Nick Hewer: ‘My family was a bit grand!’

Countdown host Nick Hewer talks to TV Times magazine about unearthing his family’s royal connections and rebellious ancestors in Who Do You Think You Are?

Hi Nick. Did you know a lot about your family history before taking part in the show?
“My great granny Elizabeth left me a tin box with family trees and papers from my father’s side, and my grandfather on my mother’s side – I sort of knew a bit about him.”

We know your grandfather Oswald Jamison left school at 14 and set up a painting and decorating business before eventually becoming the High Sheriff of Belfast in the 1920s…
“He was making very virulent anti-Sinn Féin speeches at a time when it was an extremely dangerous thing to do. He managed to fight his way through a very difficult political minefield in the early part of last century and rose to some prominence. And for a Catholic in those days it was unheard of! He had some guts actually.”

Your ancestor Edward Nott also fought for King Charles I at the Battle of Lansdowne. Is that right?
“Yes. He raised a troupe of cavalry and fought for Charles I, and was then taken prisoner and lost his land and his fortune. He then got it back when Charles II came to the throne. So quite an amazing story.”

Were there many dark and devious stories in your past?
“Not particularly. Right back in the early 1600s, they got their money and land from King Charles I in a slightly suspicious way. I thought he sounded a bit of a hard man but those days were tough times – as far as I can see, everyone lied through their teeth to get what they wanted!”

What would you have thought if some particularly upsetting or shady ancestors emerged?
“I thought if it all turns out that my great great great great great grandfather was a murderer and had done horrible things, I can hardly be blamed for it. I wasn’t there!”

Your family is starting to sound rather well-to-do!
“It was a bit grand. But of course families can go up and families can go down. My family’s been coming down ever since!”

Why are we all so fascinated with peering back into history at the lives of our long-gone relatives?
“Don’t you think it’s part of human nature? To try and find our place in the universe? Who are we? Some people don’t care – but I suppose a lot of us are nostalgic for the past and to find out where we fit in.”

Do you think that’s something that grows as you get older?
“As you near the end, you do need to know where you fit. And I think if you mentioned this to a 15-year-old, they’re far too busy chasing girls and wondering whether who’s going to score for Manchester United on Saturday. But as time passes, suddenly you begin to wonder ‘Where’s my place in all this’?”

Who Do You Think You Are? continues Wednesday at 9pm on BBC1.