Sir Michael Caine has had immense respect for women all his life and he is grateful to them for shaping him as the person he became. Whether it was his mother, a teacher from his childhood, his Hollywood agent or his wife, Shakira, they have all been crucial to his life and career. But the woman he has the most respect for is his mother, Ellen Maria Burchell, for the secrets she kept to protect him.
In his book, Blowing The Bloody Doors Off, he writes that his mom “had a hard life but, unlike my father, she was not weighed down with bitterness and self-pity,” according to Belfast Telegraph. They lived in a slum and she worked as a cleaner for most of her life. And, then there was one struggle she had to go through all alone.
In 1991, when he was in Los Angeles, the Alfie actor got a phone call from a reporter telling him about a half-brother he had no knowledge about. The half-brother, David Burchell, was in a mental institution and it was confirmed that he was his mother’s child. Burchell was born out of wedlock to his mother six years before she met Caine’s father, Maurice Micklewhite, according to Deseret. His strong mother visited her eldest son every Monday without them ever finding out.
“She obviously had an affair, and she didn’t meet my father until… (later). And so she hid the boy. What happened was, he was born okay, but medically he was treated badly and something went wrong. My mother kept her secret for 30 years. She went every week and visited him and none of us never knew. My dad knew nothing about this whatsoever,” Caine said to Belfast Telegraph.
“I remember my mother telling me when I was a teenager that she was going to visit a cousin there (Cane Hill mental hospital),” he was quoted as saying by UPI. “But even then she did a really good cover-up. She told me it was a woman cousin who was mentally ill and that she had to go and see. That must have been my brother,” he said.
She tried to do for her disabled son what she couldn’t when he was born. Burchell had a hip injury during childbirth and that confined him to a wheelchair for life. He was then given up to foster care but he suffered from epilepsy. After an epileptic attack, he became disabled and had been shuttled across institutions before being confined to the Cane Hill mental hospital at the age of 17, according to UPI. While Caine did not know about his half brother, that wasn’t the case for his elder brother. His mother had told Burchell about Caine and given him a photo of his brother. The proud elder brother used to tell fellow patients and staff about his actor brother.
“I suppose none of the people looking after David told me because my mother insisted that they keep it a secret… I am going to do whatever I can for him. I have the money to take care of him,” said the Dark Knight actor, who grew up in an East End slum.
Burchell was 66 when Caine found out about him and his mother had passed away by then. So, he “built up a relationship” with him. Years later, when he was talking about his half-brother, he said that he “improved things for him a little bit.” Burchell died in 1991 and Caine buried his ashes with his mother’s.
Instead of being angry at his mother, the discovery “made her even more of a powerful woman.” He continued to see her as a force of nature. In 2009, he told the Guardian, “It didn’t bother me. I have a motto: never worry about anything you can’t change.”
“To have been able to have done that for this boy who was never going to get better, who was never going to be any advantage to her, or go to work, make any money or anything. She was incredible, my mother,” he told Belfast Telegraph.