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24 September 2014
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Donny Osmond's secret visit to Wales

Category: Wales

Date: 24.02.2005
Printable version

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 Merthyr Tydfil?

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 buzzing.

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 says.

"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 all straightforward.

"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 bread!"

Donny Osmond Coming Home, Tuesday 1 March, BBC ONE Wales, 9.00pm



Category: Wales

Date: 24.02.2005
Printable version


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