Who Do you think you are?

Ac­tor Charles Dance on un­cov­er­ing the life of the dad he lost as a lit­tle boy and the sis­ters he never knew he had…

TV Times - - News - Caren Clark


Ac­tor Charles Dance is the first of five fa­mous faces in the 16th se­ries. But rather than re­search his an­ces­tors, he finds out about the fa­ther he never knew.

Most episodes of Who Do You Think You Are? see celebri­ties ex­plore the branches of their fam­ily tree to dis­cover far-flung an­ces­tors. But the open­ing episode of the new run takes Charles Dance on a far more per­sonal jour­ney as he learns about his own fa­ther, Wal­ter Dance, and sib­lings he never knew ex­isted.

The ac­tor, whose CV in­cludes every­thing from The Jewel in the Crown to Game of Thrones, was born in Worces­ter­shire in 1946 to one-time house­maid Eleanor and en­gi­neer Wal­ter. Sadly, Wal­ter passed away when Charles was a boy, so he has lit­tle mem­ory of his dad and just a sin­gle pho­to­graph of him in army uni­form.

Here, Charles, 70, tells TV Times about his jour­ney into the past...

Your story was in­cred­i­bly mov­ing to watch, what was the ex­pe­ri­ence like for you?

It’s not like most episodes where you have star­tling reve­la­tions about how peo­ple are re­lated to Wil­liam the Con­queror. This was about fill­ing in huge gaps in my knowl­edge about my parent­age be­cause I want my chil­dren [Oliver, 42, and Re­becca, 35, with ex-wife

Joanna Haythorn and Rose, five, with ex-part­ner Eleanor Boor­man] to be bet­ter in­formed than I was. It turned into an ad­ven­ture for me; there were so many reve­la­tions.

How much did you know about your dad? Noth­ing at all. My mother never talked about him in de­tail. She re­ferred to him as ‘WD’ and said that he was in late mid­dle age when he died, but I found out that he ac­tu­ally didn’t have me un­til he was 72, and the photo that I as­sumed was of him go­ing off to World War One was in fact the Boer War!

You also learned that you had two half-sis­ters – No­rah and Mary, Wal­ter’s two daugh­ters with his first wife – but Mary died aged five af­ter be­ing hit by scaf­fold­ing. Was that tough? Find­ing out about Mary was aw­ful, es­pe­cially as I then had to go and stand out­side the house in west Lon­don where it hap­pened. That was a dif­fi­cult day be­cause I’ve a daugh­ter that age and for a par­ent to suf­fer that kind of loss must have been ter­ri­ble. Then I dis­cov­ered that No­rah lived into her nineties in South Africa be­fore dy­ing in 1993. We had no knowl­edge of each other, but it would’ve been nice to have met her.

What was it like meet­ing No­rah’s grand­daugh­ter Noneen, your great-niece?

Oh, she is ter­rific and we’ve been in touch a lot since, we email once a week. She com­piled an al­bum for me with pho­to­graphs and the last let­ter my fa­ther wrote, so she’s been won­der­ful and I’m very glad to know her. Do you feel closer to your fa­ther now that you have un­cov­ered a lit­tle more about his life?

Yes, es­pe­cially be­cause Noneen also pho­to­copied No­rah’s au­to­bi­og­ra­phy for me. In that, she talked about Dad’s Ro­man nose and mine you could ar­guably de­scribe as Ro­man; it’s prom­i­nent any­way! Noneen also gave me a gold medal that Dad got for elo­cu­tion. He used to re­cite mono­logues like The Boy Stood on the Burn­ing Deck and that ties in with my act­ing. There were all kinds of con­nec­tions that rang a bell; it was re­veal­ing.

You found out more about your mother’s side, too. Did you know much about her back­ground?

I re­mem­ber her telling me that her fa­ther went to war in 1914 and came back in 1920 af­ter spend­ing two years shacked up with a

Made­moi­selle from Ar­men­tières! She worked most of her life and didn’t have an easy life, so if she’d known what I found out, it might have made her more con­tented.

You say in the show that you are not aris­to­cratic at all. Why do you think are you of­ten cast in those type of roles? Be­cause I speak rea­son­ably well and be­cause of the way my face is put to­gether! When I did the film Gos­ford Park I said to the di­rec­tor Robert Alt­man, ‘I should be down­stairs not up­stairs’ and he said, ‘Not with that face Charles!’ I’d like to play down­stairs and there was a time I was a ro­man­tic lead but time takes its toll and some­body thought I was more suited to play­ing vil­lains, but I’m man­ag­ing to get away from that.

How did you feel about turn­ing 70 last year?

It is a mile­stone. I was in Botswana on the day do­ing some press and I had a cou­ple of days’ sa­fari so on the morn­ing of my 70th birth­day these ladies came with cake and Cham­pagne at break­fast and danced around sing­ing Happy Birth­day while ele­phants and gi­raffes were look­ing on. That was quite some­thing.

What’s next for you?

I’ve re­cently had rather too much fun do­ing [BBC1’S forth­com­ing pe­riod drama] The Wo­man in White, where I looked like a cross be­tween Quentin Crisp and my mother in a curly wig! I’m just about to do Godzilla: King of Mon­sters, which is dif­fer­ent. I’d also like to direct an­other film. I just love the va­ri­ety, I’m per­haps not as choosy as I might have been but I just want to keep work­ing. Ac­tors don’t re­tire be­cause there would be no­body to play old wrinkly peo­ple; we have to keep go­ing as long as we can.

I found out that my dad ac­tu­ally didn’t have me un­til he was 72!

Se­cret sib­lings: charles learned that he had two half-sis­ters

Who Do You Think You Are? THURS­DAY / bbc1 / 9.00Pm

Mil­i­tary man: the ac­tor’s fa­ther in uni­form

charles’ mother eleanor and step­dad Harold cal­cu­lat­ing: As ty­win lan­nis­ter in Game of Thrones In 1984 se­ries The Jewel in the Crown

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