By Zara Nicholson

Some 5fm listeners occasionally ask: "Who does Gareth Cliff think he is?"

Well, now the controversial DJ and Idols judge knows precisely who he is. It turns out he can now boast an illustrious ancestry linking him to English kings, Voortrekker leader Piet Retief, Afrikaans historian and writer Gustav Preller, and former Cape Colony governor Lord Charles Somerset.

Cliff, whose frequently crushing on-air comments as an Idols judge raised eyebrows, has spent years researching his family tree.

A box filled with old documents, photographs and other files prompted Cliff to find out about his ancestry.

His philosophy behind this quest is simple: "If you don't know where you come from how can you know where you're going to?"

SABC2 is preparing the launch of their own version if the BBC's hit series Who do you think you are? which researches the ancestry of various celebs.

The South African version will be launched in March and will trace the genealogy of 12 South African celebrities and well-known figures, including models, sport stars, actors and musicians.

Sara Blecher, the series producer from Rapid Blue, said the local version would be different from the British one as the task of tracking the ancestry of South Africans is more difficult.

"We aren't as lucky to have our history as richly documented as it is in Britain. In South Africa it's not that easy so it's very exciting to use different methods."

Blecher said the show would trace the ancestry of prominent South African figures with the aim of "inspiring South Africans" to trace their own heritage.

With the help of family historian, Heather MacAlister, from ancestry24.co.za who is also an adviser to the show, Cliff has managed to complete the complex mission of tracing his roots "into the depths of time".

MacAlister said Cliff was "keen and very enthusiastic" about his family and heritage, and had found much of his information on their website which has around 7-million South African names and 200 family databases online.

Speaking to Cliff it is instantly evident he is enthusiastic and proud of his ancestry. He was born and raised in Pretoria.

Cliff could also set his sights on fighting for the return of the family farm at Pelindaba, originally owned by Preller, his great grandfather.

The Pelindaba (Zulu for Discussions are over) site near the Hartbeespoort Dam, west of Pretoria, now houses South Africa's main nuclear research centre.

"Unfortunately, the land was expropriated when my mother was in high school. Frankly I think they should give it back. It was expropriated for very unnecessary reasons.

"It was a family treasure. I'd like to think the government would do the right thing and give it back," Cliff said.

Cliff is descended from Stephanus Schoeman who was president of the old South African Republic in the 1800s. Preller was Schoeman's grandson, and Cliff's mother, Monica, is Preller's granddaughter.

His father, Rory Cliff, is linked to Lord Charles Somerset and his ancestors are one of the illegitimate children of King Charles II.