Emma Willis’ family tree
emma Willis tells TV Times about a chilling secret she discovered in her family history…
It had a strange effect on me. It was horrible and I was upset by it
GENEALOGY Who Do You Think You Are? Thursday / BBC1 / 9.00Pm
By her own admission, Emma Willis comes from a ‘kind’ family so when she took part in this week’s Who Do You Think You Are? she hoped her ancestors would turn out to be just as warm and caring.
However, she was shocked to discover that in 18th-century Ireland, Protestant landowner Richard Fowler, Emma’s five times great-grandfather on her father’s side, was accused of torturing a Catholic man and his son.
Here, Emma, 41, tells us more…
What was it like doing the show?
I loved not having a clue what was coming next. I had no expectations and I just tried to enjoy all of it. I wanted to learn as much as I could because when I was growing up, my nan did a family tree and became obsessed with it. I wish she was still alive so that I could share it with her.
How did you feel when you heard the story about Richard Fowler?
I feel awful talking about somebody I don’t know and saying he didn’t seem like a nice man, because we don’t know what life was like then. You think, ‘Am I being dramatic because it was 200 years ago?’ But it is still your bloodline and I felt I should apologise to the people that lived in that area. It had a strange effect on me. It was horrible and I was upset by it.
You found a good man in your family tree in the form of your four times great-grandfather Michael Kirwan, who was a marble mason. What was it like seeing a church altar he made?
I never expected to be able to see and touch something that was made by my ancestors. I took so many pictures and there are a few other pieces of his work
dotted around Ireland, so I want to take my dad on an Irish road trip to see them because he’s obsessed with history.
Do you feel more Irish now?
I do. We had no idea there was any Irish on my dad’s side. My daughter [Isabelle, 8, with husband Matt Willis] wanted us to be Irish because her two best friends are Irish. She got what she wanted.
You’re a proud Brummie. Were you pleased to find another strong Birmingham figure in your three times greatgrandfather James Gretton? Yes. I come from just outside the city and as we were filming, this guy said to me, ‘You’re not Brummie really’, so
I was pleased I could say ‘I’m deep-rooted in Birmingham.’ James was a hairbrush maker and he worked hard, but
I was surprised to find out he had a child with somebody else and his wife did the same. I didn’t think that went on in the 19th century!
Celebrity Big Brother starts this week – do you get excited seeing who the housemates are?
I do! I’m looking forward to finding out who they are. It’s lovely to go from the chaos of the main series to the bonkersness of the celebrity one! It’s been a busy summer with The Voice Kids too, but it has been amazing and that is back next year, so fingers crossed
I will return again.
Brummie: James Gretton and his daughter, Agnes A young Emma (right) with her sister, Sharon Ireland hopping: Emma explored her Irish roots