Belfast Telegraph

Harry Potter star Radcliffe unearths tragic Northern Ireland roots on Who Do You Think You Are?

Daniel Radcliffe (C) Wall to Wall Media Ltd - Photographer: Stephen Perry
Daniel Radcliffe (C) Wall to Wall Media Ltd - Photographer: Stephen Perry
Portrait of Daniel Radcliffe's great-great grandfather, Louis Gershon - circa 1800s - (C) Louis Gershon - Photographer: Unknown
Sarah Tulloch

By Sarah Tulloch

Harry Potter star Daniel Radcliffe is set to explore his Northern Irish roots in the latest series of BBC's Who Do You Think You Are?

Radcliffe was brought up in west London by his literary agent father Alan Radcliffe, who hails from "a very working-class background" in Banbridge, and mother Marcia Gresham, a casting agent from Essex.

The 29-year-old traces his father's Co Down lineage on the Bafta Award-winning show, focusing on the life of his great-great uncle, Ernest McDowell, known as Ernie.

Ernie, who served in the First World War, provided inspiration for the actor when he starred in My Boy Jack, an ITV movie which told the story of author Rudyard Kipling's grief when his 18-year-old son John, played by Radcliffe, died in the conflict.

He explained in the show: "I kept a picture of Ernie in my trailer as a personal connection to the period."

Radcliffe paid a visit to Dromore to see his aunt, Linda McWilliams, who shares precious war-time letters exchanged between the soldier and his mother, Elizabeth, and his sweetheart, Jeanie.

Ernie's three brothers, Jimmy, Joseph and Edmund, also left Ulster to serve in the First World War.

Alan Radcliffe (Daniel's father), Marcia Gresham (Daniel's mother) and Daniel Radcliffe, aged 19 - taken in New York City, 2008. (C) Marcia Gresham - Photographer: Vanessa Davies
Alan Radcliffe (Daniel's father), Marcia Gresham (Daniel's mother) and Daniel Radcliffe, aged 19 - taken in New York City, 2008. (C) Marcia Gresham - Photographer: Vanessa Davies

After discovering Ernie's final letter was sent home in May 1916, Radcliffe was devastated to read the correspondence sent to Ernie's mother, informing her that he and "two more chaps from Belfast" had been killed by a shell.

"Obviously it's tragic to lose one son - any amount of children - I can't even imagine that but I'm pleased for my great-great grandmother that at least three of her sons came back," he said.

"To have made a WWI film and played a soldier in the trenches, I definitely feel a lot more connected to all those stories now that I've learned what my own family went through, and suddenly realising why, out of all the brothers, Ernie's name made it down to me - because he was the son that went and didn't come back."

The episode also sees the actor explore his maternal ancestry, including his great-grandfather Samuel Gershon, who took his own life following the robbery of his Hatton Garden jewellers.

The actor was spotted filming the series in May this year when he had a spot of lunch at the Belmont House Hotel in Banbridge.

The 16th series of Who Do You Think You Are? will explore the genealogy of Kate Winslet, Mark Wright, Michael and Jack Whitehall, Sharon Osbourne, Katherine Ryan, Paul Merton and Naomie Harris.

Who Do You Think You Are? airs on Monday, July 22 on BBC One at 9pm

(L-R) Alan Radcliffe (Daniel's father), Marcia Gresham (Daniel's mother), Daniel Radcliffe, aged 2 - taken at Bantham Beach, Devon circa 1991 - (C) Marcia Gresham - Photographer: Unknown
(L-R) Alan Radcliffe (Daniel's father), Marcia Gresham (Daniel's mother), Daniel Radcliffe, aged 2 - taken at Bantham Beach, Devon circa 1991 - (C) Marcia Gresham - Photographer: Unknown

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