Kevin Clifton ‘proud’ to have new role models after discovering family history

Who Do You Think You Are? S19,22/06/2023,Kevin Clifton,Kevin Clifton,John, Grace and Emma,Family portrait,Royal British Colombia Museum,Unknown
Who Do You Think You Are? S19,22/06/2023,Kevin Clifton,Kevin Clifton,John, Grace and Emma,Family portrait,Royal British Colombia Museum,Unknown Who Do You Think You Are? S19,22/06/2023,Kevin Clifton,Kevin Clifton,John, Grace and Emma,Family portrait,Royal British Colombia Museum,Unknown

Kevin Clifton says he feels “proud” to have gained several new female role models in his life, after appearing on the BBC’s Who Do You Think You Are?

The former Strictly Come Dancing professional said he had always been interested in his identity, having felt like it was “handed to me from an early age”.

Clifton, 40, was born into a family of dancers with sisters who also danced. He first appeared on the popular dancing competition in 2013, having previously worked as an assistant choreographer on the show.

In 2018, he won the competition with TV presenter Stacey Dooley, and the pair announced their relationship in 2019.

During his episode of Who Do You Think You Are? Clifton travelled to Canada in search of a woman known as Matooskie, who had been part of his family “folklore”.

Kevin Clifton and his sister Joanna Clifton at a dance competition (Keith Clifton/PA) (Unknown/Keith Clifton)

Speaking about his early years, he told the PA news agency: “I feel like my whole sort of idea of myself was dancer Kevin is a dancer. That’s what he does. That’s what he is.

“He goes to dance competitions and dresses a certain way and plays the part of the dancer.”

Clifton said that as he got older he reached a stage in his 20s when he “rebelled” against his identity as a dancer and had tried to get “as far away from it as possible”.

“I didn’t want to do dancing anymore… I became a goth and grew my hair long and black eyeliner. Yeah, fingernails and all of that. I was like, ‘No, I’m this guy now’.

“And then when Strictly Come Dancing happened, I sort of had to go back into being a dancer person again.”

He said that after turning 40, his profile as a northern dancer, which earned him the nickname “Kevin from Grimsby” from the late Sir Bruce Forsyth, had caused him to question who he was “without all that”.

“(When) Who do you think you are? got in touch I was like… ‘wow, that this is a real opportunity to, not necessarily to find out who I am, but to find out where I’ve come from’.”

During Clifton’s episode, he traces his lineage back to an orphanage in the Canadian province of British Columbia, where his great, great grandmother Emma once lived.

He discovered that his three-times great grandmother Grace had suffered abuse at the hands of her husband John.

John, Grace and Emma family portrait (Royal British Colombia Museum/BBC/PA) (Unknown/Royal British Colombia Museum)

Going back further he learned that he is related to an indigenous woman named Nancy, also known as Matooskie, his five-times great grandmother.

He travelled to York Factory on the bank of the Hudson Bay, where his five-times great grandfather, John George McTavish had been a prominent fur trader.

Clifton said he was “overwhelmed” after learning the news about Matooskie, and the “very offensive” language that had been used to describe her at the time.

“It’s funny how it gets to you,” he said.

“Because, you know, we’re talking about my great, great, great, great, great grandma, you know?

“(It was) years ago, but I’ve suddenly become really defensive and protective of her. It’s strange, I feel so connected to it that way and so sort of protective.”

He later added: “I never imagined in my wildest dreams that we’d get to this level of story and adventure in my family history.

“They call me Kevin from Grimsby, but I’ve ended up in Canada and I don’t want to leave. I don’t want to leave this place.

“I’ve discovered Matooskie here, and it’s like I feel this sort of emotional connection to this place.

“My dad told me a story, a rumour about an indigenous woman that may or may not be connected to our family, but what I’ve discovered over these two weeks is that the truth behind that story is way, way more amazing than the rumour.”

Asked how he felt after filming the show, he told PA: “My main thing, as I finished was, was I felt really proud”, adding that it had helped put his own hardships in perspective.

“(Matooskie) just seemed like such a strong woman and, you know, as sort of silly as it is… I’m so far removed from her experience, I hope that even 1% of her resiliency and toughness is passed down through some generations into me.

“Now I’ve got like, a new role model, or a few role models, actually, in these women.

“To go ‘think of what they went through – don’t don’t complain about having to get on stage right now’.

Olivier Theatre Awards 2022 – London
Olivier Theatre Awards 2022 – London Stacey Dooley and Kevin Clifton (Ian West/PA)

“Because your life is blessed compared to what they had to go through, and they were tough. And also you wouldn’t be here if you know if they hadn’t got through it.”

Clifton shares a young daughter with Dooley, and said he could not wait for her to grow up and find out about her history through watching the programme.

“We found out that Stacy was pregnant just as I was about to start filming this, so that felt quite cool,” he told PA.

“That we could go, you know, ‘oh my god I’m about to find out all this family history’, just as we’re creating the next generation.”

Kevin Clifton’s episode of Who Do You Think You Are? is available now on BBC iPlayer.