Floella Benjamin – through the round window and into the Lords

On the 28th June 2010 I was introduced into the House of Lords. As I gazed around and soaked up the richness of the symbolism, tradition and magnificent surroundings I thought to myself surely I must have reached the summit of life’s mountain, the pinnacle of a career stretching back over forty years. And as I looked back into the valley of life I couldn’t help thinking of my journey. Like the coat worn by the Garter King of Arms, my life has been a rich tapestry of experiences, some good, some bad, but all significant. I believe that every experience is part of a jigsaw puzzle of which the pieces fit together and lead to a place which allows you to use them for the benefit of others.

I have had to face many obstacles and adversities in life but I have never let them defeat me, I have used them to make me stronger and more resolute. My philosophy is to keep smiling and never give up, never show those who attack you to see the hurt they are causing. My family motto is ‘Who would have thought?’ because I never fail to be amazed and delighted at the twists and turns my life has taken from when at the age of eight my happy childhood in Trinidad was disrupted by the decision of my parents to move to Britain. But now I see it was for a purpose, it led to my life long dedication to ensuring that children’s well being is at the heart of society’s thinking.

Much has been made by the press of my years as a children’s television presenter, and that’s not surprising because I’m told I touched the lives of millions of children who are now adults and look back at programmes like Playschool with great affection. Of course if you look at my record you will see I was a successful musical and drama actress before I auditioned for Playschool. But when I became a presenter of that iconic programme it was a life changing moment which eventually led me to the door of the House of Lords.

I have always focussed on the happiness of children, because I believe everything we do affects them. I always say ‘Childhood lasts a lifetime’ and this belief led me to become involved in many organisations, charities and committees and eventually political activities.

In the past the Liberal Democrats often asked for my support and six years ago I got heavily involved with Sarah Teather and joined her 4Rs education initiative. After that association I realized that the Lib-Dems were the right party for me, because of their belief in common sense, fairness and equality for all, everything I stand for.

Last October Nick Clegg asked me if I would become a Liberal Democrat peer and I gladly accepted. Of course I couldn’t say anything until it became official but the weeks turned into months and nothing happened. During the election campaign I criss-crossed the country, supporting Lib-Dem PPCs. Many people approached me in the street and said, “You should be in the House of Lords!”. All I could do was smile knowingly and thank them for their kindness, but my lips remained sealed.

It was an excruciatingly long and frustrating wait but eventually after the election the call came to tell me the documents had been signed and my peerage was to be announced to the press.

From there things moved fast and the incredibly efficient House of Lords staff swung into action and like a well oiled machine began the process of introducing me to this most special of places. Everyone has been so incredibly helpful, kind and supportive. My fellow inductees and I marvelled at the way, like new kids at a big school we were given our coat pegs, our passes and our instructions on how to behave and survive in this great institution.

Now I am here I intend to continue doing what I have always done. Giving my heart and soul and doing my very best passionately, especially in areas that effect children and young people, which actually means most areas! It’s a steep learning curve but I am surrounded by so many people whose objectives are the same as mine. I can hardly walk ten metres along a corridor in the House without being warmly greeted by members from all political persuasions, people who I have known for many years through my work in so many organisations.

They greet me with such enthusiasm, as if they have been waiting for me to join them and help them to make a difference. They are all so passionate about a vast variety of issues and urge me to hear their views, which I do with great interest. My husband Keith says I am in my element, and I must admit I have to agree with him.

Floella Benjamin was introduced to the House of Lords on 28 June, and has taken the title of Baroness Benjamin of Beckenham. A video of her introduction is available here.

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