Alex Scott in tears after learning her ancestor owned 26 slaves

BBC star Alex Scott ended up in tears and in shock – after she was told one of her Jamaican ancestors owned 26 slaves in the 1820s.

Former Strictly star Alex went to the Caribbean for the first time in her life, to explore her ancestry for the show Who Do You Think You Are?

Alex went back to trace the lineage on the side of her father and was horrified when she found out the truth about her family.

She discovered her 4x great grandfather Robert Francis Coombs who owned property also owned slaves.

Alex, 37, was shown original records of those who were enslaved to Robert from 1817 to 1832, and was shocked, asking: “In my family line – this doesn’t sound right coming out of my mouth – but Robert Francis Coombs owned people?”

Alex Scott is an ITV Touchline reporter who also fronted the BBC’s Olympic coverage this summer and is a mental health ambassador.

The show’s historian told Football Focus presenter Alex that Robert would have been given preferential treatment, letting him prosper for having light skin and that it was not unusual for free people of colour to own enslaved people.

Stunned Alex replied: “In terms of explaining my emotion behind it, I suppose that goes against everything that I stand for, who I am.”

She later added: “I was very aware we may be delving into the topic of slavery, but I really did believe I’d be learning about my family as slaves, not the other side, as the slave owners.”

Alex, whose own dad left her family when she was just eight, as she signed for Arsenal’s youth team, Alex kept a close bond with her nan Philicita, part of the Windrush generation (a 2018 British political scandal concerning people who were wrongly detained, denied legal rights, threatened with deportation or deported) in London’s East End.

Alex’s nan Philicita, who used to cook her Jamaican food and plait her hair, and her grandpa John Scott got married in Jamaica in 1946 before they moved to the UK.

Alex’s ancestor Robert was married to her x4 grandmother Frances Tracey, but also fathered two children with one of the women he owned, Eleanor Frances Henry.

After his death in 1851, Robert left provision for both women and all of his children, to make sure they were looked after.

Alex said of the news: “It was hard to take. That ownership of a human life is so wrong. I don’t think that stories are told a lot about black people owning slaves.”

“People hide their past because maybe they see it as something that people will frown upon if they tell true stories.

“But I will never be ashamed of my history because it’s made me the person I am today.”

Alex said she’d always had a “special bond” with nan Philicita who died in 2017 also helped bring up her elder brother Ronnie.

She said: “I am a true East End girl – to me, that council estate was everything.”

Alex also found out that Robert Coombs’ granddaughter Henrietta – her great, great grandmother – lost her husband, her mother, and two children to “dropsy” (oedema, or water retention from poor diet) within a few years of each other from 1905.

She said: “I was brought up in a family where you didn’t ask many questions so there wasn’t that free-flowing conversation about where you came from – you just got on with it.”

“I know what my mum had to go through being a white single mum raising two black kids. When I question how I felt in those times, I felt maybe a little bit lost. I wasn’t black enough to be black, I wasn’t white enough to be white. Who am I? Where do I fit?”

“I knew the importance of having the women around me who have been my inspiration – my mum and my nan.

After picking up her MBE with her nan there, she said: “We went to The Ritz for surprise afternoon tea and that’s my last happy memory of my nan, as she passed away soon after. For me, this is a way of connecting with her again.”

She said of the documentary: “I feel eternally grateful to have found out about my past and to such a deep level – I’m so pleased I’ve done it. Ultimately, you don’t know where you’re going, if you don’t know where you’re coming from.

“I had put off going to Jamaica because I wanted to wait until I knew more about my family history. This experience gave me the opportunity to do just that.

I loved my time there and now feel a deep connection to Jamaica – I cannot wait to go back.”

*Who Do You Think You Are? BBC1, Tuesday 26 October, 9pm


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