[personal profile] 7rin
UPDATED: 11:30, 5 November 2011

You could say I’ve lived a lie all my life.

One in which my wife and the Prime Minister are complicit. They call me Michael and apologise for my appalling manners by explaining I’m a dour Aberdonian.

They excuse my waist-busting appetite, saying my father was a fish merchant and that’s why I’m a gannet.

The deception doesn’t stop with them. Michael is the name on my passport, bank card and driving licence.

But if I’m honest, it is an assumed identity. I was not born Michael, but Graeme.

I call Aberdeen my home, but that’s not where I’m from. And the man who brought me up was, indeed, in the fish trade, but he’s not the man who fathered me. I have no idea who that is.

I was born to a single mother in an Edinburgh hospital ward in 1967 and then taken into care. After four months, I was adopted by a child- less couple, into whose home I arrived just before Christmas.

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[personal profile] 7rin
UPDATED: 22:58, 23 April 2010

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In the heady atmosphere of preparing for a job in government, Gove will, inevitably, think about another woman who has been watching from afar his remarkable rise from humble beginnings. She knew him as Graham, not Michael.
She is Gove's birth mother.

'I was born in Edinburgh. I was four months old when I was adopted,' says Gove. 'I don't know if I was taken from my birth mother at a relatively early age and placed in the hands of carers. All I know is the process of finding and matching me with Mum and Dad was four months.'

While it's not unusual for adoptive parents to be told details of their child's birth mother, what is surprising is for the birth mother to know all about the child they gave up.

Gove's was a young student who gave up her baby because the prospect of single motherhood in the harsh, unforgiving social climate of the summer of 1967 was too bleak to comprehend.

'When a child is adopted, the birth parent is not allowed to get in touch,' says Gove. 'But I think my birth mother knows enough about the circumstances of my adoption to know who I am.'

Many mothers who have given up a child never get over the sense of aching loss. Some may dread the knock at the door, the letter or telephone call from their long-lost child. Many more pray for the child to make contact.

Thousands of adopted children spend years in a fruitless and often heartbreaking search for their birth parent. But all Gove has to do is ask, and his parents could tell him enough to know where to find her.

Yet Gove, who by his own admission is 'nosy by nature' - which is why he became a journalist - will not do it.

He also loves history. 'You would have thought the combination of the two - my curiosity and history - would have made me incredibly anxious to find out more.

'I think about it often. I wonder what my birth mother thinks. But the people who brought me up are my mum and dad.

'My mother has always said if I want to [trace her] I should. She is equally clear there is no need for me to tell her if I do. I know, though, that she would take it as an indication that I did not feel my life or upbringing was fulfilled. It was. My mum and dad are fantastic.

'I still remember the phrase my mother used when she was explaining to me the circumstances of my adoption. She said: "You didn't grow under my heart, you grew in it." That was it for me.

'She is my mum and I don't question it. My first impulse is to do nothing to upset her or Dad. Respecting their feelings is more important than my curiosity.'

His parents, who could not have children, also adopted a baby girl whom they called Angela, who was five years younger than Gove. To begin with, they all lived in the two-bedroom maisonette in Aberdeen.

'I remember her arriving, being bathed in front of the fire in an old metal bath. The same one I was bathed in as a baby.'

Soon afterwards, they bought a small semi-detached three-bedroom house with a patch of garden at the front and back. His parents still live there today.

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Following a brief spell at the BBC, he moved to The Times where he met and married Sarah Vine, a fellow journalist. It was then that his internal struggle over his adoptive background returned to the fore.

'I dwelt on it a lot because I could see Sarah has qualities of her own and is a compound of her mum and dad. Sarah's sister is flesh and blood, mine is adopted,' he says. 'I could see Sarah in her parents. She has met and looked at mine. There is no common genetic background.'

They now have two children of their own, Beatrice, who will be seven the day after the election (Gove hopes it will be a double celebration) and William, aged five.

'In your own children you see traits which come from nowhere and you wonder: where did they get that from?' says Gove.

Does he wonder what his birth mother looks like? 'Yes. I have very odd features.' He adds: 'I have a mental image. She is young. It must have been a wrench. I hope after the decision, which she took unselfishly in my best interests, she was able to get on with her own life.'

As the election draws closer, he is not expecting his parents to stay up to watch the results. 'They are wartime children and grew up in a town where you did not really show your emotions.'

In fact, when he telephones, his mother always asks the same question. It's about her grandchildren. 'She is far more interested in getting a DVD of Beatrice and William at the Nativity play than what I'm doing.' he says. I don't send her Hansard.'

The children are unfazed by seeing their father on TV. 'When we watch Peter Pan, and he flies past Big Ben, they say: "That's where daddy works."'

His life will change dramatically if he goes into the Cabinet. The ministerial red boxes will be a constant companion. One decision has already been taken in advance of victory: he will drop the long title about children, families and schools and revert to plain Education Secretary.

As you would expect, having held the children's portfolio, he has strong views on adoption. 'Some people wrongly insist that children are placed in as close a match to birth parents as possible. They sometimes keep children, especially from mixed race backgrounds, in care for too long.

'Adoption, as I know, is a great opportunity if there are two willing parents. Married and committed gay couples who want to adopt should be given the chance to do so. It's far better to have a child brought up by two people who have made a commitment to each other.'

Gove insists the education post is the only one he wants - that may change if Cameron is toppled after a bad result on May 6. But he cites a school in Liverpool, where only one per cent of pupils passed five GCSEs including English and maths, as the reason he wants the chance to implement his reforms.

'Imagine loving mums and dads putting their children in that school? What sort of prospects do those children have?' he says.

'I want them to have the chance I had. I went to good primary schools and my parents sent me to an amazing secondary school. I enjoyed all the opportunities that came from that.'

Whether becoming an MP is the best use of those opportunities is another matter. But there is no denying Gove's commitment to trying to give disadvantaged children a better start.

'My parents were not incredibly articulate, well connected, sharp elbowed, learned, bookish or middle class - but they knew what they wanted for their children. They were classic aspirational parents who knew what they wanted.

'There are many children [like me] who because of accidents of birth and geography are not given the opportunities they deserve.'

The only time Gove's famed fluency dries up is when I ask: 'What if you receive a telephone call or letter from your birth mother?'

After a long pause, he replied. 'I don't know. It has played on my mind. Until you read that letter or hear that voice, I don't think you know what reaction you would have. It would be very personal. I can't pre-empt it.'

If he becomes Education Secretary, the temptation for the woman who called him Graham to make that contact might just be too strong to resist.


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