AS A child growing up in Hampshire Joanna Adeyinka-Burford often felt different and longed to fit in.
At primary school she remembers being one of a handful of black children in the school – one of the others was her sister.Joanna Adeyinka-Burford says that there is plenty that goes wrong on the set of Cbeebies[/caption] She loves her job where she gets to sing and dance every day[/caption]
Other children would often bully them mercilessly, teasing them about their race.
Fortunately Joanna’s life is now exactly what she could ever hoped for – she loves her job working as a children’s TV presenter on CBeebies saying, “I can’t believe I get paid to get up and dance”.
And she adores her husband of 15 years and their two children aged 10 and nine.
The mum has now turned her early struggles into a positive, writing a book – What’s Up – to help children navigate difficulties and encourage them through challenging times.
Joanna, 39, who lives in London explains, “I draw on my own experiences throughout the book. At primary school I suffered a lot of racism.
“One particular incident always stuck in my head. I was about seven and a boy in the playground threw grit and dirt in my face, while saying some extremely offensive racist remarks.
“I was inconsolable, to the extent that the school had to call my mum in to calm me down. I couldn’t understand why he’d done it, it was so deeply hurtful.”
It was later that Joanna found the power of forgiveness.
She explains, “There’s a natural urge to hurt and seek revenge. I held on to my feelings of anger and hurt.
“But over the years I’ve realised the power of forgiveness. That little boy almost certainly forgot about what he did.
“When I realised that I let go I felt a huge sense of freedom and forgiveness is actively good for you, it decreases blood pressure and stress levels.”
It’s this sort of incident that Joanna draws upon in her book and hopes it will help other children to realise you can overcome and negotiate adversity.
And despite her troubles Joanna thrived – she credits the support of her parents and the fact she could tell them anything with helping her through. She was also passionate about her hobbies, she adored ballet from the age of two.
Born to Beebies
And when she was 15 she knew she wanted to be a presenter.
She explains, “We were on holiday and we had camcorders and I recorded a piece jokingly talking about our day.
“And then we watched it back and I realised I had a natural talent for it.”
Joanna went on to the Italia Conti academy of theatre arts, which includes Naomi Campbell and Doctor Who’s Karen Gillan amongst its alumni and from there she launched her career acting and presenting.
When she was ‘resting’ she’d teach, both as a teaching assistant in a primary school, where she met her husband who’s now a primary school teacher, and dance, she even taught Pixie Lott who she describes as ‘immensely talented’.
It was in 2015 that Joanna got her dream job presenting on CBeebies and she’s now a full time presenter.
Life on set
She says, “I love my work, I’m very fortunate that my talents matched my passion.
“And working for CBeebies is lovely, you know you’re bringing joy to so many children.
“And fortunately they’re unlikely to notice that we’re forever messing up our lines! It all looks very polished and together but behind the scenes we are often cracking up.
“We hardly get any time to learn our lines before we perform – literally 10 or 20 minutes.
“I remember one time I had to do a song and I’m literally just humming along saying ‘nananana’ because I simply couldn’t remember the lyrics.
“It keeps it all fun.”
Keeping it clean
But it’s good wholesome fun.
While previous children’s entertainers such a CBeebies presenter Sarah-Jane Honeywell, have admitted to various vices, that is miles away from Joanna.
Even when she had early starts getting up to travel from her London home to the Manchester studio at 4am she’d rarely even drink a cup of coffee, instead her favourite tipple is a cup of hot water – at a stretch she’ll have a ginger and turmeric tea.
She says, “I can’t imagine any of us coming in with a hangover these days – we know how privileged we are to have our jobs and we wouldn’t risk them.
“The other presenters are the nicest people in the world. You have to genuinely love your job to bring that joy and energy to the screen.”
Joanna also tours children’s festivals which she thoroughly enjoys.
She says, “It’s funny because it used to be the mums who could sing along to the songs.
“But since the pandemic more men work from home and are able to watch the shows as they can sing along too.
“The sweetest thing at the live shows is when the children can’t understand why we’re actually there, it’s as though they think we only exist on the television!”
While Joanna may have found ways to move on from the terrors of her childhood, sadly racism is something she still deals with.
She explains, “It’s definitely still there in this country – I get followed around shops.
“It happens in museums too – people keeping a firm eye on me and I can only imagine it’s my colour that causes it.
“I always feel like turning round and saying ‘If you knew me you’d know I’m about the last person who’d steal from your shop. I’m about the last person that would steal .
“And it’s still tough for younger people of colour.
“They still have to fight harder and prove themselves more, it’s not as bad as it was, but all we can do is love and accept each other.”
And Joanna feels totally comfortable in her own skin.
She wants others to realise that they shouldn’t feel any pressure to ‘fit in’ and be like every one else.
She explains, “I spent so much time trying to be like everyone else when I was younger. I want to empower kids to be who they are and be confident.
“We are all designed uniquely and wonderfully – not to be like everyone else but to be ourselves and we should celebrate that.”