ALEXANDRA BASTEDO – CHAMPIONS ANIMAL SANCTUARY
by Ann Evans
Photos: Rob Tysall
At the beginning of this year, we tragically lost a real champion of animals when actress Alexandra Bastedo sadly lost her fight against cancer.
As the star of the cult TV series of the sixties, The Champions, Alexandra Bastedo went on to champion abandoned and unwanted animals by starting the ABC Animal Sanctuary at her own home near Chichester.
It all began 30 years ago when she took in some ducks and a donkey when a neighbour couldn’t cope due to his wife’s illness. It wasn’t long before others heard of Alexandra’s kind heartedness and more and more abandoned creatures turned up at her door.
Before long, she and her husband, writer and theatre director Patrick Garland moved to a new house with two and a half acres of farmland for her ever increasing family of donkeys, goats, pigs, sheep, birds and cats. And it was here three years ago that I was fortunate enough to visit and talk to Alexandra about her sanctuary and her life.
As she introduced photographer, Rob Tysall and I to some of her horses and donkeys at the West Chiltington sanctuary, Alexandra talked about her love for animals from a very young age.
“I’ve always had a great love of animals, and like lots of young girls, my greatest desire was to have a pony, and my parents promised me one if I did well in my eleven plus,” said Alexandra. “Then they bought me a poodle! It’s taken me this long to finally get a pony.”
As she grew up as a beautiful young actress, the lure of Hollywood overtook her yearning for more pets, and so she began a successful 50 year career in film, TV and stage, mingling with the likes of Marlon Brando, Steve McQueen and Roger Moore. However, the role that made her a household name was that of Sharron Macready in the espionage/sci fi series The Champions, co-starring with William Gaunt and Stuart Damon.
Today, actor William Gaunt is one the sanctuaries patrons along with actress and animal rights campaigner Joanna Lumley, wildlife artist Pollyanna Pickering, actor Peter Regan and actress Lorraine Chase; with Sue Jameson as the sanctuary’s President.
In addition to these well known names, the sanctuary is blessed with faithful trustees and an army of some 60 willing volunteers and fund-raisers who ensure the sanctuary is run and maintained and the animals and birds are well cared for every single day of the year.
“At the beginning it was a big learning curve for me,” said Alexandra who was also patron and supporter to a number of animal and wildlife charities. “When I first started out, I didn’t even know the difference between hay and straw!”
She did however know how to provide unwanted and abandoned animals, many of whom were destined for the abattoir, with love, care and protection. And as we watched her with her brood of pot-bellied pigs, long-horned sheep, ponies, donkeys, goats, chickens, cats and even a one-legged peacock, her natural affinity with all the creatures shone through. It was clear too that the animals in return loved and trusted her, even though some had experienced traumatic lives before being rescued.
Stroking a dark brown pony, Alexandra added, “Chocolate was terrified of people when he first came into the sanctuary. It took about 18 months to get him to come round – ginger nut biscuits helped a lot!”
The aims of the sanctuary are to provide care and protection for these unwanted creatures and where possible find new loving homes for those that are suitable – as long as the potential new owners pass the home check. Those animals that aren’t suitable for rehoming, such as the very old, those on permanent special diets and those with personality disorders through ill treatment are guaranteed a good, safe home at the sanctuary for the rest of their lives.
Alexandra talked about one such long-time resident. “Henry had been a beach donkey in Eastbourne,” she recalled. “He was no longer wanted so he came to us. I had him for 20 years. He was 37 when he died.”
As we wandered around the different areas of the sanctuary, she related various stories of rescues. “There have been times when we’ve had small avalanches of rescues, such as when a small herd of Shetland ponies were found wandering in a field with a swollen river, one had already died, so we took the rest of them – 15 Shetland ponies. They were starving and riddled with worms. One died with the infestation of worms, there was nothing we could do to rectify it. But that was a major rescue.”
“What does annoy me though,” she continued, “is when animals come to us in distressing conditions that could have been avoided if only the owner had fed them properly and treated minor ailments before they grew complicated.”
Fussing a lovely pony called Nutmeg who was blind in one eye, Alexandra said, “Nutmeg has been with us for four years. Before he came here he had an eye problem that was left untreated. If it had been treated he wouldn’t have gone blind. And once a horse has gone blind nobody wants it any more. Some people have a lot to answer for!”
Over the years, Alexandra knew the heartbreak that comes with caring deeply about pets and on many occasions she stayed up all night with dying animals, comforting them until the end.
With this lovely and caring lady no longer with us, the ABC Animal Sanctuary continues doing its vital work, just as she would have wanted, and her poignant words from our interview ring so true:
“In order to cope you have to concentrate on the living. All these animals were destined for the abattoir. If not for the sanctuary none of these beautiful creatures would be alive today and enjoying life – and I want the sanctuary to survive after I’ve gone.”
And the work at the sanctuary continues just as she wished. Trustee Cheryl Tofield-Cook commented, “We miss Alex tremendously. However, her lagacy, which is the sanctuary, will carry on in the way she wished it to. along with the help and hard work of the volunteers we will achieve all her aims.”
YOU CAN HELP
The sanctuary has no income to rely on other than what is raised through donations and fund raising, and the everyday costs of feeding and caring for all the animals is constant. There are no paid staff and every penny raised goes towards the care and welfare of these creatures.
These animals rely on the generosity of the public, and are tremendously grateful for any donation, large or small. Volunteers are also always needed to help in numerous ways.
There is also an on-line shop. Please visit their website http://www.abcanimalsanctuary.co.uk
ABC ANIMAL SANCTUARY CHRISTMAS FAYRE
This takes place on Saturday 6th December 2014 at the West Chiltington Village Hall from 12pm – 3.30pm.
The annual Open Day at the sanctuary takes place on the 6th and 7th June 2015 from 11am-4pm. All welcome.
Contact the sanctuary, donate via their website or send donations to:
Alexandra Bastedo Champions Animal Sanctuary,
Telephone: 01798 813230 / 07584 359311
Photographs courtesy of Rob Tysall www.tysallsphotography.org.uk