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Wow! SJP has a witch in the family

Anyone hoping that the ancestral journey undertaken by the famously equine- featured Sarah Jessica Parker in the American version of Who Do You Think You Are? would lead her directly back to a stud ranch in Kentucky will have been sorely disappointed.

If, however, you believe that SJP is a witch whose role in the "crime against humanity" (as my friend George Byrne put it in his hilarious movie review yesterday) that is Sex and the City 2 merits burning at the stake, the show offered some compensation.

SJP discovered that one of her ancestors came perilously close to that fate at the Salem Witch Trials in the late 1600s.

Her 10th great-grandmother was accused, along with two other women, of practising witchcraft against one of their neighbours, with the result that the woman died.

"This is very upsetting, it's really horrible," whined SJP -- as indeed any of us would over the fate of someone who shared a fraction of a pinhead-sized drop of our DNA more than 300 years ago.

Luckily for the Parker lineage, this happened at the tail end of 1693, by which time the prosecutors had begun to twig that this whole witchcraft business might just be a bit of a wind-up and decided to halt the human barbecue and blame it all on the devil.

It transpired SJP's 10th great-granny was the very last to be accused, and she dodged the stake by a week-and-a-half. "Wow!" said SJP, eloquently summing it up.

Who Do You Think You Are? USA was good fun, not so much because of what SJP discovered (aside from the Salem business, there wasn't a lot else remarkable about her ancestry), but because of her reaction to it.

Americans, and especially American celebrities, tend to be more forthcoming about their feelings than stoic Europeans, which meant that even the tiniest scrap of information passed on to SJP by the genealogists was greeted with a great, big, Hollywood "Wow!"

Your fourth great-grandfather was a miner during the Gold Rush. "Wow!". See that hill there? That's where he would have mined. "Wow! What? Right THERE?"

Well, er, no . . . not exactly, but somewhere in the general vicinity. "Wow, wow, wow!"

The History channel also went rummaging through the past last night, although in a much more invasive way. A team of scientists, historians and medics tried to discover the reasons behind the death of England's fattest monarch by going Inside the Body of Henry VIII -- and a damn disgusting journey it was, too.

There was a lot to explore. Henry was a big man. He weighed 28 stone at the time of his death and there were rumours flying around the court that his body exploded in the coffin.

So why did the once svelte, athletic and even-tempered king, who was noted in his youth for his "fine calves" (the ones on his legs, not the ones he had for lunch), turn into an obese whackjob subject to violence mood swings?

Well, there was the diet for a start. Henry had 13 meals a day, mostly meat and white bread, washed down with 10 pints of ale and a few bottles of wine, flavoured with sugar to take away the bitter taste.

He also suffered from malaria and varicose ulcers on his legs (which physicians had to keep open to prevent his leg-bones becoming infected), was continually constipated, paranoid and depressed, and probably died from Type 2 diabetes.

It all stemmed from a jousting accident. Henry fell off his horse. The horse, in turn, fell on him, crushing his legs and irreparably damaging his frontal lobes, which left Henry liable to lose his head in an instant (causing others to lose theirs). This was fascinating stuff. In a word, "Wow!"


Who do you think you are? USA **

Inside the body of Henry VIII ****