'Our families had a sense of adventure'
Very few TV stars have such an easy rapport with viewers that they feel like part of the family. But ever since Ant McPartlin and Declan Donnelly first appeared on screen together in children’s drama Byker Grove back in 1990, we’ve welcomed them into our living rooms as if they were our favourite fun-loving cousins. Now, the Britain’s Got Talent and I’m a Celebrity… hosts are exploring their own family trees in a moving new ITV documentary, Ant and Dec's DNA Journey.
The two-parter sees historians and genealogists examine the pair’s DNA to uncover stories about some of their remarkable ancestors, as well as lead them to living relatives they never knew existed.
"I’m a bit of a geek when it comes to historical events, so to get the chance to research our family history using our DNA was too good to pass up," says Ant, 43. "What we find out is mind-blowing. It’s something that will stay with us both forever."
The documentary follows the Geordie best friends as they travel across the UK, Ireland and America, and even pay a visit to the United Nations headquarters in New York City, to learn about their family connections.
While Ant hears that his great-grandfather was a celebrated war hero, Dec meets a host of American relations, including a former US female wrestling promoter. They are also stunned to learn that one of them is descended from royalty and that another ancestor’s bones are of historical importance.
"A huge part of this was to find out my heritage, especially on my dad’s side," says Dec, 44. "I thought I knew a fair bit about where I came from but it turns out I was wrong. It was a truly amazing experience.
"But I’ve never cried so much on telly in all my life!’ continues Dec, whose friendship with Ant is explored during the show. "It’s not lost on us just how lucky we are that we met each other."
Here, Ant and Dec, who were speaking to TV Times (out now), reveal more about their incredible journey into the past in Ant and Dec's DNA Journey
Out of all the ancestors you found, who do you feel most connected to?
Ant: "You like to see a little bit of yourself in the ancient past, and in the battle-hardy warriors of old. But of course, you tend to know more about recent ancestors." Dec: "Yes, I suppose we feel most connected to our most recent ancestors. We both found our great-great-grandparents who joined the army with varying degrees of success."
Did you find that there are characteristics in your families that seem to have been there for many generations?
Ant: "Not really characteristics, but when I went over to Ireland, I found a lot of similarities in the look of my cousins. Dec nicknamed the pub ‘The Fog and Forehead’ because lots of people had foreheads and noses that were similar to mine!" Dec: "Our families had a sense of adventure and a need to travel, which we had no idea about. They ended up emigrating and travelling the world. So I suppose as we’re interested in travel, too, we’ve inherited that characteristic."
What kind of thing did you not find in your family histories that you would like to have done?
Ant: "Famous Newcastle United players of the past. There wasn’t really a sporty side to any of our ancestors, which doesn’t come as a surprise, knowing us!" Dec: "We didn’t have any performers or music-hall stars either, which both of us were secretly hoping for."
You obviously enjoyed making Ant and Dec's DNA Journey, so what ideas do you have for other documentaries?
Ant: "I don’t think there would be a sequel unless there were other secrets found in our families." Dec: "We really liked the road-trip element and would love to explore that further in the future."
Having now done this show, what would you like to be remembered by future generations for?
Ant: "That we entertained people and put a smile on people’s faces." Dec: "If we made people smile, I’ll be more than happy to be remembered for that."
Ant and Dec's DNA Journey begins on ITV this Sunday at 9pm
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