Motor-bike rider, sports fanatic, life-saver, frustrated father, Nobel Peace Prize-winner. Dead at 90, but larger than life, says Archbishop Tutu’s only son.

2 February 2022 By Paul Martin

Exclusive: By Paul Martin in Cape Town.

Trevor Tutu, the only son of anti-apartheid legend Archbishop Desmond Tutu, has spoken of his dad’s amazing life – including how the future world icon took his son to an England World Cup match on the back of a scooter!

In an emotional wide-ranging interview Trevor Tutu spoke to Correspondent.World about his father’s last hours alive, which, he said, were like a “Hollywood movie”. Archbishop Tutu died at his Cape Town home on Boxing Day, aged 90.

As well as his dad’s bravery as an anti-apartheid activist, Trevor recalled amusing times, including how Nelson Mandela slept in his bed just after being freed from jail in 1990 “and stole my favourite West Ham shirt.”

Trevor Tutu in Cape Town in 2022. All photos Copyright Paul Martin/ Correspondent.World

Trevor joked that he considered reporting it to the South African police, but after Mandela had just spent 26 years in prison he knew “they wouldn’t be interested in any investigation.”

Trevor spoke about living with one of the world’s greatest ever leaders and how his father was always humble — though occasionally ill-tempered.

“My dad was an incredible man who had an amazing love of people,” said Trevor.

“He had great moral principles and a sense of right and wrong.

“But on the rare occasions he was wrong he was always big enough to say ‘sorry’.

“I want people to see my father as a human being with human frailties — not just as a saint-like figure.

 “He could be explosive.  Sometimes my father would be frightening — especially when he got the feeling that people were being denigrated.

“But he had so many redeeming qualities.

“I acknowledge I’ve been a difficult though loving son. But my father never wanted to disown me, 

September 1983: Desmond Tutu and Trevor Tutu, kissing Leah Tutu.
Above: Trevor Tutu (right) with his parents. 

“As he became more involved in his church and political missions, I was sometimes robbed of his attention.   But he cared for all of us.  And he taught me to care.   In England our family was as poor as a church mouse, but we never felt deprived. He would take us on picnics, to the beach, to sports matches. He made us feel we lived a rich life.

“I learned so much from my father, especially his attitude to others.  He taught me the nobility of people — from the street-sweeper to the shop assistant. `Look into their souls and you will see God,’ he would tell me.

“He was a physically courageous man – despite his size.

“I remember he was in the car one day when he saw a mob had caught a man they suspected was a .spy’, an informant.

“The mob were about to necklace him.  That means putting a tyre around a person’s neck and setting it on fire killing the victim.

“My dad inserted himself between the screaming mob.  The first time he saved the life of a man and the second time a woman.”

Trevor, 66, has very fond memories of his time living with his dad in England in the 1960s and 1970s when his father started his religious career as a young prelate in the Anglican church.

He recalled:  “Of course then my dad was just plain ‘Joe Soap’ then – not famous around the world.

[OMIT:“He really loved his football, cricket and rugby.”]

“He loved West Ham United – I think it was because of Bobby Moore, Martin Peters and Geoff Hurst.

“I remember he got two tickets for the World Cup semi final in 1966 between England and Portugal.

“It’s hard to believe, but we went by scooter to Wembley.

“He drove and I was sitting on the back.  I can’t have been much more than eight or nine.

“We were at the end where Gordon Banks made that famous save from Eusebio.”

For Trevor his great hero was Bermuda star Clyde Best – one of the first black players to become successful in England.

“I loved Clyde Best,” he said.

“I loved going to Upton Park – I remember going to George Best’s testimonial between West Ham and Fulham.

“West Ham were the living embodiment of my life.”

He then quoted a line from the club’s famous “bubbles song” … “and like my dreams they fade and die.”

Trevor recalled how his dad never lost his love of riding a motor bike even when he became famous.

Although his riding exploits became rarer as his security increased.

“But I do remember when he once picked up the South African ambassador to Ireland on his bike and raced off,” laughed Trevor.

“She couldn’t believe it.”

And Trevor gave Correspondent.World an incredible insight into Nelson Mandela’s astonishing attention to detail in the hours after he was finally freed in 1990.

After making a rousing speech to a massive ecstatic crowd in the city centre ‘Madiba’ (as Mandela was known in South Africa) had been whisked off to spend his first night of freedom in Archbishop Tutu’s residence in Cape Town.

“At the time I had a small apartment alongside the main house and Madiba actually slept in my bed. I was consigned to a small room in the big house itself.

“When he got up the next morning I remember him walking in to the main house’s sitting room and saying: “Trevor how are you?’
“Somehow he knew who I was. While in prison he must have studied my father’s family tree. Amazing!

“But what was very funny was: when he left I couldn’t find my favourite West Ham shirt.  I think Madiba must have taken it!”

Trevor joked:  “I should have got the police and authorities involved to investigate! But I don’t think they would have shown much interest!”

Trevor spoke movingly about his dad’s last hours.

“I saw him on Christmas Day – the day before he died,” he recalled.

“The doctors told us it was a matter of days and he died the next.

“It wasn’t like a road traffic accident or something sudden like that and we are grateful he had such a full life — and that we all had a chance to saying good-bye.

“My last memory was standing at the foot of his bed.

“The current Archbishop of Cape Town, a close personal friend of my dad, was saying a prayer.

“You could actually see my father’s lips moving according to the words of the prayer.“ At the right moment, my father actually lifted his hand to give sign of the cross.

“He couldn’t have done it better if he was doing a Hollywood movie!!!”

Trevor recalled enjoying life with his mum and dad in North London.

“When we arrived in London we didn’t speak a word of English just Xhosa but we quickly learnt.

“We lived in Golders Green and went to school there.

“I have very fond memories indeed of my time with my dad in England – and endless birthday parties.

“Growing up, I shared a passion with my father — not just for football, but also for cricket.  My father was a right-hand batsman who also, unusually, bowled leg spin left-handed.

“On one occasion, my father let me, a pre-teenage kid, play in a crunch cricket match for the ‘Rest of the World Clergy’ against the English clergy.“

My father and I opened the batting.  I was playing so well, like a kid Ted Dexter with my cover-drives.  Then my father ran me out.  Afterwards, he was too embarrassed to come inside the clubhouse for tea.  And my mum was livid. She warned him that while she might be averse to divorce she had no strong feelings against murder!

“In general, though, sport taught me the same lessons my father was trying to drum into me,” Trevor recalls.

“I first started realising how people should not be judged by outside appearances when, as a young student, I went to watch my favourite football team, West Ham United, play away  against Arsenal in a muddy FA Cup quarter-final.  I had accidentally been standing among Arsenal fans, and when we scored I leaped up and exulted with more hang-time than Michael Jordan.  As I landed I realised I was in very hostile territory.  

“I was really scared, especially as an Arsenal fan, with huge muscles and tattoos loomed over me and said: “Oi you!’ But he became my saviour.  He insisted on escorting me from the ground as the match finished and protected me till I was on the Tube.  Mind you, he advised me: ‘Never come this way again!’   

“West Ham won that match 2-0, and went on to capture the 1975 FA Cup.  It was my most ecstatic sporting moment  — apart from South Africa winning the Rugby World Cup in 1995 at Ellis Park, not far from our Soweto home.

“Yes, a love for sport was one thing that bound me and my father together. 

“He was, as they say in cricket, a true all-rounder.”

Both Trevor and his father became increasingly disillusioned about the way the leadership of the post-apartheid country was heading. The Archbishop memorably called it the “gravy train” of corruption and jobs for the boys. Painfully, both Trevor and the Archbishop ended their allegiance to the African National Congress despite their decades as enthusiastic supporters of the liberation struggle it led.

Yet Trevor says he’s been heartened by the way people have responded since ‘The Arch’ died.

“You know what’s cheering me up somewhat? The reaction of people from all racial backgrounds and all classes to my father’s death.  

“Since my father died I’ve seen white people in tears outside the Cathedral.  I saw a white guy comforting a black woman, his arms around her shoulders.

“People here have been exclaiming joyously.  Despite our serious political shortcomings, this is still what my father called us: the Rainbow Nation.”