Born Free: Fabulous at 40

Born Free’s Head of Communications, Amanda Poole-Connor, reports on our Footsteps to Freedom Ball, a gala evening celebrating 40 years of action for wild animals in need and raising vital funds. 

Amanda Holden wearing a bright yellow dress, stood behind a lectern and in front of a Born Free 40 logo

Amanda Holden hosting Footsteps to Freedom (c) PA / Matt Crossick

Celebrating 40 years of action for wildlife is no minor milestone. And therefore, it was absolutely appropriate that Born Free held a magnificent, star-studded fundraising gala the week of our 40th anniversary. Footsteps to Freedom, symbolising the path we have already trodden, and the many steps we still have to take in our fight for the welfare and conservation of wild animals, truly epitomised all that is wonderful about our charity and the work we do.   

As over 250 guests, familiar faces and supporters new to Born Free, arrived at London’s beautiful Royal Lancaster’s Westbourne Suite, the scene was set by our amazing partners, CSM Live, for a sumptuous evening. As the champagne started to flow, guests were soon joined by our VIP patrons. It was Absolutely Fabulous to see our Founder Patron, Dame Joanna Lumley, at the gala. Joanna has supported our charity since the day we were founded 40 years ago, right up to voicing our Enough is Enough animation at the end of last year. You can tell when you talk to Joanna that her passion and dedication to wild animals is 100% authentic, she really cares and that means the world to us.   

Actress, broadcaster and Patron Amanda Holden was our amazing host and, along with Dan Richardson, kept the evening alive as the audience was captivated by an astounding ‘Jungle Book’ performance from the West End Kids and a heartbreaking rendition of ‘Born Free’ by superstar, Kerry Ellis. After her performance, Kerry helped Amanda to draw the ‘Diamond in a Glass’ winner. Guests had been invited to buy a special glass of champagne to be entered into a competition to win a diamond, kindly donated by Natural Diamond Council and Eco-Age. It was tense as the winning ticket was pulled out and the stunned winner received her gem. 

It was also a night of film. Our We Are Born Free film, in which our field teams in Kenya and South Africa, alongside the communities we partner with, communicated Born Free’s mission and vision at the start of the event. Then, just before the amazing live auction began, The Voice, a film, produced by the super creative team at McCann, led by Born Free supporter and friend, Jemima Monies, played out to the audience, reminding everyone that Born Free has always been, and will remain, the voice of the voiceless. It really was very emotional – huge thanks to the team at McCann for their generosity! 

Guests, including Patron Sally Gunnell OBE and model and personality Jodie Kidd, were stunned by an emotional and spirited speech by our Co-Founder, our matriarch, our moral compass and Born Free Trustee, the inimitable Dame Virginia McKenna, who reminded us of the story of Pole Pole, the young elephant wild-caught in Kenya, whose untimely death at London Zoo in 1983 was the kickstart for “our little charity, Zoo Check”. Her words brought everyone to tears as she received a standing ovation. 


Dame Virginia McKenna giving an impassioned speech, with Born Free Patron Dame Joanna Lumley looking on

Dame Virginia McKenna giving an impassioned speech, with Born Free Patron Dame Joanna Lumley looking on (c) PA / Matt Crossick

A passionate speech by our Executive President and Co-Founder, Will Travers OBE, reminded us of some of the many achievements Born Free has made over the past 40 years, and the many more we have our sights set on for the next 40. All this whilst the guests were enjoying a sumptuous three-course vegetarian or vegan feast, along with wine and champagne.   

Then it was time for our good friend and Patron, the audaciously brilliant James Lewis, to kick off the live auction, with another surprise. Dame Joanna whipped out a bottle of champagne on stage and offered to sign it, in gold, to whoever bid the most. A bidding war erupted and in the end TWO bottles were signed by Joanna for an astonishing £1,900 each. Another moment to remember was the fight for a handwritten version of Don Black’s lyrics to ‘Born Free’. Dame Joanna was busy signing champagne bottles, but this didn’t stop her from fiercely competing for the astonishing item. As she won, she shouted, “they are mine!” and so they are Joanna. Well done.  

So many wonderful lots were donated by so many wonderful friends of Born Free. I know from this and the other amazing fundraisers of the evening, not only have we soundly reaffirmed the love our supporters have for Born Free, and reminded them all, and us, of how impactful and important the work we do is, we have also raised huge amounts of money that will enable us to continue in our mission for all wild animals to be treated with compassion and respect, and most importantly, to live free. 

The band were brilliant, and it didn’t take long for all the guests to move onto the dancefloor for some footsteps of their own to the fantastic swing music of Andrew Bourn and ‘Party @ Frank’s’ band. I shan’t say much about the evening from this point on, I’ll just leave it at… “fun was had by all”.   

What a night to remember. I can’t wait until the next one… 

Watch the highlights of the night below!