Revealed: Patrick Moore's secret 'sons'. A deeply moving interview with the three men adopted by the astronomer after losing their fathersThe stories of Ian Makins, Chris Doherty and Adam Corrie provide an extraordinary insight into the man who was as luminous and yet as mysterious as the skies he studied
For Sir Patrick the three of them were simply 'my family'Their memories are full
of laughter; memories of impromptu parties at his home, travels around
the world and shared friendships
00:05 GMT, 17 December 2012
When Sir Patrick Moore passed away at the age of 89 last week following a short illness, the impression was of a solitary, eccentric soul who died as he lived – alone.
A short statement released on his behalf told us his beloved cat Ptolemy was with him, along with the carers he relied upon in his latter years, but there was no wife, no children – in fact, no blood relative at all.
How sad, it seemed, that this man who spent the greater part of his lifetime bringing the wondrousness of the sky into our lives should depart his own life so alone. But as with so much in The Sky At Night presenter's life, impressions are misleading.
Loving memories: Sir Patrick Moore with Ian Makins who lost his father at five and his mother 17 years ago
'There couldn't have been a better way for him to go,' says one of those present as he slipped away last weekend in the house in West Sussex where he had lived for more than 40 years.
'One of his closest friends was playing a piece of music Patrick wrote on the piano and we put Ptolemy on the bed next to him in those final minutes.
'The rest of us stood there holding Patrick's hand, so he knew we were there stroking his hand as he fell asleep.
'We dabbed a good measure of brandy into his mouth in the final minutes and gave a toast to him, saying: 'One more for the road' – the same way he always pressed one last drink on us at the end of a convivial evening.'
These are the memories of Ian Makins. The 'us' are three men – Makins, 52, Chris Doherty, 34, and Adam Corrie, 33 – whom Patrick had known as boys and loved as sons. They each lost their own fathers early in life.
For Patrick, who had never married following the death of his fiance Lorna during World War II, they were simply 'my family'.
Following those poignant last moments, each of the men was inconsolable. Indeed, there are tears today as we speak.
But, together, their stories provide an extraordinary insight into the man who was both as luminous and yet as mysterious as the skies he studied.
Honoured: Sir Patrick Moore with Adam Corrie, left, and Chris Doherty at his investiture at Buckingham Palace
Last week's obituaries described Moore's wartime service as that of a navigator with RAF Bomber Command.
However, among the many confidences he shared with the three were hints of working for British intelligence, including daring missions in Nazi-occupied Europe.
It was during this espionage work, it seems, that he met Lorna, the nurse who was killed during the Blitz.
'Losing Lorna was a life-changer for Patrick,' says Chris. 'There was never anyone for him after her. If she'd survived the war he said they'd have been together and had a family of their own.
'He said he might have turned to music instead of astronomy because that was another passion of his.'
Ian picks up the story: 'He said that he worked in an intelligence group of ten. One of them was Lorna and he fell instantly in love with her. They both knew they'd met their soulmate.
'After a whirlwind romance — we're talking days — they decided to get engaged, using a curtain ring as an engagement ring.
'He was dedicated to her and knew no one could ever replace her when she died in a bombing raid. He remained loyal to her memory throughout his life.
Stargazer: Patrick Moore in 1989 at his Selsey home, described as an open house to his 'three adopted' sons
'As for 'The Ten' as Patrick called this intelligence unit, they all became incredibly close because they never knew if they'd see each other again when they went off on their missions to mainland Europe.
They were like brothers and sisters to Patrick and when the last of the ten, a Greek chap, died a few years ago, Patrick was crushed. He was the last man standing.'
Ian recalls: 'Patrick was very proud of his intelligence work but he never boasted. He showed me a letter from his Major congratulating him on a successful mission behind enemy lines — saying he just managed to get out on time.
'He was on missions in parts of Europe and said there were several sticky moments when he was in
mortal danger. Most of Patrick's injuries — losing his teeth, the damage to his spine — were from the war.
Wartime: Sir Patrick, pictured as an RAF Flying Officer in 1940, was a Bomber Command navigator during the Second World War
'We tried to persuade him to write his memoirs, but he refused. He felt he'd been given the privilege of working in an undercover group and that was something he was tight-lipped about to the end.'
Certainly, there have long been questions over his wartime career. In media interviews, he said that he joined the RAF after working as an ambulance driver. Yet he was an unlikely recruit for Bomber Command.
Suffering with a heart condition from the age of six, he was tutored at home and not expected to live beyond 30 or 40 years. When war broke out, he said he 'fiddled' his age to be drafted in to the RAF at 17 (the required age was 18).
/12/16/article-2249168-166D63FE000005DC-181_634x460.jpg” width=”634″ height=”460″ alt=”The sky at night: Sir Patrick with his 15ins telescope at his house in Farthings, Selsey, 30 years ago” class=”blkBorder” />
The sky at night: Sir Patrick with his 15ins telescope at his house in Farthings, Selsey, 30 years ago
'His world, he said, suddenly felt as if it had turned into silence.' So he filled it with his astronomy, writing, music — he was an accomplished composer — and his many friends. His thatched home,
Farthings in Selsey, was always an open house, and his generosity was legendary: helping Ian, Chris and Adam when in further education.
It was here at Farthings that the men spent many of their boyhood holidays with their families. When tragedy struck in their late teenage and early adult lives, Moore shared their losses.
Adam, 33, now an engineer with a five-year-old son, was staying in Selsey when his father — Patrick's godson — died 13 years ago. Moore, who was away from home on a lecture tour, returned instantly.
'When my father died I was at university and using his house as a crash pad. He was away, but he dropped everything and cancelled all of his lectures. He just wanted to be back home with me.
'Patrick and my grandfather, Ian, grew up together as boys in East Grinstead. When my grandfather died Patrick became a surrogate grandfather and then a surrogate father when my dad died.
'Although Patrick never went to university, qualifications were very important to him. I suppose he was a snob in that respect.
'I wasn't 100 per cent about doing my masters, but as far as he was concerned that's what I was going to do — and I did. He was the one who had expectations of me.'
Caring: 'Patrick became a surrogate grandfather and then a surrogate father'
He similarly encouraged Ian, who lost his father to a heart attack at five and his mother to cancer 17 years ago. Moore knew Ian's mother, an enthusiastic member of Keele's astronomy society, whose meetings he would sometimes address.
'Patrick helped me through my O-levels and A-levels. I hadn't a great degree of confidence, but he persuaded me to go to university and pushed me forwards through his advice and cajoling.
'I was studying landscape architecture and he hadn't got a clue about landscapes and gardens, but he typed up my thesis, saying things like 'What the hell is peat''
Ian, now a landscape architect with three daughters, chuckles at the memory. He shows me a letter written on Christmas Day, 1993, congratulating him on a new job.
'Dear Ian,' it reads. 'Great news! No need to say how glad I am.' It continues: 'Well done … I'm proud of you … Ever, Patrick.'
Ian was only too happy to be able to return the favour. 'When Patrick was knighted, it was a very proud moment for him, but he never got round to organising his coat-of-arms.
Remarkable life: The celebrated astronomer and broadcaster as a young boy
'So I got hold of 200 of his friends and we were able to pull enough together to pay for it. He was lost for words when we presented it to him.'
In fact many of the memories of each of these men are full of laughter; memories of impromptu parties at his home, travels around the world and shared friendships with the likes of astronaut Buzz Aldrin, author Sir Terry Pratchett and rock star Brian May.
His close circle of friends may have numbered as many as 200, but it was his adopted sons who spoke to him almost every day — relationships cemented by huge sadness as much as laughter. 'He was such a compassionate man,' says Ian.
'He was there in the ward the day my mother died with me and my brother and sister. I remember him saying: 'You've got to understand what you're looking at now is like a leather jacket that's been cast off.'
'He always believed people he'd lost were still with him and that there had to be something beyond death.
'He was there for Chris when his dad Paul died, too. They were great friends.'
Paul Doherty was, in fact, a talented artist who illustrated many of Patrick's books. Chris Doherty, who trained as a photographer, was 19 when his father died of cancer of the oesophagus. 'I'd known Patrick all my life,' says Chris.
'When I was 17 I was involved in an accident on a pushbike and was unconscious for five days. Patrick just dropped everything and travelled up to spend time by my bedside.
'When my father was ill he did exactly the same. It was a very difficult time, but he was always there at the end of a telephone if ever you needed him. It's almost as if he felt sadness on our behalf and saw it as his duty to look out for us.'
Just over a week ago, doctors, unable to treat an infection, released him from hospital to prepare for death at his beloved home as he had requested. Ian, who now works in Dubai, caught the first flight home.
'It was a bit of a rollercoaster at the end,' he says. 'He'd been in poor health for ten years, with a crumbling spine and had pulled through before, but it was clear on this occasion his body had had enough.
Fond farewell: 'We dabbed a good measure of brandy into his mouth in the final minutes and gave a toast'
'I flew back on Saturday and he was in and out of consciousness. He knew I was coming and he was waiting for me when he died. Adam had been there on Saturday and I was with him all through the night. Chris and I couldn't sleep. We talked to him. They say the last thing to go is hearing.
'He died on Sunday at 12.25pm. Peter Cattermole, his close friend with whom he had written books on Venus and the Moon, was playing on the piano a song called Matthew he'd written.
'The man he'd written it for, Matthew Clarke, the son of a wartime friend, arrived to see him in the last hour, so he was with us at the end.'
Ian swallows. For each member of Patrick's self-styled family the impact of his death is still sinking in. 'He's just always been there,' says Ian. 'Would he have been if Lorna had lived Who knows
'Without those twists and turns in life we might not have known him which would have been a tragedy for the three of us.'
A tragedy, in truth, for the wider world, too.