Popular TV auctioneer and new Born Free Patron James Lewis tells us the things that drive him wild.
How have you been involved with Born Free?
It’s been 10 years off and on, since I first contacted Born Free about some monkeys my wife and I saw being exploited in Egypt. Now every year I do the auction at a ball in Derby in aid of Born Free, run by Val Hackett and Mike Carey - it’s their 10th anniversary next year! I’ve come along to a couple of Born Free’s own gala balls - at the Natural History Museum in 2003, and last June in Waterloo, when I went a bit mad. One of the auction lots was a chance to join a Born Free big cat rescue and I bid £13,000 to get it.
It was incredibly expensive, but worth every penny. What an experience! My wife and I travelled to Romania and flew with the four lions to the sanctuary in South Africa. An exhausting, non-stop 50 hour journey, but it was fantastic! There are few things in life that are truly life-changing, but this is certainly one. The little lion Sinbad made such an impact. It was pitiful to see him kept in squalid conditions at the zoo, desperate for stimulation. The Romanians really loved him though. Such a beautiful lion, that amazing dark mane. But the size of a labrador! It took just four of us to lift him, compared to six people for the other lions.
What’s your favourite wild animal?
There’s two I think. The American manatee is gorgeous. I just love them, so placid, so docile and harmless. I’ve seen them in the Everglades in Florida. But almost every one you see is scarred. They’re really vulnerable and get horribly injured by boats. It’s outrageous that it’s mostly due to tourism and the airboats.
The other is the mountain gorillas of Rwanda. As a child it was David Attenborough and his programmes which had a huge influence on me – rather than the Antique Roadshow! Especially seeing him with the gorillas. Gorillas are so special. They’re my favourite Born Free animal.
Where is your special wild place?
Lots of places! In the UK it’s the Scottish Highlands. Golden eagles, misty mornings after a night camping… I love looking for sea otters and stags... Then for the planet overall it’s got to be Africa – the whole of Africa! It’s got something very special – every country I’ve been too. Africa’s a spiritual home for me. It’s the one place I can truly relax, lose myself and forget about work.
What’s the best way to relax?
Gosh! Hmmmm well it’s a bit of an odd one but it’s picking up a rugby ball. I love rugby, it’s a great way to de-stress and take out all your frustrations. I grew up loving rugby, my dad coached Leicester Rugby Club. Now I don’t play so much, but I do like a biff on a tennis court. Basically I love to keep active. I’m not one for beach holidays!
What is the soundtrack of your life?
There isn’t one! On my iPod I’ve got literally five or ten thousand songs. I just love music – a huge range. I was enjoying a violin concerto on Radio 3 this morning but that’s quite rare for me. Pink Floyd The Wall is a favourite, Meat Loaf’s Bat Out of Hell, I love heavy metal and used to go to the Monsters of Rock festival! The only music I don’t like in fact is The Smiths, and they’re my wife’s favourite! We have to flip a coin when we drive together to decide what to play.
My dad used to listen to The Gambler by Kenny Rogers. The lyrics had a big impact: “You got to know when to hold em, know when to fold em; Know when to walk away and know when to run.” You’ve got to know when to take risks. In 2002 my wife and I were made redundant at the same time. We had to find jobs and decided to launch Bamford Auction Rooms. It was a big gamble, but just a month after we started the BBC contacted us about filming Cash in the Attic there and my work with television began.
What causes are you passionate about ?
Everything! It sounds daft but I do believe I’m in an incredibly lucky position doing my TV work. There’s lots of opportunity to help make a difference. I’m not special. I think so many other people would do the same thing, if they were in my position. Last week I did an auction for our local scout troop and raised £400. Then a couple of days later I did a big charity ball and ten lots went for about £20,000 each. It’s great being able to help in these different ways, but if I had to choose, it would always be to help Born Free! Your charity means so much to me.
What environmental issues drive you mad ?
The trashing of the rainforest. Especially to make furniture. It’s constantly draining the forests and it’s so frustrating. There’s so much antique furniture available out there but it’s considered unfashionable. People want to buy new furniture and yet they could choose something really special and unique instead. Rainforests are being demolished at such a rate to make terrible, mass-produced furniture. It’s mad. People will recycle a can or a bottle, but then they’ll dispose of their sofa and just buy a new one. There needs to be a complete change of attitude. Oh and biofuel – Gordon Brown and everyone is promoting biofuel but they’re flattening Borneo’s rainforest to make it and will keep going until nothing’s left.
What easy thing could everyone do to make the world a better place ?
Just do one thing each. There’s no such thing as can’t. Everyone can make a difference. We can do anything if we put our minds to it. If everyone did one thing, if everyone had the courage. If you see something that’s wrong, do something about it. I think it’s horrendous that people just stand by and don’t get involved. Speak your mind. Do something positive.
Why are you wild about Born Free ?
It stands for everything I do, everything I believe. Virginia McKenna is a deeply and increasingly inspiring person. Whether you’re talking to her personally or hearing her speak to a roomful of people. Her passion, her energy. She would never say something is too much trouble. I always remember the boy who threw a stranded fish back into the sea. ‘Why did you bother?’ he was asked, ‘there are countless other stranded fish’. ‘But it’s made a difference to that one’ he replied. It’s so important. Caring for individuals. This is exactly what Born Free is all about. It’s exactly how my parents and grandparents brought me up.