Who Do Think You Are?
Pop legend lulu on finally finding out why her mum was given away as a baby
THURS / BBC1
My fellow Scot, Marie Mcdonald Mclaughlin Lawrie, better known as British pop legend Lulu, was always discouraged from asking her mum about her past. Now she finally finds out why...
I was crying and laughing at the same time
With her impressive career, taking in everything from the Eurovision Song Contest and singing a Bond theme to starring in hit movies and Strictly Come Dancing, we’re delighted to reveal that, after more than 50 years in the limelight, pop legend Lulu still feels the same heady enthusiasm for showbusiness.
‘When I go on stage, I just love it,’ enthuses Lulu, 68. ‘I’m blessed to be able to do it and to still enjoy it. It’s unbelievable.’
However, despite her joy about her professional success, a family
mystery has gnawed away at her since childhood and, in this week’s Who Do You Think You Are?, she finally gets the chance to solve it.
Lulu, who was born as Marie Mcdonald Mclaughlin Lawrie in Glasgow in 1948, wanted to discover more about how her mother, Elizabeth, was raised by the loving Mcdonald clan after her birth family, the Kennedy-cairns, gave her away as a baby.
‘My mother’s story is a big secret,’ says Lulu. ‘Although it wasn’t talked about, we knew not to ask too many questions or to push it. I wanted to find out why she was given away. There was a lot to be answered. I didn’t know what I was going find, but I had no highfalutin ideas. I wasn’t waiting to find out I was a princess!’
When Lulu travelled back to Glasgow for the show, she learned more about Elizabeth’s Catholic father, Hugh Cairns, and Protestant mother, Helen Kennedy.
During the 1920s, there were frequent clashes between the two faiths in the city and the couple’s families tried to separate them, even sending Hugh to America, only for him to sneak back.
‘I imagine that the families absolutely refused to allow them to get married, but they couldn’t keep them apart,’ says Lulu.
The couple had two illegitimate children together before marrying in a non-religious ceremony in 1925, and then had Elizabeth in 1927. However, the newlyweds faced further difficulties because Hugh was frequently unemployed.
‘I found a reference that he was given after he left a job saying, “Hugh Cairns has proved himself to be a good workman and is a good timekeeper”. That was a lie, so it was very nice of them!’ laughs Lulu. It turns out that Hugh was frequently in and out of prison from the age of 16 for a variety of crimes, including theft, breaching the peace and assault.
As Lulu delves deeper, it becomes clear that Hugh was part of a Catholic gang and the violence he was involved in left him with a deeply scarred face.
‘Having more information about my grandparents’ lives makes me see how awful their struggle was,’ says Lulu. ‘Helen married a wrong ’un. He was in this gang and he made choices that weren’t smart.’
When Elizabeth, who was the middle child of seven, left her birth family at around six months old, Hugh was in prison, while Helen had temporarily disappeared. Lulu was shocked to read a record from when she left her family to be briefly fostered before joining the Mcdonalds.
‘The heading on the document said,
“How disposed of ” and that really pained me,’ says Lulu, who was delighted to find other records from inspectors who commented on the happy home Elizabeth eventually had.
‘I was crying and laughing at the same time when I read those words,’ she says. ‘Mum was well loved and cared for and felt secure.’
There was also happiness and pride in store for Lulu when she looked into the life of her great-grandmother, Helen’s mother, also named Helen. The devout Protestant was a leading member of a Ladies’ Orange
Lodge and would often head Protestant parades, eventually becoming the organisation’s first Worthy Grand Mistress.
‘I saw a photo of her and she really looked like me, with a fat wee face! I was delighted that she was a woman who was so strong.
I’d like to have known her. She came from nothing, that’s what’s so amazing,’ says Lulu, who was also pleased to discover that despite their differences, Helen Jr and her mother were eventually buried in the same grave.
‘That does suggest that, even with all the troubles and religious fighting that went on, there was a bond that couldn’t be broken.’
genealogy / 8.00pm / BBC1 As the series returns after a short break, singer Lulu finds plenty to shout about as she looks into the emotional story of why her mother Elizabeth Kennedycairns was given away as a baby and raised by the caring Mcdonalds. Lulu uncovers the challenging tale of the turbulent and often destructive romance between Elizabeth’s birth parents Hugh and Helen, whose tumultuous relationship took place against the backdrop of conflict between Catholics and Protestants in Glasgow during the 1920s. But Lulu is far more impressed to learn about Helen’s forthright mother, Helen Sr, a leading light in the local Protestant community at the time.
Hang on to your hat: Lulu goes on a journey full of ups and downs Secret history: Lulu with her mum Elizabeth in the 1980s
Strictly Lulu: The star with dancing pro Brendan Cole Elizabeth with Lulu and her brother Billy (left) and husband Edward
Lulu digs into her Scottish past