Dom Joly: I've decided to take a DNA test

Dom Joly in Egypt

I have the chance to check out my ancestry, and it’s slightly freaking me out - Credit: Dom Joly

The comedian with wanderlust reports from Cheltenham

I think it’s safe to say that, what with the global events of the last couple of years, we’ve all had quite enough of tests. I hoped that my Christmas Day would be a boozy blur of luxury items intermingled with mountains of food and overly long proclamations of love and devotion from my children. 

So, it was quite a surprise to find that my Christmas present from my wife this year was… a test. Fortunately, it wasn’t a paternity test, an IQ test nor even, thank God, a last-minute ticket to Australia to watch the remaining Test matches. No, this was an ancestral DNA test. My 100% Scottish/Canadian/American wife was finally going to find out what I was made of.  

She got the idea from when we had a long and very boozy lunch with friends in London. Said friends had just taken a a DNA ancestry test and the results were in. They assured us that the one they had used was not one of those where, whatever you sent in, you just got back a form informing you that you were 100% Viking and likely to live for another 200 years. This was the real deal. In fact, a little too real. One of our friends was a little upset as the results had disclosed that she had a significantly above average percentage of Neanderthal in her DNA. I kept schtum and tried not to focus on her prominent overbite or five o’clock shadow as I tucked into my lamb shank. 

So, now I had the chance to check out my own ancestry and it was slightly freaking me out. I grew up in Lebanon to English parents, but had always been mistaken for Lebanese as I have dark hair and brown eyes. My father’s family, the Jolys, were originally Huguenots who escaped Switzerland in the 17th century and settled in London. One branch then headed off in search of fortune to Smyrna in Turkey before eventually ending up in Beirut. My mother’s family came from Exmoor, but there was talk of ‘relations’ with Spaniards who had been wrecked on the Irish coast after the Armada.  

In Lebanon I was always this English kid. In England, at boarding school, I was a weirdo who lived in a war zone. My best friend Harry, used to tease me and called me ‘strangely brown’.  

Well, now, I can finally find out. Am I ten percent Neanderthal? Am I Senõr Joly? Am I, like our much-esteemed Prime Minister (correct at time of writing – not the esteemed bit… unless you’re a bit weird. Just the bit about him still, somehow, being Prime Minister) of Turkish descent? Did the Ottoman Empire get a little too involved with my family? Maybe it was just the milkman in the hills above Beirut…although there were no milkmen. I honestly have no idea. I’m actually a little freaked out about the whole thing. I’ve always had a very strong sense of self, of who I am and where I come from, but this whole test could throw it all up in the air.  

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Also, just to throw another spanner in the works. People who have contributed to these DNA databases suddenly discover that their father had another family in Finland and that they had nine new siblings. Also, should you be a serial killer, this might not be your thing. I believe that the police have unfettered access?  

Ah well, in the words of Nora Ephron, ‘everything is copy’. Tune in for the results.* 

Follow Dom on Twitter: @domjoly

*We know you're on tenterhooks, so pick up the May 2022 issue of Cotswold Life for Dom's DNA results. On sale April 22.