As he crossed the cold concourse of Preston train station on a snowy January day back in the 1990s, John Chambers knew the small stranger in the distance was his mother.
Her build, her face, the way she braced herself from the cold - it was all instantly familiar.
Yet John had not seen his mum for more than 25 years.
Now another 25 years on, the product of a once-taboo 'mixed marriage', who grew up in Belfast's loyalist Glencairn estate, is set to publish a book about his remarkable story - and opens up for the first time about losing his mum Sally McBride, the Catholic woman he spent years of his childhood believing was already dead.
"I'm nervous about the book and how it will be received, but it's been a lifetime in the making," said John (54).
"It was a very long road to discover who my mother was, and in doing so I was able to let go of a lot of the ghosts from my childhood that had troubled me for a lot of years.
"I was able to let go of the prejudices I'd grown up with, and thankfully, I got more than two decades with her to make up for the time we'd lost."
John's incredible story began with the ill-fated love story between his parents, John Snr and Sally, who married in 1962.
From different backgrounds - John, from the loyalist Shankill Road and his young Catholic bride from the Falls - the sweethearts' relationship was frowned upon by their families and in the years that followed, tension between their communities quickly ratcheted up.
As children arrived on the scene - John Jnr was the third of four to arrive in 1966 - the young parents did what they could to shield them from the escalating tensions.
But when little John was diagnosed with bone disease at just 18 months old, the pressures mounted and his parents' marriage broke up.
"As a small child, I spent a lot of time in hospital," said John, who now has more than 15,000 followers on Twitter as 'Belfast Child', which is also the title of his book, out next week.
"At first they would both be there to see me, but eventually my mum just stopped coming to visit.
"The memories are vague, but I believe at one point she took me from the hospital, and brought me and one sister with her to London," he recalls. "As far as I understand, she came back to Belfast with us and later took all four of us back."
But while young John, then aged around four, believed they were going on holiday, in fact it was his mother's hope to start a new life with her children in London.
But her plan wasn't to be. Soon, John's dad arrived and took the children home, leaving Sally in England.
"I was so young, my memories aren't clear," said John, who works in sales and marketing.
"But we moved to Glencairn with my dad from the house we'd all lived at in the Grosvenor Road area, and Mum was out of the picture. We were told she had died in a car crash and that we didn't have to talk about it. That was it."
Growing up in the Glencairn estate, loyalist culture played a big part in John's upbringing.
"I loved it," recalled John. "My dad was in charge of the Glencairn accordion band and the Twelfth of July, the Eleventh night, for years they were some of the biggest days on my calendar."
When his father passed away aged 39 from lung cancer, John was just 10.
"It was devastating," he recalled. "We were essentially orphans because now my dad was gone, as well as my mum."
In the years that followed though, as he and his siblings moved between relatives in Belfast, the youngster heard rumours that perhaps his mother was still alive.
"When people had a drink, they'd say 'Their mother 'is' rather than 'was' living in England', and things like that," recalled John.
"I began to realise she might be out there somewhere. Before my dad died, I'd never felt like I missed her. My life had been so busy and happy, but all of a sudden, I felt lost without her."
However, John admitted, the realisation around the same time that his mother was a Catholic, was an immediate source of shame.
"When I found out, I was horrified. I was scared of the stigma and kids in the estate finding out. So on the one hand I was over the moon to think she was alive, but disgusted she was Catholic."
After troubled teenage years, when John turned to drugs and found himself on the fringes of loyalist paramilitaries, aged 18 he took the boat to England.
"As I'd got older I'd hit the Mod scene in Belfast," he recalled. "I met more and more Catholics that way and realised we were all just pawns in this bigger game. By the time I was 18 I wanted out, so I left for London."
Already, though, he had made a couple of attempts to track down his mum.
"I met a woman through work who put me in touch with a Catholic priest who I thought might help," he continued. "But I didn't have any information, not even her name, so it came to nothing.
"I even wrote to Dear Deirdre in The Sun, and she advised me to go to the Salvation Army, which I did. But that came to nothing, too."
It was in the mid-90s that everything changed.
"It was the strangest coincidence but a family acquaintance was on holiday in America when they met a couple from Boston, who were originally from the Falls," explained John. "The woman was my mum's sister."
The friend brought a letter home to John's sister in Belfast - and soon John was on a call to his aunt in America.
"It was bizarre because we'd never spoken to any of our Catholic relatives," he said.
"But it was amazing because she said my mum was alive, and that she missed us. She said she was in the north of England and that she'd get her to call me."
John remembers sitting by the phone at his north London flat for three hours waiting for his mum to call.
"She said, 'It's Sally, it's your mum,'" he remembers. "I broke down, it was so emotional. We talked for hours and arranged to meet.
"I went with my brother that January to Preston where she lived and when we got to the station there were loads of people but all I could see was this one woman and I just knew it was her. When she saw us she ran, and we fell into each other's arms."
After an emotional meal at a restaurant with Sally and her husband Dennis, John's bond with his mother grew.
In 2005, he and wife Simone moved to Preston, where they lived around corner from Sally until she died two years ago with their children Autumn, 21, and 13-year-old Jude.
"We were very close," said John. "We had a wonderful relationship, which became even closer when we moved to Preston after Dennis, an amazing man, passed away.
"She was a wonderful grandmother. I'd see her with the kids and it always struck me what a natural she was with them and how happy they made each other. It made me sad too though, because of what we'd missed out on."
Then, after more than 20 years since their reunion, Sally was diagnosed with cancer.
"It was devastating, but we'd been able to make up for a lot of that lost time," said John.
"I was with her when she passed away, and after being a Christian in Belfast until I was 15 or 16, some of that faith is still there in me.
"I hope she's up there watching and willing me on when I struggle sometimes, like we all do.
"I grew up in a hard situation, but I don't feel bitterness or anger because of it. My father's family did what they had to do at what was a brutal time.
"They loved and cared for us, and as I later learned, my mum loved and cared for us too."
'A Belfast Child' by John Chambers is out on September 3, and is available to buy online now. Follow John on Twitter @bfchild66 and read his blog www.belfastchildis.com