We just watched your incredibly moving instalment of Who Do You Think You Are?…
“Did they show me crying? Everybody who does the show says, ‘I’m not going to cry.’ But I did I cry – a lot. I got emotional because my granddad was very close to me and what he went through was amazing.”
How was life for your granddad during his military service in 1943?
“He was really raw and thrown in at the deep end in Tunisia and then it was hell at Anzio, where he lost friends during several strikes.
“I went to the grave of one and it was something I wanted to see because we have a photo of my granddad doing the same. He ended up as a sergeant and felt a responsibility for the lads so he took the death of this guy hard.”
How did you feel following in your granddad’s footsteps?
“At Banana Ridge there is still barbed wire and I was looking at a view that hasn’t changed in 72 years so I felt really close to him there and also on the beach at Anzio. I even wrote ‘Norman was ‘ere’ on the sand! I had this strange feeling he was with me.”
Did the war have any long-term impact on him?
“He had a dramatic facial tic, which he didn’t have before the war. He went back to Anzio for the 50th anniversary and my Nan said it was the first time she saw him cry. He carried it around with him all his life but never spoke about it, so now I feel frustrated because I can’t talk to him and help him.
“For Comic Relief last year I went to a charity called Combat Stress, which helps soldiers with PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder], but nothing was there for granddad.”
When you were following your family tree, you found another heroic figure in your four-time great-grandfather who was one of the Royal Mail post runners…
“He ran the equivalent of 22 marathons a month across the mountains for 12 years until he was 55, it was unbelievable, and he never had a day off sick. I couldn’t have done it and I can’t think of any modern athletes who could, it was superhero stuff. I’d love to do a programme retracing the route he went.”
However, you also discovered a darker tale when you researched Donald’s son Kenneth, a policeman in the Glasgow docks who wasn’t a model officer…
“He was a copper in a rough part of town, but was dismissed for beating up prisoners and drinking on the job. He had a taste for the whisky and eventually he died in the poorhouse, which was sad. It now makes sense why my granddad was churchgoing and very anti-drink so it has been incredible to see how we’ve adapted.”
Can you see where any of your own traits originated?
“Obviously I get my love of keep-fit from Donald! I’ve definitely got my eyes from him and I’m also tenacious and ambitious and granddad was very driven; when he set his mind to something, he did it, and I’m like that too.”
Was your Bake Off co-star Mary Berry jealous of your travels?
“She only went to Norwich so I got the better deal! When I was off to Tunisia, she said, ‘Where are you going?!’ She advised me just to enjoy it though and I really did, I’ve learned a lot.”