We are excited and honoured to announce that we have a new patron joining the Tree Aid family.
Tree Aid Communications Manager Mora McLagan spoke to Adjoa about her love of trees, her connection to our programme country Ghana, and her belief that The Arts can play a unique role in tackling the intertwined challenges of poverty and the climate crisis – through the power of storytelling.
One of Britain’s leading actors, Adjoa Andoh won global acclaim as Lady Danbury in the Netflix smash Bridgerton, a role that saw her nominated for Outstanding Supporting Actress at the 2021 NAACP Image Awards. Past TV performances also include Fractured, Dr Who, The Witcher, Silent Witness and Casualty.
Adjoa is a renowned stage actor at the National Theatre and The Royal Shakespeare Company, co-directing and playing Richard II at Shakespeare’s Globe, in the UK's first all-women-of-colour production in 2019. She is also an Associate Artist at the Royal Shakespeare Company and Senior Associate Artist at The Bush Theatre.
Originally from Bristol, Adjoa grew up in the Cotswolds surrounded by trees and fields. From a young age, her happiest memories were of being in the woods nearby her house, where she could be found reading a book or just watching the trees around her. She has always felt very connected to the natural world, and relishes the snapshot memories she has of walking across the fields near her home, looking up at ‘big, dark stormy skies, with electric green leaves against them’.
[Yendi tree planting and assisted natural regeneration at the river Daka]
Adjoa’s mother is English and her father is Ghanaian, with a second home in Accra, the Ghanaian capitol. This means she has roots in both countries, and a favourite tree in each.
‘In Ghana, my Dad has a massive mango tree in the back garden and I love the shade of that’ Adjoa says. ‘I love the extraordinariness of being able to just go into the garden there, pick the fruit and eat it. I find it miraculous.’
One of her happiest memories of visiting Ghana also involves trees. As a teenager in the late 1970’s, Adjoa went on an incredible journey to the wooded areas of the North in Bolgatanga, near the Burkina Faso border. Here, Adjoa stayed in a treehouse with her family;
‘I was a young stroppy teenager and quite huffy, like you’re supposed to be when you’re thirteen, but I found it was the most magical thing living in these houses built into the trees! It was absolutely beautiful.’
In England, Adjoa’s favourite tree is the oak, familiar from her Gloucestershire childhood, and common in Brockwell Park, one of the closest green spaces to her home in London.
When asked why, she cites a wonderful quote by civil rights activist Rosa Parks to illustrate;
‘Today’s oak is yesterday’s nut that held its ground.’
What does Rosa Parks mean here? ‘She’s talking about holding your nerve, and standing up for what you think is just,’ Adjoa explains. These values are clearly close to her heart too.
Passionate about the role environmental restoration plays in tackling poverty and inequality around the world, Adjoa is keen to help Tree Aid shine a light on the impacts of the climate crisis in the Sahel region. Particularly how our projects are helping communities respond to these new challenges of erratic weather, droughts, flash flooding and unstable incomes.
[Checking frankincense trees in an area of degraded land at Das Gundo Kebele in West Gonder, Ethiopia.]
But she is quick to point out that the climate crisis is not solely an ‘African’ problem.
‘The climate crisis isn’t just happening in Africa is it? It is worldwide. The Covid pandemic has been terrible, but it has also been a great educator. It has shown us that if one part of the world is not safe and healthy, then no part of the world is safe and healthy.’
Adjoa’s belief in the role of nature here is strong; ‘We are a global species. Nature is a fantastically well-balanced ecosystem, and we mess around with it at our peril.’
And how can we encourage the public to recognise the urgency of acting on the nature and climate crisis? As Adjoa describes, we could see the world as a shared house;
‘We are living in the top floor of the house and we have set fire to the basement. We think we’re fine at the top, but there are people living on the other floors. That fire will eventually consume the whole house.’
It is here that Adjoa believes The Arts and public figures within it, can play a unique role in shifting public action on tricky, overwhelming topics like global poverty and the climate crisis. The key is in the power of storytelling.
‘Stories are there to broaden, provoke, inspire’ she explains. To prise open public conversations ‘on the future of our world and who we are in relation to it.’
Films such as the Netflix blockbuster movie ‘Don’t’ Look Up’ are a great example of this, Adjoa explains. Because while the film itself divided critics, it certainly got the world talking about climate change.
Adjoa was also very moved by the recent campaign success of the deaf Strictly Come Dancing contestant Rose Ayling-Ellis. Her appearance on the show – and the decision by the producers to stop the music during her dance, giving an insight into her world to the public – has now led to Government backing of a bill to legally recognize BSL (British Sign Language) as an official language.
This is just the kind of powerful, snowballing effect that Arts and Entertainment can gift to an important cause. As Adjoa explains;
‘I think that when we are told stories, we are given a window into a world which isn’t the one we are preoccupied with day to day; it changes our worldview. That’s what stories are for.’
This is where The Arts become a crucial piece of the process, because, as Adjoa says; ‘The point of The Arts is that we all navigate our lives through story.’
Actors, artists, musicians; ‘can tell the story of why we need change, and how. Or they can, like me, be involved in a front-facing conversation with the public’ to allow stories about the Sahel and the benefits that trees can bring, to become part of public consciousness.
This is exactly why we are so lucky at Tree Aid, to have dedicated patrons like Adjoa, helping to spread the word about what we do. Whether it's voicing a radio appeal, giving a media interview or attending an event, our Patrons all generously give their time to Tree Aid and have a huge impact on getting our messages out.
We now very much look forward to working with Adjoa to champion our work.