He's an international superstar with the world at his feet. So why did
Donny Osmond choose to make a secret visit to the south Wales town of
When the Seventies pin-up made an off the cuff remark about Welsh ancestors
in a BBC Radio Wales interview, little did he realise his curiosity
would eventually bring him back to Merthyr to find out more.
After Donny's on-air revelation, the ears of archivists in Wales started
Before long, tongues started wagging too as the experts started the
search to find out if it could be true.
It turns out Donny was right - the Osmond family can be traced back
to Merthyr Tydfil as far as 1585.
But in a special BBC Wales documentary premiered for St David's Day,
Donny Osmond Coming Home (Tuesday
1 March, BBC ONE Wales), the singer - who couldn't resist an invitation
to his family's homeland to find out more - is shocked to find there
are parts of his family history he's got entirely wrong.
And he's even more amazed to discover that some of his Merthyr Tydfil
ancestors were also quite notorious in their own right.
Throughout a career spanning more than 30 years and 54 albums, Donny
Osmond has always maintained that family is central to his life.
Being of Mormon faith, he was already a follower of genealogy - an
important part of the religion.
Although he had already done a huge amount of online research into
his family tree, his Welsh roots had never been properly traced and
much of the family's Welsh history was guesswork - a lot of it wrong.
In fact, the more archivists dug into the Osmond family history, the
more interesting the story became.
"Genealogy is a huge hobby of mine, has been for years," says Donny.
"I think I got the bug from my mother."
In fact it's Donny's late mother Olive who provides both the Welsh
connection and Donny's urge to find out more.
"I've always wanted to find the time to visit Wales and research it
myself. After my mum's passing it's given me an even greater desire
to do more research to find out about her roots, not just mine," he
"I think it's extremely important to find out how your ancestors lived."
BBC Wales' very own 'gene genie' Cat Whiteaway was
given the job of leading the search to find Donny's Welsh roots.
But despite extensive Mormon family history databases, the trail wasn't
"Olive's maiden name was Davis, which was a blow - your heart drops
when you come across a name as common as that," explains Cat.
"The Osmond name comes from Oxford, but Donny was more interested
in exploring the Welsh line on his mother's side of the family.
"Once I started looking back through Olive's family tree, I found
school records, work records, gravestones and even the house where his
great, great, great grandfather John Martin had lived.
"We even managed to trace one of Donny's living relatives in Wales."
In the programme, Donny finally finds John Martin's grave, and is surprised
at how emotional the visit is.
"It's hard for me to explain but it does feel like I'm home, like coming
full circle. I wanted to stand here for so long. My mother wanted to
see this - I'm seeing it for her."
Michael Lewis from independent production company Yellow Duck, which
made the film for BBC Wales, spent almost two years organising Donny's
visit to Merthyr.
"For somebody who's an icon of our generation, it's incredible that
his ancestors were also so important," he says.
"Many of them were involved in running Merthyr Steelworks, and Dr
John Martin was Chief Surgeon at the Steelworks, saving hundreds of
lives throughout his career.
"It was a whirlwind visit, but Donny spent time talking to local people.
"As well as the crowds of fans who followed him wanting autographs
and pictures once word had got out, there were also locals who chatted
to him over the garden wall as if he was just the bloke delivering the
Donny Osmond Coming Home, Tuesday 1 March, BBC ONE Wales, 9.00pm