Kevin Clifton on Who Do You Think You Are?: Everything you need to know
Kevin Clifton is famous for being from Grimsby, but he discovered deep Canadian roots when he appeared on Who Do You Think You Are?
Professional dancer Kevin Clifton was born in Waltham, Grimsby on 13 October 1982. In December 2018, Kevin and his celebrity partner, journalist and broadcaster Stacey Dooley, won Strictly Come Dancing. The couple are now together in life too, and in January 2023, Stacey gave birth to their daughter, Minnie. Kevin, who left Strictly in 2020, has subsequently begun to build a career in broadcasting and musical theatre.
On screen, Sir Bruce Forsyth famously gave Kevin the nickname ‘Kevin from Grimsby’ and says the town, from where his maternal great grandad sailed as a fisherman, “feels like the strongest part of me”. Which makes it an appropriate place to begin his episode of Who Do You Think You Are? as he goes to visit his parents.
Kevin is particularly interested in his father’s side of the family. This is partly because he knows little about his paternal roots, but also because of what Kevin’s father calls family “folklore” suggesting the Cliftons may may have a forebear called Matooski from the First Nations of Canada. Could this really be true?
A check of census records reveals that Kevin’s 2x great grandmother, Emma, was born in British Columbia. He also finds that, in 1891, Emma was living in an orphanage. What happened? The only way to find out is to head for Canada.
In Victoria on the southern tip of Vancouver Island, Kevin learns that, although Emma and her siblings spent time in an orphanage, both her parents were alive. Old newspaper reports from the era reveal that his 3x great grandmother, Grace, and her husband, John, were involved in a bitter divorce case in an era when divorce was rare. Despite John admitting “I did blacken her eyes on one occasion,” he was granted custody of the children, who ended up in the orphanage. As for Grace, she disappears from the records in the wake of being defrauded of all her money.
Kevin next traces Grace’s family line, which takes him to York Factory, a trading post on Hudson Bay once associated with the fur business and even today so remote that Kevin has to finish his journey by helicopter. Here, he discovers that his 5x great grandparents were the chief of the trading post, John George McTavish, and his ‘country wife’, Matooski, aka Nancy. In the “absolute middle of nowhere”, Kevin has confirmed his family folklore. “This is genuinely one of the most overwhelming moments of my life,” he says.
Her story is remarkable. Abandoned by John, who eventually provided a dowry so she could remarry, Matooski and her daughter, Grace, Kevin’s 4x great grandmother, narrowly survived a dangerous river journey through Canada in which several people perished, “a pivotal moment” in ensuring her story wasn’t lost to the world – historically important too, because few records of women from the First Nations of Canada who lived in this era have survived.
When she died, she left £800, a considerable sum. Matooski was a resilient survivor. Kevin is immensely proud to have found her in his family tree. “They call me Kevin from Grimsby,” he says, “but I’ve ended up in Canada and I don’t want to leave.”