Deep into its 12th series, BBC’s Who Do You Think You Are? – which follows celebrities as they discover their own family secrets
Genealogy has long been an area of fascination for a large percentage of the population, with people delving into official records, censuses, and family archives to discover riveting stories of intrigue, deception, murder, and love, that would make any Hollywood producer jealous.
Deep into its 12th series, BBC’s Who Do You Think You Are? – which follows celebrities as they discover their own family secrets – has shown that the history of some of the most loved and influential celebrities hasn’t always been one of glitz and glamour. Below we look at some of the interesting and heart-breaking revelations behind the success stories we see on screen:
Alan Cumming discovers the truth behind his grandfather’s death
The Scottish actor, famous for his roles in GoldenEye, X-Men 2, and Emma, had long believed that his grandfather, Thomas Darling, had been killed while cleaning his gun. However, as Cumming delved deeper into his family history, he was shocked to discover that his career-solider grandfather had actually died while playing Russian roulette!
Jerry Springer discovers that not everyone escaped the Nazi’s
The famed originator of car-crash talk-shows was born at Highgate railway station in London while it was being used as a shelter from German bombing during the Second World War. As a result, in adulthood he had long known that his Jewish parents had escaped from Nazi Germany just three days prior to the official declaration of war. It was while delving deeper into this area of family history on the show that he found out that his grandmothers hadn’t been so fortunate – one died in a Prague ghetto while the other was killed in an extermination camp in Poland.
Lesley Garrett discovers the truth behind a family secret
The truth behind Lesley Garrett’s great-great-grandfather had long been a family secret, hidden from everyone from her father on down, and while delving into her family history on the show, the soprano singer and CBE finally discovered the truth behind the sorry tale. Charles Garrett had been a butcher and farmer in Thorne, South Yorkshire, and all fingers pointed to the fact he had killed his wife using carbolic acid. While a coroner’s report recorded a verdict of accidental death due to a mix-up of medication, the remaining family suspected foul play and cut off all contact with Charles.
Patsy Kensit discovers how far into her roots criminality goes
It has long been known that Patsy’s father, Jimmy Kensit, was an integral part of the Kray gang in the 60s, so when Patsy began her genealogy investigation it was with certain apprehension. Looking into the murky past, Patsy analysed her father’s criminal record while also discovering her grandfather had been a prolific criminal too, but as a relief to her she discovered that was as far back as the criminal influence went – her great-grandfather had been a walking stick maker and an ancestor further back had been a vicar who had dedicated himself to assisting the poor.
Jeremy Paxman discovers hardship and poverty
While we’re used to seeing Paxman grilling politicians in his Newsnight days and demeaning students on University Challenge, Who Do You Think You Are showed us a different side to the presenter. In delving into his family history, Paxman discovered that his great-grandmother had been left penniless to raise 11 children by herself in a one-room flat in Glasgow. What makes this situation more heart-breaking is that she had been denied her husband’s army pension after he died from kidney disease, and she was also turned down for poor relief after an anonymous letter said she had birthed an illegitimate child. The hardships faced by his great-grandmother reduced an angry Paxman to tears.
Matthew Pinsent is Tudor Royalty
The Olympic gold medallist and sports broadcaster had a colourful and tragic family history, featuring the death of three great uncles in the First World War and ties to the opium trade via a Shanghai firm. But as Pinsent traced his genealogy further and further back his family appeared to grow in stature, culminating in the discovery that he was related to Lord William Howard, the uncle of Catherine Howard AKA the fifth wife of Henry VIII.
Natasha Kaplinsky discovers her father’s courage
The former newsreader and inaugural winner of Strictly Come Dancing had long known that her father, Raphael, had grown up in South Africa and had been forced to leave on 24 hours notice but had never found out what the true story behind his exile. Travelling to Cape Town University, Kaplinsky discovered through letters and newspapers that her father had led demonstrations in support of a black lecturer at the university and had been marked for death by apartheid forces as a result.
Is your story as interesting as these examples? Genealogy is growing in popularity as a hobby, and our diploma can provide you with all the tools to delve into your ancestry. Find out what secrets your family history holds by signing up today.