When Paul Connolly met the half-brother he never knew he had, both were struck by the uncanny physical resemblance.
This prompted his long-lost brother Frankie Peroni, the older of the two, to say it was “like looking in a mirror”.
But both were stunned to discover the extraordinary parallels between their lives during their emotionally charged first meeting, which will be broadcast tonight on ITV’s Long Lost Family.
Not only were their two mothers Irish Catholic, the half-brothers also attended the same school in Essex at the same time – and now live just 14 miles apart.
Ahead of tonight’s show, father-of-two Paul, 60, who lives in Billericay, Essex, told The Sun: “There are so many similarities.”
On meeting Frankie, 62, he added: “When we met there was a certain intimacy.
“It wasn’t like I met anyone new. It was like I had known him forever. He is a good boy.
“He’s an old Cockney dude and I’m a slightly bigger old Cockney dude.”
Paul, a former celebrity fitness trainer who worked with supermodel Elle Macpherson and now runs a successful sports injury clinic, was born in 1962 in Stepney Green, east London.
When he was a baby, his mother had a breakdown and left him alone in a garbage can.
He recalls, “My mom threw me out with the trash when I was two weeks old.”
Luckily, a neighbor heard Paul’s screams and called social services. He was taken into care but had a difficult upbringing.
At the age of eight he was sent to St Leonard’s Children’s Home in Hornchurch, Essex, where he says he suffered physical and emotional abuse.
Paul, whose early life inspired last year’s Netflix hit Big Boys Don’t Cry, starring This Is England actor Michael Socha, says: “I’ve always hidden under my bed with a knife to protect myself.”
His birth certificate lists Matthew and Mary Connolly, Irish immigrants, as Paul’s parents.
Paul, who later gained access to his social security file, says: “They moved to the East End to make ends meet. Stepney Green was an absolute slum in the late ’60s.”
Growing up, he saw his mother only a few times and had limited contact with his seven siblings, all of whom Paul says ended up in foster care at some point – despite living in different homes to his.
But he recalls being aware that he looked different from his brother, who was “light and auburn.”
He says: “My older brother used to say to me: ‘You are Pino’s son.’ That’s been said a few times.”
Pino was a local Maltese businessman who ran a shop near where his family lived.
Paul says: “He was an entrepreneur. He had a café, a newsagent and owned property. I think he hung out with the Krays.”
He had always thought his brother was joking and hardly thought about it.
But decades later, his sons Harley, 19, and 14-year-old Archie bought him a DNA testing sampling kit as a Christmas present in 2021.
He says: “I used to say to my sons, ‘You know, you’re all Irish.'”
But he was stunned when the results showed he was half Irish, half Maltese.
He says, “The first name that came to mind was Pino.”
My older brother used to say to me, “You are Pino’s son.” That was said a few times
Paul knew the chances of finding his biological father were slim. He says: “I’ll be 61 this year, so I knew he might not be alive anymore.”
After extending DNA analysis, Long Lost Family’s special researchers discovered that Paul had a half brother and were able to track him down.
During the show, father-of-two Frankie, who runs an IT company and is a semi-professional singer-songwriter, tells presenter Nicky Campbell his father is a Maltese shopkeeper named Philip Psaila, also known as Pino.
Frankie was raised by his mother and Pino visited her occasionally before he died in 1968.
When Frankie’s mother fell ill, he was placed in foster care and for a time lived in Hornchurch, Essex, like Paul.
Amazingly, they both attended Bishop Ward, a boys-only Catholic school in Dagenham, Essex, now called All Saints Catholic School.
Paul says: “We went to the same school at the same time.
“He’s a few years older than me, so we weren’t in the same class, but we would have walked the same aisles.”
By another coincidence, their paths crossed again as they grew older.
Paul explains, “Frankie actually said to me, ‘You look familiar.'” He’s a musician, and it turns out he went to the same nightclub I worked as the front doorman.
“No doubt I would have searched him on the way there.”
Frankie’s mother passed away in 2017 while Paul’s mother passed away a few years ago.
Reflecting on the reasons his mother left him, Paul says, “My mother must have known that I would look different from the other kids.
“I think she was embarrassed that I was illegitimate. In the ’60s, that was a big deal.”
Mom had a difficult upbringing and had to do what she had to do to survive. It was probably the best she could really do
“She had a difficult upbringing and had to do what she had to do to survive. It was probably the best she could really do.”
He adds: “I probably only had about three or four conversations with my mother. She could have told me anytime, but she chose to die with it.”
The half-brothers have enjoyed getting to know each other since they first met in an Essex pub last October.
Paul says: “Frankie loves to send me a WhatsApp voice note. He was away and sent me pictures of his travels. We will have lunch soon.”
He’s also been in touch with Frankie’s daughters Gemma, 40, and Katie, 38, and hopes to one day meet her and his granddaughters Ellie, 14, and four-year-old Ayla.
Paul says, “My partner, Rebecca, met Frankie and gets along with him. My son Archie loves him.
“Harley isn’t in college, so they haven’t met yet.
“Archie is huge compared to Frankie. He’s about six feet tall and when I said, ‘That’s your uncle,’ he jokingly said, ‘What, that little bald guy?’”
Long Lost Family airs Monday 3 July at 9pm on ITV1 and ITVX.