Encyclopedia Womannica

Leading Ladies: Taiwo Ajai-Lycett

Episode Summary

Taiwo Ajai-Lycett (1941-present) is a Nollywood star. She’s a trained actor, journalist, television presenter and much more.

Episode Notes

Every weekday, listeners explore the trials, tragedies, and triumphs of groundbreaking women throughout history who have dramatically shaped the world around us. In each 5 minute episode, we’ll dive into the story behind one woman listeners may or may not know -- but definitely should. These diverse women from across space and time are grouped into easily accessible and engaging monthly themes like Leading Ladies, Activists, STEMinists,  Hometown Heroes, and many more. Encyclopedia Womannica is hosted by WMN co-founder and award-winning journalist Jenny Kaplan. The bite-sized episodes pack painstakingly researched content into fun, entertaining, and addictive daily adventures.

Encyclopedia Womannica was created by Liz Kaplan and Jenny Kaplan, executive produced by Jenny Kaplan, and produced by Liz Smith, Cinthia Pimentel, Grace Lynch, and Maddy Foley. Special thanks to Shira Atkins, Edie Allard, and Luisa Garbowit. Theme music by Andi Kristins. 

We are offering free ad space on Wonder Media Network shows to organizations working towards social justice. For more information, please email Jenny at jenny@wondermedianetwork.com.

Follow Wonder Media Network:

Episode Transcription

Hello! From Wonder Media Network, I’m Jenny Kaplan and this is Encyclopedia Womannica. 

In case you’re just tuning in for the very first time, welcome! Here’s the deal. Every weekday we’re telling the stories of women from around the world and throughout history who you may not know about but definitely should. Each month is themed. To start off season 2, this month we’re talking about Leading Ladies, women who dazzled on and off the small and large screens with their dramatic and/or comedic skills. 

This month is heavy on Hollywood. That makes sense given its global cultural influence. But for today’s story we’re traveling around the world to talk about a star of a different film scene. Sometimes called Nollywood, the Nigerian film industry is booming. It produces 1500 or more films a year. That’s more than are produced in Hollywood. 

Our woman of the day is a Nollywood star. She’s a trained actor, journalist, television presenter and much more. Let’s talk about Taiwo Ajai-Lycett. 

Taiwo and her twin were born on February 3, 1941 in Lagos, Nigeria to a father who worked as a civil servant in the British colonial government. The British controlled Nigeria until 1960. In a series called King Women, Taiwo credits her grandfather as the source of her acting skills. He was a minstrel performer. 

Growing up, Taiwo has said she was a tomboyish troublemaker who loved to play sports. 

 When Taiwo was 15 years old, she had a child and left school before completing her education. 

Her father insisted that she and the father of the child get married, so they did. Shortly thereafter, Taiwo also became a teenage widow. The father of her child died in a train accident. 

Still, Taiwo was determined to finish her education so she went to night school.

Taiwo decided that in order to keep moving forward, she needed to leave Nigeria. With the help of some friends who were living in England, she moved to London to continue her studies. Taiwo took classes at London’s Christine Shaw School of Beauty Science, where she earned her certificate in cosmetology. She also attended Herndon College of Technology, graduating with a degree in Business Studies.worked a variety of jobs, including as a waitress and at the Post Office, before finding a job in advertising. She had never considered getting into acting. 

One day in 1966, Taiwo was waiting in the lobby of the Royal Court Theatre in London for a man she was dating so they could go get coffee. William Gaskill, the director of the show being rehearsed, saw her and asked if she was an actor. When Taiwo said no, he asked if she was interested in perhaps joining the production. Taiwo was due a 6 week holiday from work. Previously, she had used vacations to do different educational courses. This time, she decided to use the time to act. 

In December 1966, Taiwo appeared in the international debut of Wole Soyinka’s The Lion and the Jewel. Her acting career was born. 

Taiwo took her new career  seriously.  She  continued working alternative jobs to support herself so she could afford to keep acting. She also enrolled at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama to improve her craft.

During this period, Taiwo found happiness in her personal life. She met a Cambridge historian named Tom Lycett. Tom saw her talent and encouraged Taiwo to stop all the other stuff she was doing to focus solely on acting. The two eventually married and had a happy union for 25 years until Tom’s death. 

Since she got her start in 1966, Taiwo has starred in many, many productions on stage and screen abroad and back in Nigeria, including Conor Cruise O’Brien’s "Murderous Angels," Sidney Poitier's "A warm December," and the award-winning Nigerian soap opera Tinsel. One recent notable film of hers is the 2016 movie Oloibiri, an action thriller. 

Taiwo has also been a TV presenter and was the first editor of Africa Woman magazine. In that role, she participated at the United Nations International Women’s year. She has received numerous honors including a national award of Officer of the Order of the Niger. 

Taiwo has lived an extraordinary life, overcoming obstacle after obstacle to find great and inspiring success.

All month we’re talking about leading ladies. Tune in tomorrow to hear the story of a woman who’s practically perfect in every way. 

For more on why we’re doing what we’re doing, check out our Encyclopedia Womannica newsletter, Womannica Weekly. 

You can also follow us on Facebook and Instagram @EncyclopediaWomannica and you can follow me directly on twitter @jennymkaplan.

Special thanks to Liz Kaplan, my favorite sister and co-creator. 

Talk to you tomorrow!