Inside Julie Andrews' Tragic And Tumultuous Childhood

With a four-octave range, Julie Andrews is without a doubt one of the greatest singers and magnetic presences of her generation, both on the stage and on the screen. As Mary Poppins in the 1964 Disney adaptation of the same name, Andrews extolled the virtues of optimism, and maintaining a positive outlook (via IMDb). From a childhood spent enduring the German Blitz of London during World War II, to several traumatic experiences from her younger years, no one knew the value of these traits better than Andrews herself.

A gifted singer and performer from a young age, few people realized just how rough Julie Andrews' childhood was until the singer and actress published her 2008 memoir, "Home: A Memoir of My Early Years." On writing the book, Andrews told ABC News, "A couple of moments were very hard. But it seemed that if I was going to write it, I'd better do it as truthfully as I could." Andrews nonetheless overcame these obstacles to become one of the most beloved performers of our time.

Andrews grew up in World War II-era London

Born Julia Elizabeth Wells in England in 1935, Andrews was raised by her mother and stepfather, Barbara Ward Morris and Ted Andrews, both of whom were also performers. Barbara divorced the man Julie believed was her real father at the outset of World War II and later remarried. It was through Ted Andrews that young Julie had her first singing lessons. At that point, Andrews could finally show off her incredible range and lovely tone. She soon sang with her parents in their vaudeville act (via Achievement).  Andrews experienced all of this against the terror of the London Blitz.

For eight months, from September 1940 to May 1941, Germany's Luftwaffe subjected strategic targets in the U.K — including the London of Julie Andrews' childhood — to massive bombing raids. During this period, many children were evacuated to the English countryside. For those left behind, bomb shelters were built and the period was otherwise pure terror. Food shortages and rationing were common, among other hardships. By the end of the Blitz, an estimated 43,000 people were killed and more than a million structures were damaged or no longer standing, as Britannica notes.

Both of Andrews' parents were alcoholics

In addition to the stress and fear caused by the war, both Julie Andrews' mother and stepfather were alcoholics and abusive toward her and toward one another. Andrews would eventually adopt his stepdaughter, and before long, she performed with her parents live on stage, entertaining the troops. On one momentous occasion, she sang for Queen Elizabeth, later the Queen Mother (above) to Queen Elizabeth II after her coronation.

After performing for Queen Mother, Andrews recalled curtsying for the British royal before she was told, "'You sang beautifully tonight' ... It was my first taste of celebrity," Andrews later wrote in her book. The pride and joy that Andrews felt at this moment was not long lasting. Also around this same time, her maternal grandparents died young from syphilis, which her grandfather caught and then gave to her grandmother. Of her mother's death, Andrews later said (via ABC News), "Her father was an alcoholic and abusive to her, so no wonder she chose an abusive guy."

If you or anyone you know is struggling with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

She went professional at a young age

Shortly thereafter, Andrews, called "the pig-tailed prodigy," was working professionally and contributing money to support her family. In 1946, she appeared on British radio singing alongside Ted Andrews, and shortly thereafter she performed in London's West End at only 12 years old. One point of pride from Andrews' early years was when she sang "Mignon" for King George VI at the London Palladium, the youngest performer to ever appear at a Royal Command performance. Other young professional credits for Andrews include making regular TV appearances in the 1950s (via Achievement).

Julie Andrews career on the big screen would have to wait a while longer, though. The London office of Hollywood studio ​​Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer gave her a screen test but passed on signing her. Nevertheless, teenaged Julie Andrews remained busy performing in what were called "pantos," or pantomimes, each holiday season. Roles she performed during this period include Little Red Riding Hood, as well as parts in "Aladdin" and "Jack and the Beanstalk." In addition to these roles, Andrews also performed with her parents and solo. Due to her busy schedule, she never finished high school nor did she ever go to college (per Good News Network).

There were inappropriate advances from her stepfather

One of the most tragic events of Julie Andrews' young life happened when she was just 15 years old, as she records in her memoir, "Home." It was at this point when her stepfather, Ted Andrews, made inappropriate sexual advances toward his teenage stepdaughter while he was drunk. In her book, Andrews calls the experience horrible. It was so traumatic, in fact, that she had to put a bolt on her door to keep him out. "I really must teach you how to kiss properly," he allegedly said (via ABC News).

This was not the first time Ted Andrews tried to molest his stepdaughter. When Julie Andrews was only 9, he purportedly invited her into bed with him on a cold evening while her mother was away, according to The Daily Mail. "Let's have a cuddle," her stepfather is alleged to have said. Once she reluctantly joined him, he said, "I'll show you how I cuddle with mummy," according to Andrews. Claiming to have grown too hot, Andrews escaped and returned to her own bed before things could progress. "Something about it didn't feel right to me at all," Andrews later wrote in her book.

If you or someone you know may be the victim of child abuse, please contact the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-4-A-Child (1-800-422-4453) or contact their live chat services.

She barely knew her real dad

As well as those inappropriate sexual advances from her own stepfather, Julie Andrews received another shocking revelation regarding her real father. At the age of 14, she was brought by her mother to a social engagement where the young singer was introduced to a man whom she was told was her biological father. That man was not Edward Wells, the man her mother divorced when Julie was seven. Despite the split, Andrews still considered Wells to be her true father, and the revelation that he wasn't came as a shock. (Andrews has never revealed the name of her true biological father, according to ABC News.)

Remembering this time, Andrews later said (via ABC News) that she only met her real dad twice and corresponded a few times with him throughout her life. "I didn't know if my dad knew that he was my father, so I never could talk about it with him. What if he didn't know? Why would I hurt him? What if it wasn't true?" Andrews said. All this combined with her own mother's later issues with mental health and depression left Andrews afraid she, too, might suffer a breakdown. She wrote in her book that at the age of 14(via Daily Mail), "I began to hear voices in my head at night, a crazy chatter, and I worried that I might go mad,"