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'I get this image as a hardman... actually, I am a sensitive soul'

Danny Dyer doesn't just explore his ancestors, he lives like them, in Danny Dyer's Right Royal Family. Georgia Humphreys finds out more

Danny Dyer can't help but cringe at some of his past TV work. The shows in question? Documentaries The Real Football Factories, in which he explored the history of hooliganism, and Danny Dyer's Deadliest Men, which saw him interview Britain's most notorious gangsters.

"There was a reason I done that and it was purely for money - it got me a nice little house and got one of me kids through private school," admits the EastEnders star (41). "But it wasn't really what I'm all about and I think I get this hardman image, which is unfair. I'm a sensitive little soul really, quite a spiritual man as well."

Now, he's got a new BBC One show - Danny Dyer's Right Royal Family - which is more "me and what I'm about", he adds with a cheeky grin, in his famed Cockney accent.

The two-parter follows on from his revelatory episode of BBC genealogy series Who Do You Think You Are? in which he discovered he descended from King Edward III and sees him uncover an ever bigger family tree with yet more royal and aristocratic ancestors.

Not only that, but talkative Dyer, who was born in Canning Town, east London, fully immerses himself in the lifestyles of his relatives, trying out their pursuits and passions.

And, yes, that does include him dressing up and wearing items such as "a nice pair of tights - I pulled it off," he notes.

"It's me going right back to my first ancestor, a Viking called Rollo, who's the king of the Vikings - a very powerful man," he elaborates excitedly. "We make our way back down through eight ancestors' lives and I live and breathe what their lives were like for a day.

"Essentially, it's a history programme, because that's what we wanted to do - an educational programme told through my eyes. I'm really proud of it, I'm really happy with it."

Does he think people will be surprised by him doing a history show?

"I hope so," the actor, who is also known for films such as Mean Machine, The Football Factory and Vendetta, quickly retorts. "I know there's been a little bit of bad Press around this - from people who haven't even watched a second of it - about how the BBC is dumbing down history, just because maybe I've got a working-class accent, or whatever they want to say. I don't get it. Judge it after you've watched it."

You can certainly expect Dyer to bring lots of personality to the programme.

"A lot of people might be bored of that boring history formula and I think it's a different way to learn, so I'm going to try to be as funny as much as I possibly can," he says.

"I like to embrace every historian with a big cuddle at the beginning, to make them settle down, and just have an old chinwag about medieval history."

There are plenty of memorable moments from filming for Dyer, including finding out he was related to a direct descendent of a saint - Saint Louis IX, who was the King of France in the 12th century.

There's also the time he ate fermented shark, as the locals do, in a Viking village in Sweden.

"That was bad, that was bad. And I had to crack a sheep's skull in half and I had a mouthful of tongue. Listen, it had to be done."

Dyer has three children - Dani (22), Sunnie (11) and five-year-old Arty - with his wife, Joanne Mas, and reveals the whole family stars in the show, taking part in an Elizabethan banquet.

"I think I've driven everyone mad about this and they're not that interested - they don't really believe that we're royal. So, I thought I'd roll them in a bit and they'd get it.

"It was just us being us, as we would have been 500 years ago in all the get-up, and my little boy running around with his little sword. He absolutely loved it."

Of course, daughter Dani has her own legion of fans now, after winning ITV2 reality show Love Island last summer.

Her dad reckons they'll love tuning in and seeing her dressed up as an Elizabethan princess.

"And my wife as an Elizabethan queen, but I think they've done her as an evil queen," quips Dyer.

"Petrifying, she was. I think she took it a little bit too seriously."

Of filming with his family, he adds: "I enjoyed doing that with them. It was nice and different."

But don't think for one minute that he's started living like his royal relatives at home now.

"Absolutely not. If anything, it makes you more humble about life and very grateful for who I am. And I suppose, in the past, I haven't been, so I think we grow as human beings, don't we?"

He continues: "I think it's very important, when you're in the position that I'm in, that you curb that ego and try to nourish your soul as much as you possibly can and just try to be a decent, kind human being. That's the key, I think. There's not enough of that going on in the world."

No-nonsense Dyer has become something of a national treasure, known for being totally unafraid to say what he thinks, especially, in recent months, when it comes to Brexit, and politics in general.

Discussing the topic of being in the limelight further, he notes candidly: "You can lose your head slightly when you're famous and forget what's important to you.

"We're all important, we all matter, it's just when you're famous you seem to have a bit more of a voice and I do think that a celebrity - I don't like that term, but - has a responsibility to use it in the right way, whether that's for charities, or whether that's for speaking up about certain issues that are going on in the world.

"I feel that we should do that, because we can reach out to a lot of people. So, just be a bit more selfless with it, I think that's what's important. Says 'Saint Danny of Canning Town'."

Danny Dyer's Right Royal Family, BBC One, Wednesday, 9pm

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