On the day Georgina Lawton was born in a London hospital, the most extraordinary thing about her arrival was the absence of drama that accompanied it.
Her birth provoked no angry interrogation or recriminations from her father — merely delight and unquestioning acceptance.
Yet Georgina was not the baby either of her parents had been expecting. They were both white while she, with her tightly-curled, charcoal-coloured hair and huge brown eyes, was unmistakably black.
If Jim Lawton, a kind, mild-mannered giant of a man, had any misgivings when his first child arrived at Queen Charlotte’s Hospital in Hammersmith 28 years ago, he kept them to himself. Only his evident pleasure at first-time parenthood is chronicled.
‘He was elated — a daughter! He cooed and cuddled and accepted me without any question,’ recounts Georgina in her powerful new memoir Raceless, drawing on the knowledge that she was unconditionally loved by both parents.
But while Jim embraced the new arrival, his wife Colette’s mind was racing. Her relief at giving birth to a healthy girl was swiftly usurped by shame and trepidation.
She knew straight away. Her baby was the result of a one-night stand she’d had with a black barman at a pub in Shepherd’s Bush exactly nine months earlier.
She told no one about this secret — her guilt exacerbated by her strict Irish Catholic upbringing — until after Jim’s premature death, aged 55, from cancer in 2015. And remarkably Jim never questioned why his daughter looked so different from both her parents.
Meanwhile, a midwife threw the couple a lifeline that would anchor the story of brown-skinned Georgina into their solidly suburban Caucasian lives.
The reason this beautiful baby was so different in complexion from her parents was doubtless down to a ‘throwback gene’ from a distant lineage, she said.
After all, wasn’t Colette Irish? And hadn’t there been lots of racial mixing on the West Coast, where she was raised, close to a town called Spanish Point in County Clare? Could it be that crew from the ships dispersed by the Armada — Spanish and Portuguese sailors had arrived there in the 16th century — had widened the gene pool?
Jim and Colette clung to this convenient, but preposterous, fiction; indeed it became part of their family folklore, the reason they gave to Georgina and others, to explain her differentness.
The falsehood persisted unchallenged. Georgina — contrary to the evidence of everyone’s eyes — was actually white, they insisted.
‘It was a story my mother would repeat again and again, and one I would learn to recite hundreds of times,’ writes Georgina, as she recounts the far-reaching effects this denial of her race had on her.