Happy birthday Virginia!

Born Free’s Executive President, Will Travers OBE, pays tribute to his remarkable mother, our charity’s Co-Founder Dame Virginia McKenna, on her 93rd birthday. 

Dame Virginia McKenna sitting in an armchair, looking towards the camera with her hands in her lap. Behind her is a framed photo of her and Girl, the lion who played Elsa in the film Born Free

Dame Virginia McKenna © Ranald Mackechnie

June is a special and emotional month for me and all at Born Free, as we celebrate the 93rd birthday of Dame Virginia McKenna – or as I prefer to call her, my Mum.  

It was 40 years ago this year, that, together with my late father, Bill, we sat around the kitchen table, wondering how to respond to the senseless destruction of Pole Pole, the young female elephant at London Zoo. Her death, in October 1983, was the catalyst that brought our charity, now called Born Free, to life in 1984. 

I am often asked who my heroes are. There are many. People who have gone above and beyond to make a positive difference for individual wild animals, threatened species and nature. People who have challenged the status quo and made us think differently.  

My dad is right up there, of course, but there is no one I admire more than Virginia, and her continued determination, after all these years, to bring about lasting change, inspires me each and every day. 

Happy Birthday, Mum! 


Will Travers is sat in a chair, with his mother Dame Virginia McKenna stood at his side, with a hand on his shoulder. Both are smiling at the camera.

Dame Virginia McKenna and Will Travers OBE © Ranald Mackechnie