Born Free Foundation - Keep Wildlife in the Wild

The British Animal Honours 2013

18th April, 2013, ITV
Hosted by Paul O-Grady.

Honour presented to Virginia McKenna by Anita Dobson and Brian May

“For Outstanding Contribution.  It recognises Longstanding Service and Dedication in the Field of Animal Welfare.”

Virginia with her award, which was presented by Anita Dobson and Brian May - (C) Whizz Kids Productions
Virginia with her award, which was presented by Anita Dobson and Brian May - (C) Whizz Kids Productions

Virginia’s acceptance speech, spoken without a script:

I... I almost can’t talk because tonight has been, for me, and I’m sure for everyone sitting here and watching from home, one of the most inspirational, fascinating and humbling experiences.  I’ve watched and listened to the most incredible human beings, determined to make a difference to the animal’s life.  So many animals who suffer so very deeply at man’s hands.

The people who we have seen tonight are truly saviours and they are people who bring into our hearts the knowledge that we can all do something.  No-one is helpless.

I always like to go back to the root, the beginnings of things.  It has been touched on this evening about making the film Born Free which my husband Bill and I went out to Kenya to do in 1964 and so my first person I would like to name was the inspiration behind the future that lay ahead, unknown at that time for Bill and myself, and that was George Adamson.

George Adamson, the true and only real father of lions who has touched the hearts of so many people. – I can’t imagine how many – with his modesty, his knowledge, his unselfishness and his truthfulness to himself, and that’s one of the lessons I believe that we learned: you must be true to what you feel in your heart, and even if you make a million mistakes, and you’re sorry for them, if you’ve followed your heart, you can’t go wrong.

The second person I would like to name is my husband because we went into this new life, together, holding hands physically and spiritually.  I believe that without him I probably could not have carried on…

but of course during the time that followed, before and after his death 19 years ago, the third person I would like to mention is our eldest son Will who has carried the work of Born Free into dimensions and perspectives that we had never dreamed of, because our passion – and still is mine today and even stronger than it was at the beginning – is captivity of wild animals in zoos and circuses.

All captivity of wild animals is deeply shocking and unforgiveable, really, in my view.  What is a ‘wild’ animal?  It is an animal that has to live in the wild, to be its true self, and I thank, first of all, the wonderful team at Born Free, some of whom have been with us almost from the beginning, one person from the beginning actually, who, with their loyalty, their commitment, their disappointments which inevitably come, their sadness when we fail, which we obviously will, sometimes - but sometimes the beautiful successes that you have, which means it’s all been worthwhile.

Even out of a million animals, if you help 20, you’ve helped 20 and that’s an achievement of a kind and certainly one for that animal.  For I can’t tell you how humbled I feel to accept this amazing award because we need to be told, we all need to be drawn together into the family of humans and animals.  We shouldn’t think of ‘them and us’, it’s not like that.  It’s about all of us living in this world, which is a very difficult one to live in for everyone at the moment.

So let’s all do whatever we can to help each other, to help the animals, and to save what is left of our beautiful, beautiful planet.

Thank you.

Born Free Foundation
Broadlands Business Campus, Langhurstwood Road
, Horsham, RH12 4QP, UK - Charity Reg. No. 1070906

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