This month we had the pleasure of catching up with the wonderfully magnetic Joanna Adeyinka-Burford – Hampshire-born TV presenter, actor, author and mother of two. If you have little ones, you might recognise her from Cbeebies. She’s one of their treasured regulars. Zooming from her hotel room in Media City we chatted life, career, family (and cheese-eating.) The hardest part of the interview was transcribing around the laughter. Joanna seems to do a lot of that.
Tell us about your journey into performing and presenting.
I went to a performing arts school as a dancer but there was always this thing at the back of my mind… I would love to be a TV presenter. My mum suggested journalism to me, to which a 15 year old who knew nothing, just went, NO! I think I’ll just go to dance school instead. I should have perhaps listened to my mum. Always listen to your Mum right?! After dance school I came out as an actor. I spent about 8 years auditioning and then there was still that niggle... At the time I was with an acting agent and he just sort of looked at me and said, ‘Yeah. No. You’re too old.’ He was a lovely guy but I just thought, well this isn’t really going to work and so I went out on my own and just started to push loads of doors. I saw an advert for a competition to go to Australia and do a show backstage at Home & Away and I thought, well there’s an opportunity! I was at my friend’s house. We filmed this little audition. She pretended to be Marilyn. I ended up getting the job! I then put together another showreel, sent it off to people at CBBC, ended up going in and doing a screen test, nothing coming of it. Somebody contacted me about a pilot for Cbeebies. Again, didn’t get it. And then, two babies later I got invited to another audition. I’ve got this baby hanging off me, and I said, SURE! My sister came with me as I was still breast feeding and I got it! Off the back of that I’ve worked on and off for Cbeebies ever since. And it reminds me; don’t take no for an answer. If you want something - go and get it!
What do you love most about what you do?
I love what I do. I love being able to bring to life other people’s words; bringing those words off the page and making them accessible for everyone. I love being able to do that.
What is the last big challenge you’ve had to face?
Losing a really close friend. That’s probably the biggest thing I’ve had to walk through.
And understanding just how to navigate grief because I think until you experience something like that, you just don’t know and you just don’t get it. You learn a lot as you walk through really tough things.
What was your first ever job?
I remember working in a car factory when I was 16 and basically, we had to package up car parts. It was the most mind-numbingly boring job which is maybe why, when I worked out what I wanted to do, I was like, no! I can’t go back to the car factory!
In another life, what would you be?
I wanted to be a pilot but I think I’m gonna go next step and say astronaut and just go to space! I wouldn’t want to stay there for months on end but I would just love to be able to go for a day trip. Or a heart surgeon. I don’t know.
Who inspires you?
My sister. She’s really driven. She’s superwoman. It’s almost like she’s got some kind of magic - the opposite of what kryptonite would be. Good kryptonite. She’s so visionary and there are no obstacles that will stop her. I love that sense of, go get it. I think we should all have a little bit of that in us.
What was your favourite TV programme growing up?
The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.
Who would you invite to a hall of fame dinner party for 3?
Number One. Will Smith. Of course he’s coming. Michelle Obama. I think she’s gonna come too. And the Queen. The Queen is gonna have one-on-one granny chats with us all. She’s the guest of honour. I think we’d get on. My middle name’s Elizabeth as well so I figure we’ve got some things in common.
What scares you?
Not fulfilling my potential. Not just in terms of career but in terms of life. Whether that’s being there for friends or developing strong relationships with my children. Not living up to what I’m supposed to do - that scares me. I don’t mind what stage of life I die at but I want to know that when I die, I did as much as I could. It’s a driving force.
How do you deal with nerves and pressure?
I like nerves. The adrenaline gets me right on top of my game.
What is your worst habit?
Ok. Don’t judge me. When I’m cooking - cutting slices off the cheese and eating it.
The other day I bought some Port Salut. I’m making lunch for everybody and I’ve got the Port Salut (by the way no-one else is having Port Salut) and I’m literally just cutting chunks off and eating it. There’s none left for anyone else. That’s definitely my worst habit.
What makes you angry?
I don’t get angry very often.
Injustice. Kids being treating badly.
If I’m watching a movie (it’s not even real but it sparks something inside me obviously) when I see somebody cheat on their partner, it just boils my blood. It’s just wrong.
What makes you laugh?
People who wear sunglasses indoors.
What would you write on a post-it note to your younger self?
Go for it. Ignore the boys and know that you’re worth it. Blinkers on Joanna. Just keep going. Go for your goals. Know that you’re awesome. Don’t give up. Dream big. Push doors.
What is your proudest moment?
Seeing my kids every day being the incredible little human beings that they are.
What would be your advice to a young person wanting to get into TV broadcasting?
Work really hard. Don’t give up. Hone your craft. Go practice. Don’t just sit there and expect it to come to you. Learn. Take classes. Talk to people. Above all, be a nice person to work with. Because that makes a difference. It goes a long way, particularly in this industry.
At the same time, I would say upskill yourself in other areas. Be smart about it. Have something else that is going to be a good income stream to fund your dream. That’s something I never had. There are moments when I think it would be amazing if I was a qualified physiotherapist or something and I could use that to fund the things I love.
What lies ahead for you this year?
Career-wise, it’s really hard to foresee because being a freelancer I don’t even know what’s gonna be going on at the end of the next month! I’ve started to write some children’s books. I’d love to see them not just in the notes on my phone! I’d like to take some steps forward with those. For years now, I've wanted to help write and create content for children’s shows. Again, I’ve got ideas and I’d love to see some of those come off the page in some capacity.
I can’t wait to get out with my family and do things that I couldn’t do last year. Hopefully enjoy the world starting to come back to normal. Go to the beach.
Photography provided by Joanna Adeyinka-Burford
Interview by Charlotte Gascoyne for About Grace