I Work For: Work, play and school

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The Independent Culture
SHORTLY AFTER I graduated with a degree in TV and drama, I began approaching television production companies for work. When I called Cristalrowe Productions they invited me to an interview straightaway. I knew nothing about the company, so I was amazed to be greeted by Floella Benjamin who, I discovered, ran the company with her husband, Keith.

I recognised Floella immediately from her Playschool days and, confronted by one of my childhood stars, I became so nervous that I couldn't stop giggling. Funnily enough, a lot of people - including high-flyers - have the same reaction. But once I had pulled myself together, Floella and I clicked, although she was quite tough and demanding during the interview - testing me to see if I would fall apart under pressure. I was employed that day and asked to start work the next.

Floella calls me her "right-hand woman" because I do everything from writing scripts to dressing up the children appearing on Jamboree, her TV show, and then playing the part of a peasant myself. I even wrote Floella's speech for Cambridge University Burns Night, comparing it with Playschool. On the night itself I was given the job of guarding Humpty and Jemima from kidnap while the students queued to have their pictures taken with their Playschool heroes.

Floella believes that children are the most important thing in the world, which is one of the reasons she works from home. I sometimes collect her son and daughter from school and bring them home. Alvina is nine and, just like her mum, knows exactly what she wants. Aston is a very grown- up 16-year-old, not at all like your average Harry Enfield teenager.

Floella's just so busy. She chairs the Woman of the Year Award as well as Bafta Children's Awards and Bafta Television. She also writes books, presents and produces a programme, and is involved in all kinds of charity work. I often have to calm her down, and she relies on her essential oils which she sniffs when things are stressful, whereas I'm a coffee, tea and chocolate person.

We share many views, although she's more conservative than I am, particularly when it comes to relationships. She doesn't believe in sex before marriage, and complains about the way some girls flaunt themselves on children's TV. She likes to give me advice, anything from how to keep young-looking to the importance of winning people's respect. I boss her around sometimes; I don't mean to but it just comes out, and it makes her laugh.

I often say mad things, but then so does she. She makes up words and phrases, such as "clippy-clippy machine", meaning stapler, and "the tappy- tappy", referring to the keyboard. She's hopeless with computers, but she's a very good employer and she looks after my needs.

I play rugby twice a week to unwind and the other day I came in to work with a black eye and Floella didn't want me to leave the house because it looked as if I had been fighting.

I've been here nearly a year and have become a jack of all trades, but my secret ambition is to present children's programmes myself.

I think it's sad that she gets so little recognition for all that she does. It's almost as if her work is taken for granted.

Interview by

Katie Sampson