Emma Wil­lis’ fam­ily tree

TV Times - - My Week - Caren Clark

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

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