Superstar Liz encourages others to find their mojo
THE FIREWORKS and fizz which mark the closing night of the Henley Festival will have an added sparkle this year, when 70s disco-funk stars Boney M take to the Floating Stage – fronted by a certain resident of our neighbourhood, Liz Mitchell, founder member of the superstar group.
Liz has lived in this area for many decades. Born in Jamaica, her family moved to Harlesden in London when she was 11. When her parents split during the 70s, her mother wanted to live near family in Wallingford; once Liz married her husband Thomas Pemberton, the couple settled near Caversham and raised their three now grown-up children here. Liz has long been an active member of the New Testament Church of God, opposite Waitrose.
“Boney M appeared at the Henley Festival for the first time last summer,” Liz says. “This year they invited us back. I’m a bit nervous to be performing so close to home, as I have always lived so quietly in the area.”
In 2022, Boney M were named ‘the most successful black pop group ever’ due to a claimed 22 BILLION social media hits for their ever-popular songs (Daddy Cool even made it on to the playlist for King Charles’ Coronation!), a fact that bemuses Liz, who comments, “I’m not a show-bizzy person at all. I have always said, I didn’t ever set out to become a star, I just enjoy singing!”
Liz reveals that she never took singing lessons as such: “My mother and aunt – all my family – are good singers, we sang in church. Singing was just something you did, I didn’t ever think of it as leading to making a living from it,” she says. “But there is something about the songs of Boney M. I never listen to our music at home, but I am amazed at how our grandchildren have searched it out, and they listen to it. “It makes you feel good, it is so alive!”
As a teenager, Liz auditioned for the cast of the rock musical Hair, dancing and singing in London and transferring with the show to Berlin. She stayed in Germany, joining the rock gospel group Les Humphries Singers – and this led to an invitation to join the newly-formed Boney M in 1976. Ever since, Liz has toured the world (nowadays billed as ‘Boney M featuring Liz Mitchell’) as well as making several solo albums of her own. Liz regards her voice as a gift, and passionately believes that everyone has one, which sometimes they don’t realise. “Everyone is gifted,” she says. “But it isn’t always simple to discover your own power. We really should help children to find their purpose, as it transforms their lives.”
To this end, Liz has set up a charitable foundation which takes children to Gambia, where they have the chance to gain an in-depth experience of Black History, while embracing the path so many have taken to becoming British. “We have raised money for children from a range of backgrounds who are somehow disconnected from society, and the experience helps open them up to their purpose. We have had so many successes with these children. For example, one of the girls who went to Gambia has now become a doctor,” Liz explains.
“We encourage the children to find out more about their history, because many West Indian children have very little idea of their heritage. But they also have the chance to find out how they came to Britain, and to celebrate their Britishness.
“I think this is the sort of work I would always have wanted to become involved in, especially once my own children were at school. A lot of good things have happened to me, and that was because my own grandparents were good to other people. In 2004, I made a solo gospel album called Let It Be and this is now the name of my foundation which aims to continue my work with these children.”
Liz frequents both the New Testament Church of God in Caversham as well as Power Centre Church in Mitcham, London. In 2006 she was approached by the ministry of Power Centre Church, and invited to be ordained as a reverend. “The only obstacle would be if someone in the congregation had any reason not to ordain me,” she recalls. “But no-one did! I was ordained by Archbishop Dr William Wood and Archbishop Mercy Wood of Power Centre, and nowadays I preach when I am invited to.”
Liz firmly believes that serving others in the community is fundamental to a happy existence. And, in the meantime, despite more than four decades in the entertainment industry, she is continuing to delight audiences worldwide with her voice. “The whole purpose of my life has been singing,” she says. And is she really nervous of appearing at the Henley Festival? “I am never nervous!” she laughs. “I trust the audience will really enjoy the music!”