The Archbishop of Canterbury has said he is “completely surprised” after a DNA test result revealed the identity of his real father.
The Most Reverend Justin Welby, 60, has discovered he is the son of Sir Winston Churchill’s last private secretary, the late Sir Anthony Montague Browne.
He had believed his father was whisky salesman Gavin Welby, who died in 1977.
His mother, Lady Williams of Elvel, has confirmed she had a “liaison” with Sir Anthony just before she wed in 1955.
In a statement issued through Lambeth Palace, the Archbishop of Canterbury refers to his mother and Gavin Welby’s addiction to alcohol while he was growing up.
“As a result of my parents’ addictions my early life was messy, although I had the blessing and gift of a wonderful education, and was cared for deeply by my grandmother, my mother once she was in recovery, and my father (Gavin Welby) as far as he was able.”
He added: “I know that I find who I am in Jesus Christ, not in genetics, and my identity in him never changes…
“Although there are elements of sadness, and even tragedy in my father’s (Gavin Welby’s) case, this is a story of redemption and hope from a place of tumultuous difficulty and near despair in several lives.”
Archbishop Welby, the most senior cleric in the worldwide Anglican communion, says he discovered the real identity of his biological father in recent weeks.
The UK-based Daily Telegraph reported that he decided to take a DNA test after it approached him with research it had carried out into his family’s background.
It reported that mouth swabs were compared with hair samples from a hairbrush kept by Sir Anthony’s widow and showed a 99.9779% probability they were father and son.
Lady Williams, whose marriage to Gavin Welby broke up in 1958, had also been working as secretary to Sir Winston during his final spell as prime minister.
In a statement she said: “Although my recollection of events is patchy, I now recognise that during the days leading up to my very sudden marriage, and fuelled by a large amount of alcohol on both sides, I went to bed with Anthony Montague Browne.
“It appears that the precautions taken at the time didn’t work and my wonderful son was conceived as a result of this liaison.”
Sir Anthony became private secretary to Sir Winston Churchill while he was in Downing Street in 1952, continuing after Sir Winston resigned as prime minister in 1955 and until his death in 1965.
Lady Williams, who remarried in 1975, says she has not drunk alcohol since 1968.
She added that she had seen Sir Anthony occasionally after her relationship with Gavin Welby ended.
“Although he may have asked how Justin was, there was nothing that gave me any hint that he might have thought he was Justin’s father,” she said.