As always, the celebrity family history show will explore a wide variety of stories, and this time promises everything from clog-wearing rope dancers and Scottish royalty to murder trials and tragic accidents. As well as a variety of locations across the UK and Ireland, the journeys the show’s researchers take the participants on will visit Canada, Australia, Jamaica and the Netherlands.
The precise running order hasn’t been released yet but here’s your at-a-glance guide to the names and faces featured in this latest series.
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Lesley Manville is one of Britain’s most popular actresses, part of the star-studded cast of The Crown and currently in the lead role in the BBC’s twisty crime drama Magpie Murders. Born in Brighton to a taxi driver and a ballet dancer, Lesley initially trained as a singer before turning to acting, and before she made her name as a Shakespearian stage actress and then a star of the big and small screen, she was in 80 episodes of what was then Emmerdale Farm in the 1970s. In WDYTYA, Lesley explores the story of her grandparents and learns how an ancestor standing up for workers’ rights ended up paying a high price for their campaigning.
Lesley’s fellow star from The Crown (albeit from an earlier series) Claire Foy also features in the new series. As well as playing the young Queen Elizabeth II in that show, Claire has already made her mark in another significant historical royal role, as Anne Boleyn in Wolf Hall. She was born in Stockport but her mother Caroline’s roots are firmly in Ireland, particularly Dublin and Kildare. In WYDYTA, Claire’s story is far from regal, although it’s certainly one of high drama, as she learns that her family were caught up in a murdertrial.
Claire has spoken in the past about her love of Irish dancing inherited from her mother’s family; meanwhile another of her WDYTYA co-stars is a professional dancer. Kevin Clifton was a mainstay of Strictly Come Dancing from 2013 to 2020, and won series 16 in 2018, although he has since branched out into acting and also has a property investment business. His parents Keith and Judy were world champion dancers. Kevin grew up in rural Lincolnshire but his WDYTYA journey ultimately takes him across the world to a remote corner of Canada.
Dance connects a third of the new series’ participants, too: Chris Ramsay. As well as being an actor, comedian, TV presenter and popular podcaster, he reached the semi-finals of series 17 of Strictly. With a working-class background, Chris was born in South Shields, and started his comedy career nearby in Newcastle upon Tyne in 2007. In Who Do You Think You Are?, Chris learns about some remarkable stories of survival in challenging circumstances in his family history although one ancestor fared rather better as the winner of an unusual lottery.
There’s another comedy actor in the series line-up, too: Emily Atack, who made her name in the teenage comedy series The Inbetweeners and has since been in a variety of other comedy shows. Entertainment is clearly in her bones as she is the daughter of actress and singer Kate Robbins and pop musician Keith Atack. There are numerous other comedians and actors in her glitzy family tree, and she is even a cousin of Sir Paul McCartney. And in fact her episode of WDYTYA will explore yet another famous family link, as it turns out she has a sporting connection to Hollywood star Ryan Reynolds. He is the owner of Wrexham Football Club, and it transpires that Emily’s great-grandfather was a pioneer of football in Wales.
It’s back to Ireland again in the family tree of DJ Devin ‘Dev’ Griffin, whose mother, like Claire Foy’s, came from Ireland and his father’s roots meanwhile are from Jamaica. As well as his music career, including a former stint at Radio 1, Dev has acted, is yet another Strictly veteran, and now has a radio show on Heart. WDYTYA takes him to his father’s homeland, where he learns some notable personal details about the lives of his great-grandparents.
Stepping away from the word of the arts, another celebrity in the upcoming series is Edward Michael Grylls, better known as Bear Grylls. The adventurer, writer and presenter known for his love of the wilderness nonetheless has grown up in famous institutions. He was educated at Eton, his father being a Tory MP from a landed Dorset family also with roots in Cornwall, and with many prestigious military connections. Bear’s mother Sarah also comes from a political background: her own mother was the first female MP in Northern Ireland. A love of adventure turns up in his family and it’s perhaps not that surprising that the show unearths a royal connection too.
This series also features WDYTYA’s first twins, in the shape of TV presenters and medical doctor duo Chris and Xand (Alexander) van Tulleken. ‘Dr Xand’ and ‘Dr Chris’ grew up in London, where they were privately educated before going to different colleges at Oxford. As their surname suggests, they have roots in The Netherlands, and in fact one of their ancestors was a renowned Dutch rear-admiral, so they head over the North Sea to find out more.
Last but not least, a knight of the realm joins the line-up: composer and impresario Baron Andrew Lloyd Webber. Lloyd Webber, too, grew up in London, in a musical family, his father William also being a composer and his mother Jean a distinguished pianist and violinist. William’s love of music was encouraged by his father, William senior, being a keen fan of organ music, although his own trade dealt with pipes of a different kind: he was a plumber. In his episode, Andrew will discover some interesting parallels between his forebears and his own life.
From triumphs to tragedies, as always the new series of WDYTYA will bring all manner of celebrity ancestral stories to life keep an eye on TheGenealogist’s social media channels for more news on when the shows will be aired and the tales to be unveiled.
Photos credited: BBC/Wall to Wall Media Ltd/Stephen Perry