Daniel Radcliffe on the tragedies he uncovers in his emotional episode of Who Do You Think You Are?
Harry Potter star Daniel Radcliffe found scandal and sadness in his ancestry as he investigated his roots for the new series of Who Do You Think You Are?
The opening episode of the genealogy show explores the tragic fate of Daniel’s maternal great-grandfather Samuel Gershon. In 1936, after a robbery at Samuel’s Hatton Garden jewellery shop, the police suspected that the crime was an inside job and part of a fraudulent insurance claim as Samuel and his brother were in debt.
Five months later, Samuel killed himself. But, despite the police’s doubts, the insurance company paid out the following year. Daniel found it deeply emotional to read the suicide note Samuel left for his family.
“I wonder if Sam’s suicide was due to guilt. Or was it due to the speculation and that everything he’d worked for had been destroyed,” said Daniel. “Anyone can back themselves into a corner. It’s hard to feel angry. I feel sorry for him.”
Despite the tragedy, Daniel was thrilled to spot a striking family resemblance between himself and his great-great-grandfather Louis Gershon, Samuel’s father.
“His photo wasn’t a million miles away from me,” he said. “I just needed to shave my beard off! It was incredible around the eyes.”
Meanwhile in Northern Ireland, Daniel also learnt more about his paternal great-great uncle Ernie McDowell, who fought in World War One. Ernie inspired Daniel’s performance in ITV’s 2007 drama My Boy Jack, which centred on the soldier son of writer Rudyard Kipling.
“I kept a picture of Ernie in my trailer as a personal connection to the period so it was exciting finding out about his experience,” said Daniel. “I feel more connected now I’ve learnt what he went through.”
The actor was enthralled to read the moving wartime correspondence written between Ernie and his sweetheart Jeannie. Daniel was given comfort by the discovery that, before Ernie was killed by a shell in 1916, he and Jeannie married when he was on leave.
“Sad things have happened to my family. But I can’t be sad because everyone was loved,” said Daniel. “There is so much love in my family. Even if their time on Earth ended prematurely, it was worth having.”
Who Do You Think You Are? airs on Monday 22 July on BBC1 at 9pm