Baroness Floella Benjamin DBE is an actress, author, television presenter, businesswoman and politician.
Born in the small town of Pointe-a-Pierre in Trinidad in 1949, Baroness Benjamin came to Britain as a 10-year-old in 1960 as a Windrush child.
She left school at 16 and worked in a bank for three years with the goal of becoming Britain’s first black female bank manager.
However, whilst juggling her banking day job with night school, where Floella was studying for A-levels, her career path changed after she auditioned for a part in a musical.
With no previous drama school training, Floella was cast in the show, and her life in show business prevailed.
After appearing in several stage musicals, such as Jesus Christ Superstar and Black Mikado, Floella entered the world of TV, appearing in many leading dramas.
While acting, Floella could also be seen in the BBC’s children’s series Play School. The programme consisted of songs, stories and activities with presenters in the studio, along with a short film introduced through the set’s square, round or arched window.
Wearing her hair with her trademark blue beads, Floella soon became a household name presenting on Play School for 12 years.
In 1987, Floella started her own successful television award-winning production company. In 2004, the company received the Royal Television Society Award for the production ‘Coming to England‘, adapted from her book of the same name.
Baroness Benjamin has written over 30 books, and in 2016 the 20th-anniversary edition of her book ‘Coming to England‘ was chosen as a ‘Guardian Children’s Book of the Year‘. For over two decades, the book has been used in schools and universities as a tool to explore the Windrush journey.
Her broadcasting work has been recognised with numerous awards, including an OBE in 2001, a Special Lifetime Achievement BAFTA Award in 2004 and the J.M Barrie Lifetime Award in 2012 for her lasting cultural legacy.
In 2013 she was made a Fellow of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, and in 2017 she was appointed President of the Society of Women Writers and Journalists.
To celebrate the 70th anniversary of the arrival of Empire Windrush, she created a Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) Chelsea Windrush Garden, which won a gold medal. She is now a Vice President of the RHS.
She was Chancellor of the University of Exeter for ten years and became famous for hugging every graduate and imploring them to ‘change the world’.
She was the first female Trinidadian to be elevated to the House of Lords in 2010 as Baroness Floella Benjamin of Beckenham.
In 2018 she was granted Honorary Freedom of the City of London, and the Prime Minister appointed her Chair of the Windrush Commemoration Committee.
Baroness Benjamin was appointed Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) in the 2020 New Year Honours for Services to Charity.
Baroness Floella Benjamin enjoys the great outdoors and is a keen gardener, as well as championing the rights of children, diversity and inclusion and Black History.