For 90-year-old Angela, helping animals is such a large part of her life, that she’s been fundraising since she was just a little girl.
‘I was 10 when I wanted to raise some money for PDSA (The People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals),’ she tells us. ‘I held a jumble sale in my garden and raised £4!’ she exclaims proudly.
‘I was always an animal lover, my mum said I was forever falling out of the pram reaching out to try and stroke dogs,’ she laughs.
Now, she’s joined by husband of 64 years Martin, also 90, to raise funds for Born Free, a charity which protects animals from illegal trade and poaching worldwide.
She and Martin have pledged to raise as much money as possible during lockdown, undertaking a 3km ‘fast trot’ around Hampstead Heath in London, near their home, every day for the next two months.
‘We were of course inspired by Captain Tom raising £30 million for the NHS from walking in his garden, which we think is very admirable,’ she smiles.
‘But it was hearing all about the horrors of the wet markets in China that really shocked me,’ explains Angela. ‘It was a no-brainer to try and help as much as we could.’
A long-term supporter of Born Free, Angela joined as a fundraiser 35 years ago when the charity was named Zoo Check and they focused primarily on the treatment of animals in zoos across the world. Through her work she’s become very close with the founder, Virginia McKenna.
‘I got to know Virginia over the years and through our friendship I made another friend, Jill Robinson, who founded the charity Animals Asia,’ she says.
‘Martin and I headed to China to celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary 14 years ago and we stayed with Jill. She took us to see the bears she had rescued. It was fantastic to see.’
Angela went on to explain how Virginia also went to stay with Jill and the pair decided to visit the notorious live animal markets for themselves. They were horrified by what they saw.
‘When Virginia called me to tell me all about it, it was much worse than anyone could have imagined,’ she says sadly.
‘There were monkeys, puppies, peacocks, badgers, all sorts, all being chopped up alive or blow torched to death – I believed it to be the cruellest thing I’d ever heard towards animals.
‘Virginia had seen monkeys on chains, cowering in fear knowing they were next to be killed. Plus, I found out that in China alone there are approximately 20,000 factory farms breeding exotic animals for this trade. It is absolutely awful.’
Four months ago, Angela was invited to have lunch with Virginia and a few other loyal supporters, lovingly known as ‘Virginia’s circle’.
It was there that the Born Free organisation realised they had to do something about the state of the markets now more than ever. Some evidence points towards these wildlife markets being the birthplace of the Covid-19 pandemic.
‘It isn’t just the treatment of the animals which is appalling,’ explains Angela, ‘but the amount of blood, faeces and infection that is spread at the markets links directly to being a human health hazard,’ she tells us, reflecting on the pandemic.
‘People have died, lost their jobs, had to mourn loved ones from afar. It’s the most devastating thing in my lifetime, almost as bad as the Second World War, which I lived through,’ she says solemnly.
‘Hearing about the markets was enough to make me want to raise some money, but when Virginia said she’d also seen a group of women outside the markets in China casually throwing live kittens into a huge vat of boiling hot oil while they played cards; well, I was devastated.
‘I offered up me and Martin walking to raise funds and they jumped at the idea.’
Although Angela and Martin had always enjoyed a small stroll in the mornings, there was an even bigger challenge ahead. Martin is completing the walk while he recovers from the open-heart surgery he had last year.
‘He was lucky he’d always played golf and walked so he was fit enough to have the operation,’ she explains.
‘They won’t usually do it on most people his age. But as part of the healing process he was asked to stay active. The only change is that we now use walking poles. They really help propel us up and down the hills!’ she smiles.
‘We both have our marbles and we’re still up and running, well…’ she pauses, ‘walking! So although we won’t raise as much as Captain Tom, we’ve raised £8,000 in the first three weeks. But the money has stopped, so anything anyone can donate is a huge help,’ she adds.
The pair do enjoy their walks and have a lovely routine which makes the route extra pleasurable. ‘Being so old, and with my husband having a bad back, we walk at a steady pace,’ she tells us.
‘We take coffee in a flask which goes in my backpack and we’ve found a lovely scenic route round the park which has bluebells, beautiful foxgloves, all sorts. It’s so quiet and peaceful there and not noisy.
So we usually walk for 30 minutes, take a little seat and have our coffee and then it takes us about 40 minutes to walk back.’
And of course, it’s always safety first. ‘We wash our hands as soon as we get in and I disinfect the soles of our shoes and walking poles,’ she adds.
While outdoor activity has been a welcome relief for the nation during lockdown, Angela and Martin are often met by local supporters, including some very famous faces.
‘Some of our friends in the area met us at the coffee stop point for a quick natter – from a distance, of course!’ she confirms. ‘But as we were speaking I spotted someone walking past.
‘I said to my friends, “Is that Michael Palin?” and low and behold he cupped his hands together and shouted over to me, “Yes, it is!” Me being silly shouted back, “The real Michael Palin?” and he laughed and shouted, “Yes, of course!”
‘I asked for a picture but he said absolutely not! It wasn’t going to be easy at a 2 metre distance,’ she laughs. ‘It was a rather funny encounter.’
Angela and Martin also regularly see another famous face on their walks, and they’re fortunate enough to class this one as a close friend.
‘Ricky Gervais is always out walking and we know him well,’ she smiles. ‘When we chat I hold my pole up to keep the distance between us,’ she says with a cheeky laugh.
‘He’s an animal activist like us and has supported us on our charity mission. Both Martin and I loved After Life and it’s filmed where we walk so I asked him to take a picture of me and him on the churchyard bench he sits on in the series alongside Penelope Wilton.
‘I said to him that I was the replacement for series 3 which he found very funny. He’s so lovely.’
Since they met in 1955, Angela and Martin have both had a passion for animals and have their own ways of supporting those in need.
Martin is currently the chairman of a charity called Greyhounds In Need, and as a couple they rehome dogs. ‘We’ve always had dogs since our wedding 64 years ago,’ Angela says with a smile.
‘Our last dog died in July aged 16 and a half and she was a rescued greyhound from Spain that we rehomed through Martin’s charity.
‘The movement basically rescues these particular dogs from Spain, where they’re used for hunting,’ she explains. ‘They have beautiful long faces, necks and tails, but when they retire from hunting they’re abandoned and treated terribly by the Spanish public.
‘They really dislike these types of dogs for some reason. They’re kicked, beaten, spat on, and have cigarettes stubbed into them after they’re released on the streets,’ she tells us solemnly.
‘Luckily though,’ she adds, ‘in Italy they adore them. A lot get rehomed there. They refer to them as “Bella Figura” and they’re well loved. The difference between countries is immense. But we’ve always taken them in too and we think they’re the most wonderful dogs in the world.’
And life has been purely animals with Angela and Martin choosing to not have children. ‘I never wanted to spend my life bringing up kids,’ she tells us.
‘I was always mad on animals, never mad on kids! We’d love another dog but now we’re in our nineties we just don’t think we’d be able to train them.
‘Plus we need poles for walking now so couldn’t hold a lead. It’s a shame but we have wonderful memories of the dogs we’ve had.’
As Angela gets ready to update her fundraising page on their computer before she and Martin head off on their daily 3km trot, she reflects on just why it’s so important to give to Born Free in the current climate.
‘Everybody has a part to play in this, not just animal lovers. We’ve seen how the markets can affect the human race and it’s very frightening,’ she reflects.
‘We have to think about the way we’re treating the animal world. Elephants and rhinos are disappearing through poaching. Some children may never see them. Donkeys are being stolen from vulnerable women in Africa who need them for transport to school and hospitals.
‘They’re being slaughtered for their fur to be used in face creams and they’re skinned alive. The animals are treated so cruelly but it affects us all too. We all need to change the way we treat our fellow creatures. For our own good.’
– To donate to Angela and Martin’s ‘Going Bats for Wildlife’ challenge, click HERE.