It’s a freezing cold Saturday morning. But instead of being at home, relaxing over the newspaper with a freshly brewed coffee, I’m shivering on the touchline of a muddy school rugby pitch.
Having recently turned 67, this wasn’t exactly what I’d had in mind for this stage of my life. Wasn’t the plan to work remotely from the sun deck of a holiday home in the hills above Cannes? Lightly tanned, a few rounds of golf pencilled in the diary with the odd cheeky glass of pastis.
After all, with two ex-wives, the same number of adult children, and decades of hard-won career success as the man the media christened “Mr Loophole” for winning cases for celebrities based on legal technicalities, surely I’d earned it?
Yet, as the old saying goes: man plans, and God laughs. All thanks to a remarkable 13-year-old boy called Pierce, who has changed my life beyond recognition. And although my working life remains busy representing high-profile clients, forget those other hedonistic ambitions. Instead, my time is balanced between parents’ evenings, being a taxi driver to varied extra-curricular activities and, yes, freezing on the rugby pitch.
Of course, there’s nothing new about being a late onset father. The celebrity world (my clients numbered among them) offers countless examples of greying patriarchs showcasing their autumnal virility. The difference is Pierce was only legally declared my son a month ago following an 18-month adoption process.
Since the average age of an adopter in the UK is 38 years old, and the median age of children at adoption is around three-and-a-half years, I clearly buck the statistics. Not least at 7am when I’m poaching eggs and making Pierce’s breakfast before he races out to school.
Yet as soon as he and I first met in 2019 – shortly after I began seeing his mother, my partner Melissa – I knew there was something special about this then eight-year-old child.
Sure, Pierce was cute, cheeky, quick-witted and deeply affectionate (I still reel from the strength of his hugs). But his saucer-like eyes peered out at the world with profound emotional intelligence. I felt like he knew me. That we shared an instinctive urge to forge a special bond. Best expressed when this tender-hearted young boy told me several months after our first meeting that although my other two children were made by me, he was made FOR me. I was absolutely overwhelmed.
Maybe in part it was because he’d never known his biological dad – who split up with Melissa when Pierce was two and hasn’t been in touch with his son since. Meanwhile, with two children of my own – Ben now aged 29 and Sophie 32 – I found myself unexpectedly poleaxed by feelings of profound kinship with this fatherless child. All of which was strengthened by our mutual love of golf, dogs, cars and chess. Whatever I liked, Pierce liked too. To his mother’s joy and bemusement, we became inseparable.
The rapid evolution of our relationship was partly circumstantial. Shortly after meeting Melissa, a counsellor and former TV presenter, Covid struck. She and Pierce moved into my Cheshire home in March 2020 so that we could bubble together during lockdown. Thrown in at the fabled deep end, I found myself being rapidly reacquainted with the joys and frustrations of parenting.
Part of the challenge was because – hands up – I’m an unapologetic lover of detail. It’s a character trait which has served me well in my legal career as I’ve drilled down into obscure aspects of the law to net some rather memorable victories. Not least David Beckham (charged with speeding, but I argued he was escaping the paparazzi), Sir Alex Ferguson (driving along the hard shoulder, but exculpated after I explained the legendary Manchester United manager had a seriously bad stomach) and Jimmy Carr (who escaped conviction for using his mobile behind the wheel when I made it clear he was using it to record a joke, not to make a phone call).
But while having a forensic eye yields success in the courtroom it also makes it hard going for those who come into my life. I can’t help but notice the tiniest fingerprints on the glass coffee table or minute smudges on the kitchen surface. Meanwhile, given the demanding nature of my work, my lakeside home, with its spotless marble floors and mathematically plumped cushions must be a haven of order and tranquillity.
But try telling a boisterous little boy that he’s now living with someone not only badged as Britain’s highest-profile lawyer but who also has Britain’s lowest bar when it comes to patience and disorder.
Suddenly my world was upended with huge amounts of food, mess and broken bits of furniture. It took quite some time to learn to readjust to the new reality of having a small child in the house.
That’s not to say that I’m not inherently family-minded. I was just long out of practice. After I married my first wife, Steph, a model, in 1991 we were keen to have children. Happily, she was more than content to stay at home when they were born since by then I was a partner at a large law practice and making a name for myself winning cases for local celebrities. As a dad I’d say that, back then, I was “good” but absent. When I was free, I gave the kids my all – walks, trips to the play park, sport. But they spent a lot of time staring at my back as I’d be engrossed in client files. Even when we were away, I’d sit on the beach utterly absorbed by legal papers.
In 1999, when Sophie was eight and Ben was four, I set up my own law firm. It was a terrifying move but, thankfully, even bigger names were coming to call (I still remember Sophie answering the phone when David Beckham rang our house and she was stunned into uncharacteristic silence after realising the identity of the caller).
Trials took me all over the country – I was away at least three nights a week. Every night was like preparing for an exam the following day. Footballers, rock stars, politicians and aristocrats employed my services. And although the schedule was gruelling, I loved it. The more cases I won the more addicted I became to the pursuit of victory.
As for family life? Well, I’d do my best to get to, say, nativity plays. But an A-lister client isn’t going to cut short their evidence so that their lawyer can get back to his five-year-old playing a tomato in the school concert.
Both Ben and Sophie went to boarding school when they were 13 because I wanted them to have a more rounded, independent experience, just as I’d had. My children were excited to go and it’s a decision I don’t regret. I’m gratified that they tell me they had a lovely childhood. But, sadly, my 20-year marriage began to unravel. Finally, Steph and I split up in 2010. It seemed that all those courtroom wins came at quite a price.
Divorce is devastating– and would be something I would go on to experience again with a second, much shorter marriage. But though I always hoped I’d meet someone special to share my life with – as I have with Melissa – the idea of being a parent again had not been on the agenda. As I told every woman I dated in my post-divorce, single days: “Commitment? Yes. Babies? Absolutely not!”
That’s why I didn’t see it coming when, 18 months into our relationship, I felt an overwhelming urge to adopt Pierce – to Melissa’s shock and delight. The pragmatic part of me was doing it for clarity. I didn’t want to introduce Pierce to others as my partner’s son. I felt he was mine too. But beneath this was something visceral. I wanted to articulate my bond with this wonderful boy, to enshrine a commitment that would span our lifetime and cross generations. We were all overjoyed when the adoption was signed and sealed last month.
I’m often told how much Pierce must appreciate what I’ve done for him – though he wickedly jokes that the first time we met he thought of me as this grey-haired little man limping in to see him. Indeed his schoolmates have assured me that I’m the oldest dad in Pierce’s year – if not the whole school.
But when it comes to gratitude, the direction of travel runs the other way. My heart is full when I think of what Pierce has done for me. Through him I am better and calmer. He completes me. We laugh till our stomachs hurt yet intuitively connect when speaking about deeper matters.
All three of my children are the source of my greatest pride. Their love is worth more than any courtroom win. But Pierce is also proof that blood doesn’t have to be thicker than water. I didn’t make him. But, oh, how he has made me.
Interview by Angela Epstein