Former EastEnders star Samantha Womack – who of course played the role of tormented Ronnie Branning – has revealed that when she agreed to take part in a new series of BBC1’s Who Do You Think You Are? she had no idea that she would unearth tragic family secrets.
Sam also explained that she decided to discover her family’s history following her father’s suicide three years ago, and as we’ll see when the show returns next week, her grief for him is still very raw, and Sam often breaks down during the episode.
But among some of the biggest shocks for her were in discovering that her great-great-grandmother was forced to abandon a daughter to a “squalid children’s home” and that her great grandfather had a criminal past.
During the show, an emotional Sam says, “My own past has been very fractured…
“My parents split up when I was six and we moved around a lot from place to place.
“I was always the new girl in Wales or in Scotland or in London, so I didn’t really know who I was.
“My deep-rooted fear was to be isolated and lonely and there not to be too much information.
“I want to have a history, I want my children to have a history. I want to know where that line has come from.”
The Sun’s TV Biz adds, “Sam pursued the trail of her great grandmother Beatrice Garraud, who at first proved to be elusive in public records before the grim truth was uncovered.
“The actress finds a newspaper report detailing the death of Beatrice’s older brother Anthony, six, whose nightclothes caught fire in an orphanage.”
Of the harrowing details of her family’s background, Sam adds, “I felt angry towards Beatrice’s mum Jessie when I realised that Beatrice had been abandoned.
“I wouldn’t want to be that person for love nor money.
“It must have been a terribly difficult thing to go through and she must have been quite damaged.
“She fell into the arms of this exotic Frenchman — he’s been disowned, she has been disowned.
“They go off and have babies together then he dies and she is left with no option but to go to New York to tread the boards. I felt quite sad for her.”
And finally, of the overall experience of being on the show, Sam added, “It has been truly healing. I will never ask those questions, ‘who are we’, ‘where are we from’ now as I know them.
“It’s important to me because I like the idea that I have tales to tell my children and now they have some to tell theirs. It gives you a sense of being grounded.”
The new series of Who Do You Think You Are? starts on Wednesday, August 15 at 9pm on BBC1.