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Virginia McKenna on Christian the Lion

By Michele C. Hollow

I’m sure many of you have seen the YouTube video Christian the Lion. Even though I saw it a while ago, it has stayed fresh in my mind because it was so moving. When I interviewed Virginia McKenna, we discussed the film. Here is Part III of my interview with Virginia:

PNAV: What was it like working with Christian the Lion?
Virginia: My husband made Christian, the Lion at World’s End, following our chance meeting with Christian and his two owners Ace Bourke and John Rendall, at the pine furniture shop in Chelsea, London, at which they worked. John and Ace were facing a predicament as Christian was growing fast, and a time was approaching when taking him to work would not be an option. They asked Bill if he had any suggestions. It didn’t take him long!

His idea was that George Adamson would rehabilitate Christian back to the wild. His idea was accepted. There followed four months of waiting to get the Kenyan Government agreement to bring a lion to the country for rehabilitation and to find a suitable area (water but no people).

Christian, Ace, and John, came to our home in the country while all this was being arranged. We made a lion compound in the garden, and the young men lived in a caravan as our family took up our whole house.

Bill decided to film everything as it happened; the only scene that had to be pre-filmed (before we knew we would get permission) was the first meeting in the shop. Bill feared that Christian might have grown quite a bit before the Kenyan story began. He was right.

I was in the early part of the story, but I did not go to Kenya. The successful rehabilitation of Christian, his introduction to Boy (who had been in Born Free), and other lions were made possible by one man: George, a unique and extraordinary man and a friend of ours until his death.

The reunion clip of Christian greeting Ace and John, when they returned to see him after over 10 months absence, has been seen on YouTube millions of times. This moment was lifted from Bill’s film and is, of course, wonderful. But if you see it in context I believe it is even better.

Following is a video of Virginia and her son, Will Travers, head of the Born Free Foundation. Here she talks about Christian the Lion.

And a reminder, be sure to tune in to PBS on Sunday at 8 p.m. eastern to watch In Elsa’s Legacy: The Born Free Story. Click on Part I or Part II to read the other interviews with Virginia.

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