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She who needs no introduction: Mrs Taiwo Ajai Adefolaju-Lycett

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By Denrele Animasaun

‘You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough’- Mae West.

I have admired Ms Taiwo Adjai Lycett  from afar for so many decades than I care to count.

Without giving away my age, I can recall seeing Ms Adjai-Lycett on a British comedy programme. This was during the time of black and white screen even that did  not take the shine off her sparkle; seeing her with threaded height defying hairstyle juxtaposed with her English accent so plum  that it can cut glass.

It seemed even then, that she would not compromise on her unique style; it was unapologetically Afrocentric at the time when her contemporaries, were Europeanising their looks to fit into western view of acceptance. She never compromised, she still does not compromise!  This doyen of stage and screen,has always been relevant, no matter the decade, because she blazes the trail that others follow. She has been gracious to share the tools of her craft and also generous to lend her name to good causes.

A black woman acting in a popular British mainstream role was a rarity in those days.  She  left an indelible impression, I must very a positive one . For a young black girl growing up in the UK,it was a big deal to see someone that looks like me, it was a very big deal.

In those days, we did not have that much of black people on mainstream TV,talk less of one, with gap tooth, ebony and strong. Girls like me, actually, young black people growing up in the UK,owe so much to Ms Adjai-Lycett, she may have not known it, she was definitely our role model.

Once you see Ms Adjai-Lycett, you will never forget her, she has a presence that commands attention. She effortlessly, has that star quality you can not buy.

Over five decades on, her presence remains vibrant and full of energy. I often wonder what she has because, I would like some of that!

I saw a recent photograph of her, rocking a clean shaven head and with bone structure and cheek bones sharp as knife, I had to compliment her style.

As I did,she responded as if I was a long lost member of her family. She exudes magnanimity and poise.

I wanted to know how she stays current in our ever changing society. I know she needs no introduction but here goes :

Welcome to my World! I am Mrs Taiwo Ajai Adefolaju-Lycett, OON, FSONTA, FUTA. I am an Awori Princess from the Ashade Dynasty in Ogba, Ikeja, Lagos State. I was born on the 3 February 1941 at 27 Ondo Street West, Ebute Metta, Lagos, and attended Mount Carmel Convent School, Ebute Metta East, and Methodist Girls’ High School, Yaba, Lagos.

I was apparently, a “forward”,  precocious, and smart-assed child, who enjoyed and performed well in school, from all accounts. After dropping out of school ignominiously and unceremoniously, as a teenage mother, I made a solemn promise to myself to get a sound, qualitative education, followed by a successful professional career, and a meaningful life of purpose, whatever it took. These were needless to say, my most fervent wishes and solid aspirations.

I don’t recall really modelling myself on anyone in particular, having typically always aspired to dance to my own drummer, and sing my own tunes, from as far as I can remember. I must have been such a stiff-necked insufferable little tyke!

Well, the easiest memories that influenced or changed my life, was getting pregnant, dropping out of school to be a teenage mother, and landing in no man’s land of shame and ostracization, living the life of an outsider inside your own family. But, long story short, it turned out a blessing ultimately. For it led me onto a route to self-determination, independence, self-awareness, building of unshakeable self esteem, courage, confidence, sensitivity, compassion and tolerance of other’s foibles.

You know, people say: “What you see is, what you get.” I always keep things real, pretty much authentic. And you seem to have sussed me out fine, already, judging from your discerningly fascinating observation, albeit from a distance. Goodness gracious me, what perspicacity?! You say, “You remind me of a Pearl Bailey quote; “I never really look for anything. What God throws my way comes. I wake up in the morning and whichever way God turns my feet, I go.”

People who know me well can attest to this statement as it appears of me. I do my best and, as they say, leave the rest. I go with the flow. In spite of many stumbles, many obstacles I encounter, and may have encountered, I strongly believe that I am guided and guarded. I believe indeed, that my life is in the ‘laps of the gods’. I know that I enjoy, what the religionists might call, “an anointing”, no doubt. Because things always seem to have the uncanny ability and will to fall to me in pleasant places! And I am always invariably, met at the point of my needs. So, when all is said, and done, it can be observed that, truly, and essentially, I live a charmed life!

When I turned up in the UK, in 1960, England was just emerging from the Second World War. The country was foggy, gloomy, glum and dirty. The fashion was mainly black or grey, and mostly monochrome attires. No colours. They were dressed drearily sombre indeed. And they smelled. And no wonder for they rarely bathed. They slept in their underwear, and bathed once a week, if that, in a tin bath in the kitchen, or the public baths. There were generally no indoor bathrooms or toilets. The middle class were wide eyes and upwardly mobile, and the country class riven and driven – not unlike Nigeria today with her ethnic sparring. But fortunately, for the masses, the plebs, the organised Trades Unions were still pretty powerful. That was until the Iron Lady, Margaret Thatcher, came in and broke their backs and hold on the working class. In those days, the masses were generally still illiterate and impoverished to travel, even across Europe, except for the very rich. Then came the wild ’60s, the flower children and their lovefest, and all hell broke loose, and England got some sort of a groove together. Then people started getting indoor plumbing, and wearing primary colours they once thought were garish, loud and uncivilized, and unsophisticated!

 

I am an Actor of over fifty years experience, at home and abroad. A Journalist: professionally trained Broadcast Artist as Television and Radio Presenter. I presented, for several years, from the BBC, Bush House, London, the then popular CALLING NIGERIA, a weekly magazine programme. I was in the 1970’s an Associate Editor of AFRICA MAGAZINE, a socio-economic-political magazine, based in Paris and London, published by the late Ambassador Ralph Uwechue. I was also the Pioneer Editor of AFRICA WOMAN the companion publication for Africa  men and women in the Diaspora.

Olumide Iyanda, the then  Editor of Saturday Independent Newspapers invited me to write a column. For over five years I was an Independent on Saturday Columnist. The first collection of these articles from my weekly column was published as a book, JUST SHARING with TAIWO AJAI LYCETT, five years ago to coincide with my 75th birthday. I am also a trained Counsellor and Life Coach, a Social Commentator, an Educationist, Entrepreneur, and Advertising and Public Relations Communications Consultant.

My first contact with “Showbiz” was a classic piece of Talent Spotting. Pure Hollywood! Sitting in the Foyer of London’s avant-garde ROYAL COURT THEATRE, I was seen by the legendary, William “Bill” Gaskill, one of the leading Shakespearean directors of his day, and the then Artistic Director of the Royal Court Theatre. He immediately invited me to join the cast of Wole Soyinka’s new play THE LION AND THE JEWEL which was then in rehearsal. Thus, in retrospect, my acting career was launched.

It was nevertheless some years before I seriously contemplated acting as a full time profession. Once I made up my mind on it, I launched into an intensive training program in singing, dance, voice production and acting technique at the City Literary Institute, The actors Forum, and London’s Dance Centre. London, and later studied at the prestigious GUILDHALL SCHOOL OF MUSIC AND DRAMA.

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My stage career zoomed off again in 1971 at the Dublin Theatre Festival with my appearance in Conor Cruise O’Brien’s MURDEROUS ANGELS at the Gaiety Theatre.

As Pauline, the wife of Patrice Lumumba, a tiny, non-speaking part, such was the intensity of the grief which my character, Pauline projected at her husband’s murder that I captured the imagination and sympathy of the Irish Media as well as the Dublin Theatre audience.  The highlight at the closing night party for the cast and the theatre glitterati in the Green Room of the Gaiety Theatre was Conor Cruise O’Brien’s special tribute to me: “Rarely has an actress done so much for a part with so little help from the author.”

And as the guest of Gay Byrne on Ireland’s leading chat show, THE LATE, LATE SHOW, the telephone switchboard of TELEFIS EIREANN was soon jammed with congratulatory calls. Talking of unforgettable memories, eh? Well, memories were made of you these!

The following year saw another triumph at the Edinburgh International Festival, in two productions including Stanley Eveling’s CARAVAGGIO BUDDY. After the preview of C P Taylor’s THE BLACK AND WHITE MINSTRELS at the  Traverse Theatre, I was greeted with wild spontaneous applause in the Theatre Bar, my photograph stolen from the foyer and offers of marriage from the rich and titled to the poor telephoned to the theatre!

Even though there were not many faces like mine in the UK, there was never a time I felt that I was the “cat’s whiskers” or any way special. I was too busy, keeping my head down acquiring and perfecting skills and techniques, struggling and focused on establishing myself and sharpening up my professional credentials, it never crossed my mind to think I might be trailblazing at all, or even in competition with anyone. The more talented people around, bouncing off one another, the better for everybody. Greater creative stimulation, all round. I’ve always been more particular about professionalism; about acquiring greater  understanding of my craft, having a keener hold on, and control of my mind in order to be able to read the creative compass accurately, and in order to attentively listen, to hear my Muse clearly.

As long as you are in good standing with the Muse, and remain humble, you will continue in favour and have an impeccable insurance to cover any viccicitudes. After all we are given all our gifts. Whatever the situation, whether in bad or good times,  challenging times or times of breakthrough, an attitude of gratitude is of paramount importance. It’s vital to be calm and level headed. “No condition is permanent.” Our own sage, Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe admonished.

Since returning to Nigeria in 1976 I have appeared in some notable TV – Winds Against My Soul, For Better For Worse, The Young Ones, The Honourable, Eyo Fancy, Tinsel – and Stage productions – The Divorce, The Vogue, Death and The King’s Horseman, The King Must Dance Naked, The V Monologue, Hear Word Naija Woman Talk True! But for the most part I have been waiting in the wings. Until this Covid 19 brouhaha, I was fairly convinced, the time was ripe to inaugurate a completely new era in theatre and television entertainment, capturing all the potential magic of both indigenous and English language drama in Nigeria. However, the persistent frustrations of straddling the ‘divide’I since my return to Nigeria have to be patiently borne, and endured!

I’m told I have a unique style and poise. That’s totally inevitable if you know my eclectic tastes in music, literature, and the fine arts generally, fortified by the kind of meticulous physical and intellectual training, and grooming I put myself through over the years, while forging a career and navigating through the grueling professions – for I am multi-faceted, in a manner of speaking. I confess to owning my style and poise. I am the architect!

The Vagina Monologue’s rhetoric is an important social engineering narrative worth engaging with. We have toured extensively, at home and abroad with it, in its special  incarnation as, HEAR WORD! NAIJA WOMAN TALK TRUE!! The messages were enthusiastic!

The Vagina Monologue’s rhetoric is an important social engineering narrative worth engaging with. We have toured extensively, at home and abroad with it, in its special  incarnation as, HEAR WORD! NAIJA WOMAN TALK TRUE!! The messages were enthusiastically received, and invariably, an eye-opener for both genders.

The future of the Nigerian film industry is ostensibly rosy, especially when we start being our own ‘mouthpiece’ and megaphone, articulating and dealing more and more with our own  narratives and social, cultural and economic conditions.

My daily mantra is: “I can be what I will to be.”

The one special Honour that gets me really excited, and snootily proud, is awarded annually, specifically by the 36 States Universities, and only if a worthy recipient is identified for that year. I was the chosen recipient for it in 1992, at the University of Ibadan in the presence of eminent Scholars. And it is – The Fellow of the Society of Nigerian Theatre Artists – FSONTA. Professor Uche Okeke, was an FSONTA, so was Professor Adedeji, the late Head of Department of Drama, UI. I stand to be corrected, for as far as I know, I am unaware of anyone else in my trade, apart from me, who may have any bragging rights on this rare, and special honour. I am especially proud to be in such exalted company.

When others are losing their heads I keep calm by meditating – which I do anywhere, at any time, whatever the condition – to tune out the angst and  the cacophony of noise. I also occupy my mind by saying affirmations.

Lets always remember that life is an echo. What you send out comes back. What you sow, you reap. What you give, you get. So, give to the world the best you have, and the best will come back to you. Peace and Love, always.

With the drop of these precious wisdom of nuggests, you wonder how she stays enigmatic and positive,  we can all learn from Ms Adjai-Lycett. The Queen bee remains relevant and full of activities.  Long live the Queen.

Vanguard

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