The Long and Winding Road by Lesley Pearse: An extraordinary story of a remarkable survivor – book review –

Truth is stranger than fiction... and sometimes it’s more remarkable, too!
The Long and Winding Road by Lesley PearseThe Long and Winding Road by Lesley Pearse
The Long and Winding Road by Lesley Pearse

Lesley Pearse is one of the world’s leading storytellers with a raft of bestsellers to her name, sales of over 10 million books, and a fan base that spans the globe, and yet her own life journey is as captivating and extraordinary as her own winning fiction.

Told for the first time in a memoir that is both heartwarming and heart-breaking, Pearse’s tale of love and loss, tragedy and triumph is an unforgettable rollercoaster ride that takes us from her birth in Kent in the dark days of the Second World War to the faraway shores of New Zealand.

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It’s a powerful and poignant tale of survival against the odds, with a breathtaking twist in the tail, that grips readers like a vice and begins in earnest on the day in 1948 when Pearse’s innocence came to an abrupt end. Aged just three, the little girl’s life changed irrevocably when a neighbour found her coatless in the snow. The mother she had been unable to wake had been dead for days.

Separated from her brother and sent to an orphanage, Pearse soon learned that adults couldn’t always be trusted and certainly weren’t always kind. With her father in the Royal Marines, Pearse spent three years alone before her father remarried and young Lesley and her older brother were brought home again. They were joined by two other children who were later adopted by her father and stepmother, and there was then a continuous stream of foster children.

Life at home was difficult and, aged just fifteen, Pearse headed to London, determined to forge a better life for herself. Naïve and innocent, yet always resourceful (a trait that has served her well all her life), she worked her way through many jobs before finding herself pregnant.

It was then that the second great tragedy of her life occurred. Sent to a mother and baby home, Pearse was determined to keep her beautiful son Warren before realising that she couldn’t give him the life he deserved. When Warren was just six months old, she gave him up for adoption, watched helplessly as he was taken from her, and spent the next 50 years looking for him.

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And like so many of her generation, Pearse had to carry on... but the pain of such a profound loss haunted her and she threw herself headlong into the hedonistic world of the Swinging Sixties, sharing flats, working hard in promotional work, retail and even the world of Bunny Girls.

Partying hard – often with East End gangsters and musicians – Pearse had a short-lived first marriage followed by a second to John Pritchard, a talented trumpeter who played with Dusty Springfield, Lulu and David Bowie. Lesley even inspired lines in Bowie’s song A Couple of Kooks!

As the Sixties turned into the Seventies, Lesley found a longed-for sense of home and the start of the decade saw the birth of John and Lesley’s daughter Lucy, and a record deal for John. The future looked bright but then the house that they lived in was sold – ironically to become a homeless shelter – and the family found themselves homeless.

John lost his record deal and his mental health began to suffer. Times were desperate and John became increasingly unwell until Pearse had no choice but to have him sectioned, and they eventually parted.

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Alone once again, and with a young child to support, Pearse met her third husband Nigel while hitchhiking to a job interview. She moved to Bristol, had daughters Sammy and Jo, and set up a gift shop but all the while nurturing a dream to be a writer. And it wasn’t until at the age of 48 that her stories – of women struggling in a difficult world – found a publisher, and the bestseller lists beckoned.

A Long and Winding Road is truly an unmissable read, full of hardships and challenges but always leavened by hope, and with surprises around every corner. Told with Pearse’s trademark warmth, wit, empathy and poignancy, this is the extraordinary story of a remarkable survivor who fought against the odds to achieve her dreams and finally won the fame she deserves.

(Michael Joseph, hardback, £22)

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