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As far as the Olympic committee members were concerned it was an unplanned stop in an already busy schedule.

But for Sebastian Coe, it was a profoundly personal pilgrimage to discover a part of his heritage.

Vera may have been strong-willed enough to flout the racial taboos of the time and marry the man she loved, but the challenges of life in India eventually got the better of her.

After six largely unhappy years she set sail with her daughters back to London.‘She never told us why she left and we were too young to really understand, but obviously the marriage had broken down,’ Sheila says.

I don’t think she particularly enjoyed her stay there.‘It was very unusual at that time to have racially mixed relationships, especially between a white woman and an Indian man – either in London or India.‘The ex-pats over there treated her very badly. From what little I know, the Lal family were comfortably off rather than hugely wealthy.’By all accounts Sardari was a bon viveur with many friends and extravagant tastes.

They looked down on her for having married a ‘native’. An old friend of his, who was then the Delhi chief of police, has told Lord Coe that his grand-father would often drive his imported Cadillac the wrong way up a main street after a night out.

Sheila says her father spent more time enjoying the bright lights of London than attending his university course.

I also have a strong physical resemblance to one of my Indian cousins and, supposedly, to my grand-father Sardari.

‘He was among the first wave of educated Indian men who came to London in the 1920s to study at university.

I’ve known about him since I was about nine years old, but I can’t say that I know very much about his life.

My mother didn’t talk much about him even though she lived in India for years.

‘I know that they lived in London for a while before Angela and I were born,’ says Sheila. ‘I was about six when we joined him in Delhi some time in the Thirties.

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