IT IS a supreme irony that, after all the many absolutely fabulous celebrity lovers Joanna Lumley has had, the father of her only child, 29-year-old Jamie Lumley, turns out to be a completely anonymous photographer from East London.
Michael Claydon, now 54, still lives in Bow where he was born, and makes his living photographing MPs and their guests in the House of Commons.
Joanna was 21 and unmarried when she became pregnant in the Swinging Sixties, but she never settled down with Michael Claydon and has always steadfastly refused to name him.
But yesterday Claydon himself confirmed, at long last, that he is the father.
`I spoke to Jamie this morning and he’s fine about it all,’ he says. `It has been 30 years and it seems daft that it has been hidden for so long.
It’s really no big deal. I don’t want to discuss my relationship with Joanna. It was a long time ago and it is private.’
The couple’s romance broke up when Joanna was three months pregnant – `I’d been told I was sterile so Jamie was a miracle,’ she has said – and the actress did not even tell Claydon of the existence of their son until their child was two-and-a-half.
But they have remained in touch and Claydon’s neighbours told yesterday how Miss Lumley has often been seen visiting the three-bedroom turn-of-the-century terraced house he now shares with wife Rita.
Meanwhile, Claydon’s mother Joan, a retired dental nurse in her 70s, who now lives in Southend, yesterday recalled the moment she discovered she had become a grandmother.
`It came as a real surprise, but a lovely one. Michael and I both found out at the same time. You could say we were both pretty shocked. Jamie is a lovely lad and has done very well. Joanna is a marvellous mother and always took the time to encourage him with his school and university work. He always used to come and stay with me in Southend in his summer holidays. I’m so proud of him,’ she says.
Now her grandson, who is planning to marry in July, is hoping to see his parents united in public for the first time at the wedding in the Isle of Wight.
It looks like his wish will come true after Claydon confirmed yesterday: `I’ll be going to the wedding in the summer. Joanna and I speak regularly.
There are no bad vibes.’
Claydon was a fashion photographer when he met convent-educated Joanna, the daughter of an Army officer, who was trying to make her name as a model.
His father Fred Claydon, who died a few years ago, worked in the tax office in Bethnal Green Town Hall and just like those other East End lads David Bailey and Terence Donovan, Claydon wanted to be part of the Sixties scene.
He fathered the Ab Fab star’s son in 1967 and has kept up with him ever since he learned of his existence. `I’m pleased Jamie has turned out to be such a good-looking chap,’ he says.
Claydon has even been to see his son’s future parents-in-law at their home near Cowes in the Isle of Wight. It is there that Jamie’s fiancee Louise Griffin, 25, lives with her mother, Judy, and father, Richard, at a remote farmhouse where they offer bed and breakfast to tourists.
Jamie has a flat nearby. A quiet bespectacled man who was educated at Harrow, he moved to the island after leaving London University and now teaches remedial English to prisoners.
He says he has never been tempted by his mother’s showbiz life.
`Where we live is a long way from that glitzy world,’ he told a Sunday newspaper. `I’ve never really had any urge to go into it. People say I should, but I just didn’t want to.’
Nevertheless, Jamie is an avid follower of his mother’s career. `I love the old classic Avengers shows. When they came out on video, Mum and I sat down and watched them together.’
It was Jamie’s fiancee who helped convince him to unveil the family secret and bring his father into the picture. That’s how Claydon came to the island to meet her parents, who have also met Joanna.
Jamie says his parents are good friends with one another. `I don’t really know why mother kept his identity quiet for so long. It didn’t seem unnatural to me as I grew up. It was all I knew. And it was never a secret for me. I just think that because she took quite a glamourous path in life, she wanted to spare him the spotlight.’
So who is this man who has played such a large – if hidden role – in the life of one of our most successful and best-loved women celebrities?
Certainly Claydon’s life has turned out very different from those of Joanna’s other former boyfriends, from Patrick Lichfield to Rod Stewart, from fallen DJ Simon Dee to actor Michael Kitchen, star of the TV thriller To Play The King.
In the East End, Michael Claydon is known as Peter Pan because he seems to have the gift of eternal youth. After breaking up with Joanna, he didn’t marry until three years ago when he settled down with Rita and they moved to a new house in Bow very close to his childhood home.
Claydon’s neighbours say he and his wife are caring people. Iris Branch, 71, who has known him since he was a child says: `His family always put themselves out for family and friends. I have never seen him lose his temper or criticise anyone. He’s not a flamboyant sort of bloke, and in his own way he’s proud to be an East Ender with his feet firmly planted on the ground.
`No one knew Michael had a son until one Saturday about 20 years ago when his mother and father were staying here,’ says neighbour Iris. `Suddenly this handsome lad of about 11 got out of the car and Joan told us the truth.
`She asked me `What do you think of my grandson?’ I couldn’t believe it at first, but she was ever so proud of Jamie.
`I think Joan was quite in awe of Joanna Lumley, but she was always quite tickled by it all. Of course, Michael knew it was his boy when he first clapped eyes on him, they’re so alike. Jamie’s an absolute dead-ringer for his dad.
`They have always got on well and he’s a good father. Jamie, like his father is very polite, and speaks well. I’m so pleased to hear he’s getting married.’
Iris, a former school worker who has lived all her life in Bow, adds: `Michael has always been on good terms with Joanna and when he married Rita she sent them a crate of champagne. There’s never been any animosity between them. Michael has always kept quiet for Joanna Lumley’s sake and she did not think it was fair that his name should be in the papers. They had a sort of pact to respect each other’s privacy. But perhaps now the time is ripe for the truth to be known.’
Claydon is, however, about the only man in Joanna Lumley’s busy love-life she has been coy about. Now 49, for the past ten years she has been married to conductor Stephen Barlow, eight years her junior. She has swopped the bachelor-girl pad in Notting Hill where she brought up Jamie, for a five-storey house in Stockwell, South London.
Her hirst husband was actor turned scriptwriter Jeremy Lloyd, whom she wed in 1971 when Jamie was four.
Jeremy, then 29 and star of the hugely popular Rowan And Martin Laugh-in, was big news at the time. She met him on a set at Pinewood Studios, where he was playing a transvestite and she a prostitute, and married him after only two weeks.
`Jeremy was sitting wearing a dress waiting for a scene . I just suddenly thought how smashing he was. We started talking and it was funny and friendly and cosy. The question of marriage came up almost immediately.’
The couple sought an anulment after only six months. Afterwards Joanna said: `We adore each other but we are just good friends.’
Even before the marriage Miss Lumley, who was made an OBE three years ago, was happy to name her other conquests. In the late Sixties she was dating handsome Brian Alexander, brother of Earl Alexander of Tunis, who now runs Mustique island where photographer Lord Lichfield and Princess Margaret have holiday homes.
`He is the man in my life,’ she cheerfully declared. The affair was conducted quite openly in Alexander’s house in Winkfield, Berkshire. Joanna even said she had discussed marriage with Brian, who went on to date Princess Anne.
She also dated Brian’s friend Patrick Lichfield and Philip Martyn, a professional backgammon player. And, by her own admission, she `had a big thing with Rod Stewart’ in the early Seventies.
The singer was in his heyday crooning hits like Maggie May. `Wham, that was it,’ Joanna said, and the couple took off together on Stewart’s brand-new yacht for an extended cruise round the Mediterranean.
The relationship lasted a matter of months. Next was actor Michael Kitchen, of whom Joanna said: `I love him more than life itself.’ The two went hand in hand to first nights in the West End. `It’s a front-stage romance,’ said Joanna.
She was also linked with disc-jockey Simon Dee, who dedicated a record to Joanna on air saying: `I know she will become a successful actress.’ His wife then claimed Dee had taunted her that he was father of Joanna’s child.
And, as each successive lover came and went, the public asked themselves whether this time the real father had returned in order to be part of his son’s life. For they already knew about the child. Joanna had first revealed Jamie’s existence when he was two. It was 1969 and the ambitious actress had just landed a part in the film The Breaking Of Bumbo.
But who was his father? Joanna wouldn’t say. Did some delicacy about family matters prevent her from talking about it or could there be another reason for it? She seemed to have no hesitation in talking about everything else, however intimate the subject.
There was full disclosure about the exploratory gynaecological operation she had at the Chelsea Hospital For Women shortly after her first marriage broke up. Joanna was keen to watch the probe. `Just imagine seeing your tummy on telly,’ she said.
She talked about her tonsil operation in the London Clinic and how, years before her biggest hit as the champagne-swilling Patsy in Absolutely Fabulous, she used sign language to ask the nursing staff for champagne.
As time went on there was hardly anything she would not talk about. She discussed the fact that, just like Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct, she never wears knickers. She talked about her seduction tecniques at her Holland Park flat – how she would wait in `something maddeningly diaphanous and lit some joss sticks’.
She talked about her eight O-levels, her A-level, her squash and tennis playing, her ambitions . . . and her lovers.
`Everybody thinks I must have had at least 100,’ she volunteered. She calculated that she had had 59 proposals.
She also talked about her son. When he was five she described the ritualistic kissing of the nose before she went out at night. She said he was a tough little boy who was happiest playing with bows and arrows and playing football. She described how she had brought him up with the help of her parents and her sister, and how he went to state junior school in Notting Hill Gate.
She even talked about his male nanny. `He’s called Martin Richards, he’s about 26, lives in and is absolutely marvellous. He’s looked after children before.’ It was Martin who declined to comment.
Of his father she would only say: `He has never seen his son and I don’t particularly want him to. It’s all over as far as I am concerned.’
When she landed the prize Avengers part opposite John Steed in 1976, following in the footsteps of Honor Blackman and Linda Thorson, she said she was finally earning enough money to be able to send Jamie to prep shcool by herself and then to Harrow.
But at Harrow Jamie endured the usual teasing from boys who knew about his mother’s high-proilfe life and list of famous lovers. Jamie now says loyally that he coped. `There were lots of boys at school who had famous parents, it wasn’t like I was the only one. A lot of people think having a famous mother and a secret father is odd until they realise their parents are divorced and they don’t see them together either, I’ve lots of childhood pictures I took of Mum and Dad together. I often look at them’.
So how did the truth finally emerge? Like her TV character Patsy, Joanna is a stickler for doing things the correct way. So when her beloved son became engaged, there had to be a formal announcement in The Times. And, naturally, the names of both his parents, Mr Michael Claydon and Mrs Stephen Barlow, were included . . .