Baroness Floella Benjamin says she ‘adores' Charles as she collects damehood
Baroness Floella Benjamin spoke of “overwhelming joy” and her admiration for the Prince of Wales as she collected her damehood at Buckingham Palace.
Known to millions as the host of Play School and Play Away, the beloved children’s TV presenter was recognised for her services to charity in the New Year Honours List.
The Lib Dem life peer has dedicated over 40 years to campaigning for young people and supports charities including Barnardo’s, Sickle Cell Society and Beating Bowel Cancer.
After receiving her damehood, the 70-year-old told the PA news agency: “You get such a buzz from giving back and making a difference, changing the world, and to get an honour like this after these years it’s like wonderful recognition.
“Today, it’s giving me a wonderful feeling in my heart.
“I haven’t done charity work for any ulterior motive but only to change people’s lives.
“To get it, it is like wow, how exciting.
“But I’m still thinking: what more can I do?
“To me, it doesn’t end here.”
A “huge admirer” of Charles, Baroness Benjamin said she was “thrilled” to receive her damehood from him on Thursday.
“I adore the Prince of Wales because he is a man of vision and over the years, I’ve always written to him when it comes to the environment,” she told PA.
“He is just so with it.
“He has had to take a lot of criticism over the years but has been proved right, and all the people that criticised him have come around to his way of thinking.
“I was thrilled to have got it from him this morning because I’m a huge admirer of him, and all the things he is promoting.”
Baroness Benjamin, who has recently been in Barbados supporting charity Transplant Links, added: “I told him about going to Barbados and he said, ‘I love the Caribbean, especially Barbados’.”
Born on the Caribbean island of Trinidad before moving to the UK, Baroness Benjamin has appeared in several stage musicals, including Jesus Christ Superstar and Black Mikado.
A 12-year stint on Play School, a BBC programme for youngsters, made her one of the most recognisable children’s TV presenters in the country.
In 2010, she was introduced to the House of Lords and given the full title of Baroness Benjamin, of Beckenham in the County of Kent.
On Monday, Baroness Benjamin joined members of the royal family at a Commonwealth service held at Westminster Abbey – which she said was “absolutely incredible”.
She told PA: “I always go to the ceremony because it’s a coming together of nations and to make every nation in the Commonwealth feel good.
“And I have always, always supported the Commonwealth because the Commonwealth started when I was born 71 years ago, so I feel a Commonwealth baby.
“I feel a huge connection with the Commonwealth and I am glad it is now taught in schools, especially for the Windrush generation who are now here, to feel that they are part of a great nation of countries together.”
Baroness Benjamin also addressed criticism of the word “empire” in the honours system, saying it was “important” to understand the history of the term – after Labour leadership hopeful Lisa Nandy called for it to be removed.
Baroness Benjamin told PA: “George V said, why don’t we have an honour where it could be women honoured, become more inclusive, and more people across the British Empire would also be included, other countries.
“It’s not just what you think of the British going out and conquering people, George V wanted to make it inclusive. And that’s what it is.”
She said that she was having conversations about how to “modernise the word”, adding: “But I think if people realise why it’s called empire, they would realise because it is to be inclusive, not to say, ‘we are a great thing’.
“I think that’s important.
“I feel proud to receive this, because it’s telling you that the work you have done for your country and your society has been acknowledged and recognised.
“And I feel completely blessed and recognised today.”