Former EastEnders star Samantha Womack talks to TV Times magazine about why her ancestors are responsible for her being an actress…

Did you know much about your family history before you took part in Who Do You Think You Are? (Wednesday, BBC1)
“We’re not a family who talk about things like that very often. I didn’t even know my paternal great-great grandmother or great grandmother’s names!”

Were you shocked at what you were discovering?
“I was. I had to keep myself in check because I realised I was gasping a lot and thought ‘God, this could get a bit tiresome!’”

Did you feel a strong affinity to your ancestors?
“I got myself into a situation where I felt like I was defending my ancestor’s character and decisions. People were saying he took these instruments and pawned them and I suddenly found myself being fiercely protective of someone I didn’t even know!”

How do you feel now, reflecting on your experience on the programme and knowing so many of your relatives were in the performing arts?
“I’m blown away! We don’t go into my maternal side, but all of them were classical musicians and choreographers. I can’t believe that there isn’t one person who isn’t in the theatre, playing an instrument or composing, it’s mind-blowing!”

It must reassure you that you’ve chosen the right career?
“Either that or I didn’t stand a chance, which way you want to look at it!”

Have your children shown any desire to get into your industry?
“When I look at them and their response to music and mimicry – my son’s a bit of a comedian and my daughter adores music – and there’s a real sense there that you come with things that are pre-programmed. It’s fascinating to know that it’s not just physical features passed down, but clearly there are echoes of people gone by in us too.”

What was your late father like? 
“My father was an incredible guy, but very difficult to live with. I don’t think he found families or certainly having a child very easy. He took his own life about two years ago. He had struggled to find his place in the world. But it became an important part of his life to identify with someone and I hope, in my heart of hearts, that I found somebody who my father would have felt close to.”

What has this experience taught you?
“I have learnt not to be so judgmental.”

Your great-great-grandmother Jessie left her children in orphanages and went to New York, where she married again and had another child. How did that make you feel?
“I felt mystified – how could she entertain people with her new family when she had a daughter in an orphanage. But now I have had time and seen photos of her as a young girl, with all the aspirations she had before hardship hit her, and you suddenly get this overwhelming feeling that life is difficult for people sometimes.”