The one lesson I’ve learned from life: Baroness Floella Benjamin says disappointment can lead to better things
- Floella Benjamin made her name as the presenter of children’s TV programmes
- She recalls a voice inside her head at age 14 telling her to believe in herself
- In 2010 she was created a life Peer and became a Dame in New Year’s Honours
Floella Benjamin, 70, made her name as the presenter of children’s TV programmes, notably Play School. In 2010, she was created a life Peer and became a Dame in the latest New Year’s Honours.
At first, every day was a battle. At 14, I was having a fight when I heard a voice inside my head saying, ‘What are you doing? You can’t change the colour of your skin and, if that troubles this boy, it’s his problem, not yours. Start believing in yourself.’
And that’s the day I learned to smile. I quickly worked out that, if you do that, you’ll always be a winner. It’s your best defence in life but it’s no use if it doesn’t come from the heart.
Floella Benjamin, 70, made her name as the presenter of children’s TV programmes, notably Play School
Back in 1976 on Play School, I realised one day that in all the stories I was reading, the illustrations on screen were of white children. I gently pointed this out to the producer and her instinctive reaction was that she hadn’t noticed. To give her credit, that changed overnight.
In 2003, I was appointed to the Ofcom Content Board. Someone said to me that I’d only got it because I was black; in other words, it was a politically correct appointment. So I replied: ‘Well, you’ve only got to where you are because you’re white. Now it’s my turn.’ And then I smiled. She was totally taken aback and, in time, we became friends.
I’m a natural optimist and that’s down to my late mother, Veronica. She used to say that every disappointment was an appointment with something better. She instilled a self-confidence in me and my five brothers and sisters when we were young.
I always maintain that childhood lasts a lifetime. That’s why we should put children first; that’s why I started campaigning in 1983 for a Minister for Children.
I call my philosophy the four Cs. Consideration – that’s empathy for other people. Contentment – what’s right for you will come. And, finally, have the Confidence to live your life as a decent human being. All of these are wrapped up in Courage: the moral Courage to stand up for what you believe in, to never be afraid of tomorrow or ashamed of what you did yesterday. And always remember to smile!