EastEnders actor Shaun Williamson has revealed that he discovered that he has a secret son, years after the boy was born.
In a real-life twist worthy of a soap plot, the actor, who played Barry Evans on the BBC soap between 1994 and 2004, found out that he had fathered a child with a former circus juggler girlfriend after his son Gary emailed him.
Speaking to The Sun on Sunday, Shaun, who also has daughter Sophie and son Joe with ex-wife Melanie Sacre, revealed that a paternity test confirmed that Gary was his child in a moment he described as "the most frightening but amazing discovery I've ever made".
"When I found out I had another son, I was stunned," the actor said. "I was shaking when I went to meet him. We shook hands, drank together, had some food, played pool and then had a big hug at the end of the night.
"He's got the same droopy eye as me when he gets tired or drunk. He's part of my family now."
Shaun has written about meeting Gary for the first time in his new book A Matter Of Facts, which documents his quest to become one of the UK's top quizmasters.
He recalled meeting his son's mother in a local pub and being "blown away", before the pair began a "fiery relationship". They got engaged six months later but split after Shaun was hired as a Pontin's Bluecoat and decided to commit himself fully to the job.
A few months later she told him that she was pregnant but said that she had been in a new relationship and that her new partner was being named as the father, which Shaun said he reacted to with "a mixture of guilt and relief".
But in 2013 the actor, who has also starred in Extras, received an email saying: "It's Gary, from your circus days – can we talk?"
"My first reaction was one of terror. It was like something from deep in my past had caught up with me," Shaun said. "When we emailed and spoke, I was racked with all emotions, guilt, insecurity. He said 'Hi, my name's Gary, I'm in Northern Ireland. I've been told you're my dad'."
A DNA test proved that Gary was indeed Shaun's son, with Shaun saying that "when the results came back that there was a 99.999 per cent match, it all fell into place. I called him and said, 'We're father and son, we need to meet'."
After receiving his family's blessing, the actor travelled to Belfast to meet Gary for the first time, calling it a "surreal experience".
"I could immediately see the similarity. We hit it off straight away," he said. "Gary had brought an envelope of pictures, from school ones to his attempts in the circus. He said he understood, saying the last thing he would've wanted at 22 was a baby. In the coming weeks I invited him to meet my family.
"We now see him four or five times a year. He gets on so well with Joe and Sophie. And he's moved to England now to be closer. He's a lovely lad, great fun and very funny. It's quite amazing. He said he never thought in a million years that Barry from EastEnders could be his dad."
The actor also spoke about being typecast after playing loveable but dim Barry for 10 years, saying that he has struggled to shake the character.
"The problem with being typecast is that you never know what it costs you until later. I loved being on the show and am so grateful for what it gave me but they went through a phase of dressing me up in silly costumes," he said.
"I was a big chicken, a dinosaur at Halloween and I was eating mammoth Mexican meals for the camera... and I just thought, 'I might have had enough of this'."
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