Ed Balls has said that learning about his family history on Who Do You Think You Are? was “quite difficult” for him, after discovering his ancestor Christopher Green had been an arsonist.
In next week’s episode, the former Labour politician makes his debut on the BBC One show, but soon discovers that Green, his four times great-grandfather on his mother’s side and an agricultural labourer, had rebelled against new machinery that would do his job and was later charged for burning down a farmhouse and its animals in 1832.
Speaking to RadioTimes.com and other press, Balls revealed that at first, he felt sympathy for his ancestor, who was imprisoned in Norwich for destroying a number of threshing machines, but unravelling Green’s history further became “harder as it went on”.
“In the end, history is not kind to people who break machines, whether it’s the Luddites or people who said computers won’t make our lives better. Probably in the end, he was on the wrong side of history but I felt very much his pain and stress, and the fact that he was willing to go to prison for a year to protest about wages… it was brave what he did.
“Ten years later, suddenly the newspapers say he’s burned down a farm in the barn and killed all the livestock. In labour history, the Swing Riots are quite a violent period. The Swing Riots were a much tougher area of protest so I was quite worried about the fact that he was an arsonist.
“And you can see me saying in the film, ‘Wasn’t there another way in which he could have made his point?’ But of course, as Rose the historian says, not really, because back then, there was no parliament, there were no trade unions, there were no other routes for protest.
“I found that bit quite difficult and I wasn’t quite sure what I was going to think when we got to the trial,” he added.
While Balls’ episode of the genealogical docuseries proves to be rather interesting, the former Strictly Come Dancing star admitted that it took the show a while to dig through his family history.
“I don’t think I went in with big expectations that I was going to find out anything exciting or interesting and I think it took the programme quite a few years to do their research, so I thought maybe we are just a really, really boring Norfolk agricultural family,” he said.
Who Do You Think You Are? continues tonight at 9pm on BBC One, with Ed Balls’ episode airing on Tuesday 30th November.