A Lioness amongst People, Born Free’s Virginia McKenna OBE turns 90

This week, 7th June 2021, BAFTA-winning actress and leading wildlife campaigner, Virginia McKenna OBE, celebrates a remarkable 90 years. Virginia’s exceptional film career includes The Cruel Sea, Carve Her Name With Pride, A Town Like Alice, The Smallest Show on Earth, and Ring of Bright Water, as well as over 500 performances of The King and I opposite the iconic Yul Brynner on the West End stage.

But it was her role as Joy Adamson, alongside her husband Bill Travers (playing George Adamson), in the phenomenally successful, Oscar-winning, epic Born Free (1966) which inspired a generation and changed her life forever.

Born Free told the true story of Elsa the lioness who was successfully released back into the wilds of Kenya’s Meru National Park. Filming on location in Kenya for nearly a year, Virginia and Bill developed a special bond with the lions featured in the film, as well as the country and her people. Born Free was a huge success and changed the global perception of lions, sparking an interest in wildlife for millions across the globe.

However, the charity was founded, not because of a lion, but because of the plight of an elephant. Pole Pole, a two-year-old female African elephant, was gifted to London Zoo by the Kenyan government of the day, after starring in An Elephant Called Slowly (1969) alongside McKenna and Travers. Virginia and Bill’s campaign to give her a better life in Africa was rejected by the zoo authorities who eventually agreed to send Pole Pole to Whipsnade. Tragically, Pole Pole was euthanised shortly after the attempted transfer was aborted. Determined that her death should not be in vain, Virginia, Bill, and their eldest son, Will, launched Zoo Check – the charity that has evolved into Born Free.

Today, thirty-seven years later, with projects in more than 20 countries, the charity’s campaigns and activities embrace individual wild animal Rescue and Care, Wildlife Policy, Communities and Education, Compassionate Conservation and much more.

Voted one of the most inspirational people of all time in a Daily Telegraph poll, Virginia’s abiding passion remains the plight of wild animals. An active member of Born Free’s Board of Trustees, she is the charity’s guiding star, keeping it true to the values and principles established all those years ago.

“The natural world is vulnerable as never before. Wild animals, wild species, wild places are under threat – some face total destruction or extinction. That’s why it’s time for millions of compassionate, caring individuals to come together as one and protect all that we hold dear. Through our charity, the Born Free Foundation, I know we can change lives for good and keep wildlife in the wild. One person and one animal at a time.” Virginia McKenna OBE

Virginia’s Birthday is being celebrated with a special online event hosted by her son Will, broadcaster and Born Free Patron, Nicky Campbell OBE, and a host of special friends. Tickets are free. All donations, as well as funds raised during the evening’s auction, will go to support Born Free’s efforts to rescue and conservation of wild animals. https://www.givergy.uk/HappyBirthdayVirginia/?controller=home

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