Baroness Floella Benjamin ‘floating ever since’ news of Bafta Fellowship

The beloved children’s TV presenter, 74, known to millions of Britons as the host of BBC children’s TV shows Play School and Play Away, is being honoured for her “tireless support of children and young people”, and “for her unwavering championing of diversity”, Bafta chairwoman Sara Putt previously said.

Lady Benjamin’s 12-year spell on Play School, and her time on its sister programme Play Away, made her one of the most recognisable children’s TV presenters in the country.

She will be honoured during the event being held at the Royal Festival Hall on May 12, where TV shows including the final season of BBC drama Happy Valley, spy drama Slow Horses and the final series of Netflix’s royal drama The Crown will be hoping to take home gongs.

The King speaks with Baroness Dame Floella Benjamin following a service at St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle, for young people to recognise and celebrate the Windrush 75th anniversary (Andrew Matthews/PA)

Recalling the day she received the news, she told PA news agency she had been checking emails and saw one from Bafta, explaining: “It was the most incredible letter that said that Bafta had unanimously decided to offer me the Bafta Fellowship, their highest accolade, and it couldn’t go to anyone better.

“And lo and behold, I had to keep on reading. I said to my husband, ‘you won’t believe it’. I kept on reading it and reading it thinking they must have made a mistake. I’ve just been floating ever since, I just can’t believe this wonderful accolade is happening to me.”

Lady Benjamin, who is one of six siblings, said she wishes her parents were here to see the “fruits of their labour”.

She told PA: “My husband (Keith) is coming with me and my beautiful daughter is coming with me. And, unfortunately, my son is abroad, so he can’t come.

“But all my family, brothers and sisters, will be tuning in and I just wish my mom and dad were here to see the fruits of their labour, you know, the sacrifices they made for their six children.

“For me to be awarded with this highest accolade in our industry this way, it’s due to them and their commitment, and their love and the confidence they instilled in me, that has made me where I am today. So, I wish they were here to bask in their glory.”

Investitures at Buckingham Palace
Floella Benjamin with her Dame Commander medal after being awarded her damehood by the Prince of Wales at an investiture ceremony at Buckingham Palace (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

Lady Benjamin was born in Trinidad before emigrating to the UK as a 10-year-old and she has several stage musical credits to her name, including Hair, Jesus Christ Superstar and The Black Mikado.

She is an author and charity campaigner, and in 2010 was introduced to the House of Lords and given the full title of Baroness Benjamin of Beckenham in the County of Kent after being nominated by the Liberal Democrats.

She collected her damehood for her services to charity at Buckingham Palace in 2020.

Lady Benjamin has also chaired the Windrush commemoration committee and has advocated for tax relief of children’s TV in the House of Lords.

Her 1995 memoir Coming To England was adapted into an award-winning TV movie.

She told PA: “Every day I wake up and I say, ‘take me, show me, lead me, I’m yours world’. My mission in life is to make a difference, to break down those barriers.

“I don’t do things for myself. Because if I was thinking of myself, I wouldn’t do half the things that I’ve done, because I’ve had to be outspoken, I’ve had to challenge people.

Royal visit to the South West – Day Two
The late Queen Elizabeth II with Baroness Floella Benjamin during a visit to Exeter University as part of the Diamond Jubilee tour of the UK (Arthur Edwards/PA)

“I’ve always done it with a smile, I’ve always made them see the other side of what they’re missing.”

She added: “When I was on Play School, all the illustrations were all of white children. I said to the producers, ‘Can’t we have some black and Asian and Chinese faces? And they said, ‘Oh, my goodness, we hadn’t noticed’.

“That’s when I realised way back in the 70s that I had to get people to realise what’s missing and to make that difference.”

Also being honoured at the ceremony is Scottish TV presenter Lorraine Kelly, who will be given a special award for her outstanding contribution to television.

The Bafta Television Awards with P&O Cruises will air on BBC One at 7pm.

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