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The fabulous campaigner: Joanna Lumley

Actress Joanna Lumley has several TV travelogues behind her, including a trip to track down the Northern Lights and, most recently, a Greek Odyssey. Having reprised her role as Patsy in Absolutely Fabulous last year, she’s back to her other role — as a campaigner, to end the long distance transportation of cattle.

Published February 07, 2012
By James Passey

People often ask me my favourite place in the world. I like to reply, ‘The next place I’m going to’. Isn’t the excitement of travelling and having an eye on new horizons often as rewarding as the destination itself? I suppose I’m in love with the idea of travel. Wherever the white road winds, I’m after it.

Next on my radar is central Europe. I’m so interested by our Union, with the 27 nation states. I think it’s complicated and rather thrilling and I’ve got a feeling we’re on quite rocky ground, so I’d like to know more about them before anything catastrophic happens. Of course, I don’t think it will, but you never know…

I’m not sure I’ve ever been scared while abroad — not in the traditional sense of the word, anyway — but at certain times I’ve witnessed poverty that has stirred a different consciousness within me. Sitting in the Sudanese desert with people whose houses are made out of twigs tends to do that. They have goats that have to walk four miles to a well to get water. I’m equally conscious of people here in the UK who say they’re poor, yet they still have an iPhone. I suppose I’m lucky to have seen what real poverty is.

When travelling, one thing that startled me was to see how very, very poor people often look after their animals so beautifully. Their animals are everything to them and to see those great white cattle in southern Sudan and in Juba — I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything so beautifully loved. It’s as if their cattle are their angels, their guardians — and they treat them more highly than diamonds or gold.

Right now, my ideal travel companion is Joyce D’Silva — she’s director of public affairs for Compassion in World Farming, which I work with. We’ve travelled by rail to Brussels together; we went to the European Union about Compassion in World Farming and animal transport. I think trains are a good place to sit and talk — you’re experiencing eye-opening travel in a very personal space.

The welfare of animals being transported around the world is something I am very passionate about. Some of the cruelty involved is so shocking and so widespread that I think sometimes people feel enfeebled by it.

My first travel memory was being on board a boat travelling to England. I was born in Kashmir and we were making the long journey to these shores. We later went to Hong Kong, then back to England — I was constantly travelling throughout my childhood. I have many memories of being on ships — the smell of Vaseline and the sound of chains rattling in the distant horizons.

I do love travelling but I love London as well. I fell in love with it when I was 10. I came here for the first time to do a ballet exam. I looked around and thought, ‘I don’t know what this is but I love it and one day I will live here and get to know it all’, which I do today. I won’t ever move — I’m English, I speak English and I live in England. We’ve got a cottage in Scotland, we’ve lived in Kent, we’ve been everywhere, but it suits me to be in London.

I love foreign food. Growing up in the Far East would always ensure that. The best food is always from the street vendors, wherever you are in the world.

Biography

Joanna Lumley OBE is a national treasure — an actress, model, explorer and campaigner who’s spent over 35 years in the public eye.

Her first major role was as one of The New Avengers back in 1976, although younger audiences know her best for her role as eccentric fashion director Patsy Stone in Absolutely Fabulous.

In recent years, her campaigning work has taken a lead role, notably after she became the public face of The Gurkha Justice Campaign and Survival International. Most recently, she’s been promoting the work of Compassion in World Farming, which is campaigning to end factory farming and the long-distance transportation of livestock.

Joanna lives in Stockwell, London, her home of over two decades, with husband Stephen Barlow, an orchestra conductor.

 

Published in the Mar/Apr 2012 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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