Mum I knew I couldn't do it while she was alive. It would have devastated her.
"I never even talked to my mother about it because it was just too hard for her to cope with.
`She still had a lot of anger and resentment towards him."
When Frances died 20 years ago at the age of 64 from a heart attack, Carol was devastated.
With her mother gone, and her father a distant memory, she felt like an orphan.
Through an uncle she heard that her father was working back near his home town in Norfolk, and he gave her the address.
"I was touring with the National Theatre and when I found out we would be in Norwich, I made up my mind to go and see Dad," says Carol who was starring in Death Of A Salesman.
"I didn't tell him I was coming, I just turned up. I wasn't nervous because I knew it was going to be lovely.
"I knew that this would be a chance for us to put back the pieces in some way.
"He was still a lorry driver and living in a caravan - just like we used to - at the place where he worked.
"At first it was a shock to see him. He looked so old.
"In my mind's eye he was still the father I remembered as a child.
"His fingers were all crooked from the arthritis and he was suffering from emphysema, but you could see the joy in his face at having his family back again. He'd seen me on television on London's Burning and was so proud of me," says Carol who went on to star in the TV sitcoms Brush Strokes and Get Back.
For the next six years Carol and her father rebuilt their relationship and - work permitting - met up as often as they could.
"I did see him, but not all that often. He was in Norfolk and I was in London.
`But we stayed in contact right up until his death from a heart attack in 1985."
ONE thing Carol will always regret is that neither of her parents lived long enough to meet their grandson, the child Carol thought she could never have.
Her eight-year marriage to a physics teacher, whom she'd known since she was 14 in her youth theatre days, had been childless.
When they split up Carol, who was in her early 30s, thought she would probably never have a family because she'd left it too late to meet someone new and settle down.
But she was happily single and not particularly looking for love when she met and fell for actor Jamie Foreman, 40, on the set on London's Burning nearly ten years ago.
"A lot of things in life are about timing. Sometimes you meet the right person at the wrong time or the wrong person at the right time," says Carol who lives with Jamie and their son Alfie in the East End.
"With Jamie, I felt an almost instant affinity - it was as if we'd known each other all our lives."
Carol was playing Gloria in Brush Strokes when she started suffering bouts of morning sickness.
"I thought: `I can't be pregnant'," she says. "I was 37 and thought I couldn't have children because of my age and because it just hadn't happened when I was married.
"It was only when my body started changing and my boobs felt like they were going to explode that I did a home pregnancy test.
"When I saw the result, I was shocked and a little bit scared.
"But once it sank in I was thrilled, it was a wonderful surprise.
"Seeing the first scan of my baby was just so amazing. He seemed so perfectly formed, I could see his little features."
But Carol had every right to feel scared. At five months, she almost lost Alfie and was rushed into hospital.
"I finished filming the last episode of Brush Strokes on the Sunday night in front of a live audience and on the Tuesday night I started haemorraging," she says.
The placenta which feeds the baby was lying underneath it instead of on the side of the womb wall next to the growing foetus. Carol had to rest as much as possible to prevent a miscarriage, avoiding anything too strenuous.
"I was terrified I would lose my baby. I kept praying that he would be all right.
"It was a very nerve-racking time," she says.
"They took me into hospital for a rest and then they let me home on the strict orders that I didn't do anything.
"They said if it happened again, I'd have to stay in hospital until the baby was born."
BECAUSE of Carol's condition, doctors had to deliver her son by Caesarean section. She says: "I was convinced I was going to have a girl. We had even picked the name Scarlett.
"The night before the operation, I said to Jamie just as he was leaving the hospital: `If by some chance we do have a little boy, shall we call him Alfie?'
"Jamie said: `Yes, Alfie ... but it's going to be a girl'. When they told me I had a son, I was amazed because I'd been so certain it was a girl.
"I was so groggy from the epidural I didn't really know what was going on.
"But when I held him in my arms for the first time I was so overwhelmed.
"I named him Alfie after my sister's husband and because one of the happiest times of my life was when I'd appeared in the stage show Alfie."
Carol is determined to give Alfie, now seven, the kind of childhood she never had.
"When Alfie was born, I definitely felt that I wanted to give him something totally different from what I had as a child.
"Lots of love, lots of encouragement and lots of opportunties.
"He's a real little character, a lovely little boy. He's my one and only.
"My childhood was very tough but it made me what I am today - it spurred me on to make something of myself.
"In EastEnders I am now drawing on my life's experiences to play Louise.
"She is someone I can really identify with.
"Like me, there are two sides to her. She is a lot of fun but she carries a lot of pain.
Louise is a woman of the world who has had very high highs and very low lows.
"She is also a woman who sees people's flaws and accepts them without judgment.
"That is something I did with my parents.
"They had their faults but they were my mum and dad and I loved them both."
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|Publication:||The Mirror (London, England)|
|Date:||Sep 8, 1998|
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