“There is no greater good in all the world than motherhood. The influence of a mother in the lives of her children is beyond calculation.” — James E. Faust
As I walk into the hallway of our Edwardian home in Kent, I’m greeted by mother, Jacqui. We embrace and she leads me to our family room. The sweet smell of Ylang Ylang oil permeates the air as she walks across the parquet flooring towards a brown coffee sofa and she is looking incredibly well. Our home bursts with character as I take in my surroundings. Sunlight, bursts through french doors, glistening on the creamy, vignette walls crowded with artwork from the likes of Sanderson and Sands. The four African Massai warrior figurines dance along a white, gloss window sill, a marble Christus central to them all. She chose to put it there, the focal point of the room because Christ is central to her life and she felt it deserved pride of place. My mother gracefully sits down next to me wearing her Sunday best; a floor length blue, pleated chiffon skirt, white blouse and a stripped blue and white cardigan.
Recently, I was asked where my confidence and positive drive originated from? I am someone who will speak and engage with anyone regardless of age, colour or creed and from a young age, it has always been like that.
This is something I have learnt from my mother. She has forever encouraged me to be true to myself, exhibit self-love, and love to those around and never to change for anyone. She has motivated me to speak up and to be bold. She has taught me that I can achieve anything I want in life if I work hard for it. The world is mine to enjoy, but nothing comes for free and there is no elevator to success, you have to take the stairs. I will carry her mantra’s with me as I travel through the rest of my life.
She is now in her sixties with several professions under her belt. Her dancing days, where she would wait in corridors; stretching, in a black leotard, tights and leg warmers. Hair slicked back waiting to enter the studio and tell a story through movement. She has had a fantastic acting career where she has taken part in theatre, television and film including Strapless, and The Greatest Store In The World. She is an accredited police station representative and also a qualified counsellor and hypnotherapist.
“I guess I have a zest for different walks of life,” she laughs as she pushes her shoulder length, grey hair behind her ear and shuffles on the sofa slightly. “I loved doing it all, but acting was my favourite.”
My mother, is best known for her role in the British soap Eastenders as the character Etta Tavernier. She was one of the first black actors to be introduced within the soap, setting a new standard for the representation of minority families in non- stereotypical roles.
Hillary Kingsley commented on her in ‘Woman’ magazine that during that time “It was unusual to see a black woman portrayed so positively. It was rare to see a middle class black family on television at all apart from The Cosby show, which is American.”
My mother’s journey began at the age of five at St John’s Church hall, Peckham where she was taught ballet. Age fifteen, she began to enter her grades at another ballet school local to her home and then went on to do a speech and drama course at College along with extra dance classes at the London School of Contemporary Dance. She quickly emerged as a dancer and succeeded in being accepted into the Martha Graham School of Contemporary Dance in New York when her family emigrated to the United States.
Joining the Martha Graham School of Contemporary Dance was a milestone for mum and whilst enrolled, she additionally took up classes at The HB Studio; a focal element to New York’s cultural landscape which teaches classes from acting, movement, improvisation and voice. She had a short stint there strengthening her technique, but soon returned to London because she felt he was not a good enough dancer.
“When that dream blew up, it wasn’t so devastating. When I looked around me, I felt I could achieve whatever I wanted,” Mum told me. Acting was something which made her feel alive, talented and skilled whilst doing something creative.
On her arrival in London she worked with the Croydon Youth Theatre as well as taking on more dance classes and auditions. The opportunity evolved for her to to perform in Baghdad but was cancelled due to the breakout of war. On the back of this she received her Equity Card and became part of an international trade union for professional performers and creative practitioners, well known for its involvement with the entertainment industry.
From this moment, she bloomed, making her presence known throughout the country working with theatre in education groups in Stratford East, to Southampton, Coventry and Northern Ireland. She put herself on the map at a time where it was assumed people of colour had no ambition or drive. They were not encouraged to seek their dreams and run to find them, but mum was unwilling to let this affect her place. She was willing to fight for what was hers and was determined to not just make something of herself. She wanted to succeed in life.
“She has always been incredibly forward thinking,” my grandmother once said. She was one of seven children and was always helping the younger ones, she always had a goal she wanted to achieve, she was always striving to make her self better as a person, she pushed herself to be the best she could be.”
Her acting journey has been nothing short of magnificent. It has been filled with ups and downs but most importantly life lessons which she will stay true to for the rest of her days. Confidence, self belief and patience are a few of what she has come to learn over the many years she has been in the industry. Love of her her craft is what she wanted to share with the world and perseverance is what she believes is the most important aspect of achieving your dreams.
“The experiences I had whilst trying to find myself in the industry were at times tough, but they were also priceless in shaping me into the person who I am today. I now think that the hardest times I experienced were the most important in teaching me something. Nothing in life comes without hard work.”
Working as a TV producer, I often share with Mum my joys and frustrations of working in the industry. It has been extremely helpful to have someone to seek advice from someone who has experience in the same field. Although she has experience on the other side of the camera, I have found her knowledge and guidance invaluable.
I couldn’t ask for a better mother to raise me on this earth. She has taken her life experience and used it to ensure I have the best of everything, teaching and helping me to navigate my way through life. She is all types of wonderful and I continue to stand in awe at the woman that she is and all she has taught me to be. I hope one day that my own children will have the opportunity to share the admiration I have for my mum and to be able to experience all the best parts of her.
In her time, she looked up to the likes of Shirley Bassey and Sidney Poitier because to her they displayed aspects of talent, drive and a genuine love for what they did. She in turn hopes to be role model for young women who are striving to find a place for themselves within any industry and from any walks of life.
I asked her what her advice would be to young women searching for their place within this world. What single piece of advice would she offer all women everywhere. She sits in deep thought for a few moments, the only sound heard is the rose-winged parakeets talking to each other outside in the garden.
“Nobody knows you better than yourself, so stay true to who you are and the values that you have. Keep your loved arounds you and strive to achieve all your desires as if your life depends on it, because it does. Be mindful of the criticisms you receive from others but don’t let it overwhelm you, it’s only their opinion. If you do all that I promise you will achieve something, you will get somewhere…. I did.”