It was obvious to me that Masterchef’s Gregg Wallace hasn’t watched a lot of Who Do You Think You Are? in the past as he tells us that the saddest thing that normally happens to him is when someone over-seasons a soufflé. As is always the case with the genealogy series our subject, grocer turned TV personality Wallace, is going through rather public personal turmoil at the moment with the breakdown of his third marriage as well as the fight for the children from his first marriage with his second wife. He hopes to find some solace that his ancestors had more luck but as fans of the show know there is nearly always a moment where tears flow so I was already worried for Gregg before he set out on his journey. He stops by his mother’s house to get some information on her grandparents finding out that his great-grandfather Henry had allegedly left his wife Emily with two children before emigrating to Australia though this is family folklore Gregg wants to know why Henry left his grandpa Wilfred at a young age. He also wants to find information about Emily’s mother whose photograph hangs at his mother’s house without either of them knowing her name so setting off with a bit of information he begins his journey by delving into Henry’s naval records.
Rather than being someone who deserted the navy Henry turned out to be one of the best stokers they had receiving a naval pension and serving several stints in Canada during the war. Gregg also does some maths and realises that Wilfred’s siblings, a pair of twins one of whom died from TB, couldn’t have been Henry’s offspring. This makes Gregg a little bit angry at Emily thinking that Henry was the rogue while she was the innocent however the revelation that she had a lover took him by surprise. One of the many historians featured in the programme told Gregg not to judge her so harshly as he pulled out a death certificate for Henry and Emily’s first child who had passed away from burns suffered as the result of a paraffin lamp being spilt on her. Soon we get the first set of what would be many tears as Gregg wells up while reading the news article telling of Val’s death with the realisation that this would’ve put the emotional strain on Henry and Emily’s marriage so that’s why he enlisted while she found solace with another man. It also was revealed that Henry never finalised his divorce to Emily or indeed followed up on his efforts to get Wilfred to come and live with him however he puts Henry on the back-burner for the time being to concentrate on the woman in the photo.
Journeying to a town just outside Barnstaple in Devon, Gregg tracks down Emily’s birth certificate listing her mother and father as Selina and Eli and it is revealed that they were both Bible Christians a small off-shoot of the Methodist faith. While Eli was a farm labourer it seems that Selina may have, at one time, been a preacher at one of the Bible Christian churches as their religion was the first to allow women to lead congregations. Though they can’t be sure of this one thing they do know is that Selina was a glove-maker from a young age eventually being promoted to working on silk gloves which would’ve been transported around the globe according to a glove historian, there’s a job for you, though Gregg’s great-grandmother was another member of the family whose life ended on a sour note. It transpires that the photo he was carrying round with him for the entirety of his journey was actually taking during Selina’s stay at an asylum where she died aged just 42 after claiming to hear Satanic voices which wanted to drag her to hell. Selina had previously been in the asylum as a teenager however their pioneering treatment meant that she was cured however she later went back in this time not surviving as the regime had become harsher with regular beatings from the staff. This was the second time Gregg cried and again I don’t blame him as Selina sounded like a strong woman who unfortunately lost her grip on reality which in turn meant she passed away a lot earlier than she should’ve done.
Who Do You Think You Are? often gives a happy ending to the story especially if, like Gregg, the tale has been utterly depressing up to this point and I thought his continued investigation into Henry’s life after he left Emily would illicit some joyous revelation. It did indeed seem that Henry had finished his life soundly as a watchmen at a gravel factory as well as starting another family with another Emily and having some more children with her. Gregg tracks down Henry’s grandson from this family tennis coach Geoff who I thought would hit with some happy news but instead brings on a downer when he tells him that the second Emily passed away after being hit by a motorcar while Henry, who was walking home from work, witnessed his wife die before his eyes. After this he struggled to cope with his two daughters going into foster care and he ending his days alone so there wasn’t much of a happy ending. Unlike a lot of people on Who Do You Think You Are? Gregg didn’t go an extended holiday although he did get to nip over to Northern Ireland to see the spot in which Emily 2 would’ve been mowed down and also to pay his respects to his great-grandfather.
Going into this episode of Who Do You Think You Are? I wasn’t a big fan of Wallace’s thinking him mainly of the man who bellows ‘COOKING DOESN’T GET TOUGHER THAN THIS!’ at the beginning of every episode of Masterchef. Over the hour though I got to know a thoughtful man who has grafted all his life and it seems comes from a long line of people who don’t mind getting their hands dirty including farm labourers, glove makers and Henry who was a grocer just like him. Also like him his ancestors didn’t always make the right decisions in their lives however it seemed that they’d all suffered more than he could imagine and I found it rather touching in the scenes where he got quite emotional. What winds me up about WDYTYA is that the programme has obviously been deeply researched before hands so when you see a meeting being arranged on screen you realise that the producers have already done this. This really got to me in the scene where Gregg found out about Geoff and then was nervous about ringing him as the two had no doubt had a real conversation before this ‘first phonecall’ ever took place. Overall though this was another intriguing tale of a famous face whose ancestors suffered a traumatic time and who, in his own words, is lucky to be here at all.
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