Cheryl hails 'tough, northern Geordie women' as she finds out about ancestors

North East-born pop star Cheryl was full of northern pride after discovering her Geordie roots run deep on BBC genealogy show Who Do You Think You Are?.

Cheryl says researching her family history has shown that northerners are made of tough stuff.
Cheryl says researching her family history has shown that northerners are made of tough stuff.

The former member of Girls Aloud, who first shot to fame as a contestant on Popstars: The Rivals, explored her family tree for an episode of the BBC1 series and was pleased to find that she was a bona fide Geordie on both sides.

She said at the start of the programme: "I feel like I should be deeply rooted in the North East, I would think so, I feel that way."

The singer, who now goes by her first name only, is seen in next week's instalment of the series travelling back to her childhood home of Newcastle upon Tyne, where she looks first at her father's ancestors who were coal miners, and before that, mariners.

Cheryl, 33, said to her father Gary Tweedy: "It's interesting because I hate the sea, I've always been really afraid of it, and I used to have really bad dreams when I was little about drowning in the sea, being an old woman with a headscarf on."

At one point, Cheryl is told that her four times grandfather John Wood Laing did well at sea, eventually becoming a captain, but that his brother James went awol from a ship, apparently out drinking, came back and called the ship's mate "a bloody snot", hit him in the face and was put in irons for it.

Smiling, Cheryl said: "Obviously he liked a bit of the naughty side."

But when shown a photo of John and his wife Caroline in an unusually affectionate pose for portraits of the time, she said: "You just get a real sense they were crazy about each other."

Talking about John improving his fortunes, she added: "When I first started off I found out that he lived in a poor area and he wasn't really in a good way for his wife and having a baby, so I was a bit concerned about that and what happened thereafter.

"To find out that actually it improved is such an amazing thing to witness and discover.

"I feel like in a way that's kind of what happened with me, so I relate to the fact that hard work pays off."

She said of her female ancestors, who had to cope alone when John's ship eventually sank: "There's definitely a sense of strong, tough northern Geordie women and that tradition seems to have carried on, and I'm proud of the fact that they were strong and hard working."

Cheryl can also be seen meeting with her mother Joan Callaghan to discuss her mysterious great grandfather who had 11 children - the last two being her grandmother and her grandmother's twin sister, born to his housekeeper after his wife's death.

She said: "In those days, having children out of wedlock was seriously frowned upon, so he was always a mystery and now I can put a man to that mystery."

Discovering that her great grandfather, Joseph Wilson Ridley, had dug trenches and built roads and railways during the First World War, she headed to France to see the battlefields he had been a part of.

She said: "He may have had a bit of a reputation afterwards of being a little bit disturbed and he probably didn't want to talk about his war stories.

"I think there was a lot of men who didn't really talk about their war experiences and therefore nobody else did either."

Looking satisfied with her new knowledge about her roots, she said: "Before I set off on this journey, I always had a great sense of the North East and I always had a great instinct that I was rootedly from there.

"This whole experience has really taught me that it's true when they say northerners are made of tough stuff.

"There's just a great sense of resilience and strength there and the fact that I'm from the North East all that time ago on both sides is proof to me that what I thought and what I felt is the truth."

* Cheryl's episode of Who Do You Think You Are? airs on December 15 on BBC1.