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Home Life Weekend

'Violet, my daughter, is hoping we are related to royalty'

Katherine Ryan is the latest celebrity to unravel her family's past in the current series of Who Do You Think You Are? Gemma Dunn reports

Katherine Ryan on Who Do You Think You Are?
Katherine Ryan on Who Do You Think You Are?

By Gemma Dun

Katherine Ryan is having a rare day off. Since relocating to London's Crouch End in 2007 - the spot in which many fellow Canadian comedians reside - the former Hooters trainer turned stand-up star has barely paused for breath, be it regular slots on British panel shows, fronting Netflix specials, or headlining sell-out tours - all the while single-handedly raising Violet, her 10-year-old daughter, whom Ryan (36) isn't ashamed to admit "calls the shots".

"We're unpacking boxes right now and the removal man didn't understand when I said, 'Oh, no, the little girl's room is the master," she says, busying herself as we speak.

Sharing an undeniable bond, it's not unusual for Ryan to pay homage to her daughter. But when it comes to posting pictures online, the decidedly glamorous comic is intent on protecting her daughter's privacy.

"I talk about my daughter on stage, but even that's becoming more and more fictional. Right now, she thinks I'm cool. But any minute, she's going to be disgusted by every word that comes out of my mouth," she says.

"I want her to have the option to not be too humiliated by my work, even though it pays for her entire life."

However, one project Violet's unlikely to be embarrassed by is Ryan's upcoming stint on the BBC's 16th series of Who Do You Think You Are?

Excited to seize the opportunity, Ryan viewed it as an "I love you" to her late maternal grandmother Dorothy, known as 'Dolly', who "always wanted to talk about her family".

It was also a chance to find out more about a possible English lineage - one she later uncovers has links to Dorset.

"It's not that finding English roots was necessarily important to me, I would have been fine with finding out I'm from anywhere else, but there's something about England," explains the Ontario-born comic.

"My dad's Irish and we always knew that about him, because you go to my dad's home town in Cork and there's a man in the village who can tell you 14 generations back. But on my mother's side, we didn't have the same information.

"Also, my daughter is English. She teases me for pronouncing things incorrectly and being Canadian. She's always apologising for me, 'I'm sorry about my mother, she's Canadian'. She really wants to be a princess. She was like, 'I really hope that we find out you're related to royalty'."

So what can she tell us?

"I was happy to discover that there were creative people in my family," she begins, having found her three-times great-grandfather, James Arminius Richey, had authored a volume of poetry.

"I feel a kinship with a lot of those people. I have a wonderful life and I'm very lucky, but I'm a long way away from my family and now I feel looked after in a way. Like I have guardians, if that makes sense.

"It's funny that you can be similar to someone who lived hundreds of years ago, whom you've never met."

Ryan also travels to Nova Scotia where she discovers love letters penned by her four-times great-grandfather, the Rev Matthew Richey, and his wife Louisa.

"We used to do that in high school and I still have some of those letters, but it's such a lost art," she says, with a sigh.

Has the process inspired her to find out more?

"I want to find out everything about everything," she fires back instantly. "I'm always Googling random things. I really always want to be a student, not just of my life, but of everything.

"I just can't state enough how blessed and fortunate I have been to do it."

Next Ryan will debut Netflix sitcom The Duchess - a six-part series starring and penned by "yours truly".

"It's exciting because it's the first project that is all mine," she says. "It's about me, but the rest of my life is fictional.

"I've worked hard throughout my stand-up career to tell my story and my truth, without infringing on anyone else's privacy, so this is a disruptive mother who's Canadian and lives in north London among very sensible north London people and north London mothers.

"It's pretty wild. But I see mothers on TV and I don't feel represented.

"We're so lucky now that on-screen we're embracing different shapes of families, complicated female heroines, but still I see mothers and they're either sad about being mothers, or promiscuous, or drunk - and this mother is none of those things.

"She celebrates motherhood and it's really a love story between her daughter and herself. It's about a bad person who's a good mum."

Katherine Ryan's episode of Who Do You Think You Are?, BBC One, Monday, 9pm

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