Why Spider-Man star Zendaya’s the flower of Scotland: Actress’s great-grandfather was a heroic World War One soldier from Dundee
As a mixed-race actress she has made a point of openly discussing her heritage, saying that her position as a ‘light-skinned black woman’ makes her Hollywood’s ‘acceptable version of a black girl’.
Now we can reveal another intriguing part of the glossy Spider-Man star Zendaya’s ancestry: her great-grandfather was a heroic WW1 soldier from Dundee.
‘Zendaya knows about her Scottish heritage and is proud of it,’ says her mother Claire Stoermer, speaking exclusively to the Daily Mail by telephone from her home in California. ‘She hasn’t been to Scotland yet, but I know she’d love to visit some time.’
The recent premiere of the latest Spider-Man film, No Way Home, saw Zendaya – who plays Spider-Man’s girlfriend MJ – on the red carpet in a revealing Valentino cobweb dress, much to the delight of her boyfriend British actor Tom Holland, who plays Spider-Man.
It’s all a long way from nineteenth century Dundee, where, the actress’s maternal great grandfather Douglas Whitelaw was born in 1896. Then, most of the jobs in the city were in jute manufacture – but it was women, rather than men who were employed to keep costs down.
It meant Dundee had very high male unemployment, and many men were, in effect, house husbands – known rather disparagingly as ‘kettle bilers’, or kettle boilers.
It’s against this backdrop that Zendaya’s relatives decided to emigrate to Canada, as so many other Scots did at the time – first her great-great grandfather, Harry Tulloch Whitelaw, and then his son, her great-grandfather, Douglas, who made the long and arduous journey by ship, in 1911.
‘He was about 15 when he left Dundee and went to Canada, arriving first in Halifax, and then taking a train to Vancouver where his father had already set up a business as a certified public accountant,’ says Claire.
Yet that wasn’t the last time Douglas would cross the Atlantic. The family has preserved a photograph of their beloved ancestor, which Claire sends me: a black and white photograph of Douglas, in a kilt and Glengarry hat as part of his military uniform for the Canadian Highlanders. Douglas, it seems, was a patriotic soldier who volunteered for service in WW1.