Kevin Clifton talks Who Do You Think You Are? discoveries and being a judge on Strictly

Kevin Clifton stands by a tree in Who Do You Think You Are
Kevin Clifton makes some incredible discoveries about his family tree in Who Do You Think You Are? (Image credit: BBC)

Who Do You Think You Are? 2023 places dancer Kevin Clifton in the spotlight this week as he delves into the branches of his family tree.

The former Strictly Come Dancing professional, whose girlfriend and former Strictly partner, broadcaster Stacey Dooley, gave birth to their daughter Minnie in January, hails from Grimsby in Lincolnshire. 

But in the episode of the genealogy show, which airs in the UK on Thursday, June 22 on BBC One at 9pm, he attempts to learn more about a family rumor of an indigenous Canadian ancestor named Matooskie on his father’s side. Meanwhile, he also examines the troubled marriage of his paternal three-times-great-grandparents John and Grace Russell.

What To Watch caught up with Kevin Clifton to find out about his extraordinary episode of Who Do You Think You Are?...

Who Do You Think You Are? is such a fascinating but emotional show. Why did you want to take part?

“I got to 40, and I thought I’d love to know where I came from. Then when Stacey told me that she was pregnant I thought, ‘I'm figuring out my family history and now Stace and I are creating the next generation.’ Everything made sense.” 

Were you expecting to find dancers in your family tree?

“Yes! I thought I’d be in Grimsby talking about fishermen or they’d find dancers stretching back years because all my family are dancers. But secretly, I was hoping it wasn't all going to be about dancing and, when I found out we were going to Canada, it blew my mind.”

You learnt that your five-times-great-grandmother was an indigenous Canadian woman who was known as Matooskie. What had your dad, Keith, told you about her? 

"He’d mentioned her but nobody knew the facts and I took it with a pinch of salt. I just thought, ‘That's Dad being far-fetched.’ I never imagined in my wildest dreams where it would lead.” 

A black and white photo of indigenous Canadian Matooskie.

Kevin Clifton was stunned to hear about the life of his five-times-great-grandmother Matooskie in Who Do You Think You Are? (Image credit: BBC)

How did you feel when you learnt that your five-times-great-grandfather, John McTavish, left Matooskie to marry a British woman in the early 19th century and that Matooskie later lost her second husband and three children in a boating disaster?

“I couldn’t believe it. I felt defensive of her, even though it was a long time ago. It was overwhelming. I promised myself I wouldn’t get emotional, but it got to me.”

You also found out about Matooskie’s granddaughter, your three-times-great-grandmother Grace Gorridge, whose difficult marriage to John Russell ended in a bitter divorce in the 1880s…

“The family story seems to be about women not being treated nicely. There were accounts of him denying that he chased her with an axe. But the court was also made up of men, so it didn't seem like she got a fair trial and she got her kids taken off her. It's horrible. Again, I felt protective. It’s like you know them.” 

A black and white shot of John and Grace Russell with one of their children in Who Do You Think You Are?

Kevin Clifton learns about his three-times-great-grandparents John and Grace Russell's traumatic marriage in Who Do You Think You Are? (Image credit: BBC)

What will you take away from having done the show?

“The story of Matooskie is one of strength and perseverance. That makes me proud. I want to believe that resilience has passed through the generations.”

Finally, you won the Glitterball trophy with Stacey in 2018, would you one day like to return to Strictly for a winners’ special or even as a judge?

“Certainly as a judge, I'd love that. But I don't know if any of the judges would leave anytime soon! As a dancer, it would have to be a one-off special. I loved the show and had an amazing time but I'm doing other things. A Christmas special or a winners’ special though, who knows?!”

Caren Clark

Caren has been a journalist specializing in TV for almost two decades and is a Senior Features Writer for TV Times, TV & Satellite Week and What’s On TV magazines and she also writes for What to Watch.

Over the years, she has spent many a day in a muddy field or an on-set catering bus chatting to numerous stars on location including the likes of Olivia Colman, David Tennant, Suranne Jones, Jamie Dornan, Dame Judi Dench and Sir Derek Jacobi as well as Hollywood actors such as Glenn Close and Kiefer Sutherland.

Caren will happily sit down and watch any kind of telly (well, maybe not sci-fi!), but she particularly loves period dramas like Call the Midwife, Downton Abbey and The Crown and she’s also a big fan of juicy crime thrillers from Line of Duty to Poirot.

In her spare time, Caren enjoys going to the cinema and theatre or curling up with a good book.