Harborough explorer's new Channel 4 documentary about travellers starts tonight (Monday) - with a surprise personal revelation
Ed, 46, who was adopted, was told by an “ancestry gypsy lady” that his four-times great grandfather Anthony Lovell and his wife Jane Light, who married in 1833, were both from Romani gypsy families.
The startling revelation emerged at the action-packed Appleby Horse Fair in Cumbria, the biggest and most colourful event on the gypsy calendar.
And it came as Ed, who lives near Market Harborough, made 60 Days with the Gypsies – which starts tonight (Monday) on Channel 4 at 9pm.
“My gypsy heritage may be distant but it made me smile and it made me glow inside when it came out.
“To know that I’ve got genuine gypsy blood in me myself was the cherry on the cake in a way,” smiled the nationally-famous explorer this afternoon.
Ed broke off from doing a non-stop round of interviews about his new much-anticipated programme with national newspapers, TV and radio to talk to the Harborough Mail.
“I’ve had a fascinating life but this is one of the most fascinating, exciting things I’ve ever done.
“Spending 60 days with gypsies at different sites throughout the country has been a real challenge,” said the former Army captain, who met travellers who have lived at the Justin Park site on the edge of Market Harborough.
“But I’ve loved the entire experience.
“It’s given me a whole new insight into how gypsies live their lives.
“I went in there with a certain set of perceptions and came out with a very different set, feeling so much more positively about gypsies.
“It was eye-opening to sit and listen to their terrible stories of racism and persecution that they’ve had to endure over the years.
“I am an outdoors person and don’t spend a lot of time in a house myself,” said Ed, a dad-of-three married to fellow explorer Laura Bingham.
“So it’s not a massive jump for me to have deep compassion with these people.
“I get the lives that they lead, I get the romanticism from travelling out on the open road.
“Who are we to try to force gypsies to live in houses like most people if they don’t want to do that and to conform?
“And I quickly discovered that they have very strong values in their community that non-travellers can learn from.
“Such as spending more time outdoors, helping each other out, bonding with each other, sticking together,” insisted Ed, the first person to walk the length of the mighty 4,345 mile-Amazon river in South America.
“There’s an element, perhaps, of them not helping themselves or being open to the rest of us at times.
“But there’s an old saying that if you corner a dog enough times eventually he will bite you.
“Society is making their traditionally nomadic existence harder and harder.
“A lot of common ground where they used to pitch up and stay overnight was taken away from them in this country in the 1970s.
“There are simply not enough static traveller sites for them to stay at,” said Ed.
“So we as a society are not helping them to live as they have lived for many centuries.
“Romani gypsies have been here in this country over 500 years.
“That’s longer than our current royal family have lived here!
“There is a minority of them in this country that lets the side down,” admitted the Sandhurst-trained ex-Army officer.
“But I’ve got to say I had far more positive encounters with gypsies making this new programme than negative ones.
“People would be for ever asking me in to their caravan for a cuppa, a bacon sarnie and a natter.
“They were very friendly and welcoming.
“They also get a bad rep for being dirty – but I saw the opposite.
“Every caravan I went in to was spotlessly clean.
“I expected a lot of bitterness and resentment for the way they’ve been treated over the centuries but that wasn’t the case.
“But I do fear for them.
“The future doesn’t look rosy for gypsies as they try to live their old nomadic lives because we’ve made it so difficult for them to roam this land,” said Ed.
“Many people do have a negative perception of gypsies.
“But we should all try to have more tolerance, understanding and empathy for who they are and the way they live.
“I have a lot of time for travellers – they are certainly not sub-human.”
Asked how he would like the people of Harborough to view and treat gypsies in future, Ed replied: “Be more open-minded.
“Everyone seems to have a negative story to tell about travellers.
“But they are an incredibly-close, very supportive community and they have a lot of values that the rest of us can learn from and take on board.
“Treat them as you would your next-door neighbours and anyone else you come across – above all, treat them properly and as fellow human beings.”