Dame Barbara Windsor was a household name throughout all of our childhoods. She stole hearts from the Carry On films to her larger-than-life role as Peggy Mitchell, landlady of the Queen Victoria pub, in EastEnders.
We know her for her stardom, but who was the woman behind the scenes, and what do we know about Barbara Windsor’s Irish ancestry? We’re taking a peek into her fascinating life and the roots that connect her family tree to Ireland.
Barbara Windsor was born Barbara Ann Deeks in London in 1937. She was the only child of parents John and Rose Deeks. In 1939, her father went to war and Barbara was evacuated to Blackpool, where she lived in several homes before returning to London.
During her time in Blackpool, Dame Barbara attended a dancing school, which first piqued her interest in the performing arts. Her dance instructor once sent Barbara’s mother a note that said, “Barbara is a born show-off who loves to perform.”
After learning of her natural talents, Barbara’s mother decided to send her to a drama school called Madame Behenna’s Juvenile Jollities. There, she earned the highest mark in North London and received more opportunities in the entertainment world.
Eventually, her acting prowess would land Barbara two of her most famous roles in the Carry On films and EastEnders. In April 2000, Barbara married Scott Mitchell, an actor and recruitment consultant. She was with him until she passed away in December 2020.
Barbara Windsor’s maternal great-grandmother, Mary Ann Collins, was born to Irish parents in the City of Cork. The family left the country around the late 1840s during the Irish Potato Famine.
Mary Ann’s parents were William and Ellen Collins. William was a cabinet maker, which gave him the means to leave Ireland in a time of crisis. The couple relocated their family to the East End of London, as confirmed by their names listed in the 1871 census.
In Winter 2019, we included a feature story on Barbara Windsor in the Irish Lives Remembered magazine. When we first researched Barbara’s family history for Who Do You Think You Are and later wrote the feature, everyone we spoke to was equally enthused about the actress and the private person behind the persona.
During her Who Do You Think You Are episode, Barbara visited Cork to learn more about Mary Ann Collins and her family history. She spoke with experts who told her more about the Potato Famine and how difficult it would have been for her great-grandmother’s family to uproot their lives in Cork and move to London.
Later, Dame Barbara visited the Abbeystrewry Cemetery in Cork, where thousands were buried in mass graves during the famine. She spoke of how proud she was to have ancestors from Cork and her fondness for the people of Ireland.
Adam Dant, whose work featured in the Irish Lives Remembered article, told a lovely story about meeting Barbara in 2014 at lunch in Soho. He said she was friendly, professional, and had time for everyone. We used a photo of Adam with Dame Barbara from that lunch on the front cover of the winter 2019 edition of the magazine.
Additionally, Fiona Fitzsimons, Research Director of the Irish Family History Centre, wrote about researching Barbara Windsor’s Irish roots in that 47th issue of the magazine.
Irish Lives Remembered and the Irish Family History Centre extended their sympathy to Dame Barbara’s family after her passing. We’re proud to have played a role in helping her uncover her roots in Ireland.
The Irish Family History Centre revealed Barbara Windsor’s Irish ancestry, and we can do the same for your family. Our genealogy experts are here to help families like yours find missing links and learn more about their family’s story.
Contact us today to take the next step in your Irish family history research. We can help you access records and piece together hidden clues about your ancestry in Ireland.