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Hampshire celebrities and their pets

15:52 15 February 2016

Charlotte with her playful African tiger, Aysha

Charlotte with her playful African tiger, Aysha

Archant

Not even stardom can come between our Hampshire celebs and their beloved pets. Peter White meets the furry friends behind these famous faces

Charlotte Corney

Partner to naturalist Chris Packham, Charlotte Corney has been surrounded by what she calls her pets virtually all of her life, ranging from goldfish and rabbits to African lions and Indian tigers.

Charlotte’s parents bought the Isle of Wight Zoo when she was just three months old, and now, as the director of the attraction, she oversees the wellbeing of more than 70 different animals, and has a special relationship with every one of them. She said: “I share my life with a lot of non-human animals, so really all the animals in the zoo classify as my pets. I have stronger bonds with some than others, particularly the big cats. We have four tigers, three lions and one jaguar. I’ve raised a number of the cats since they were cubs so they see me in a parental role. Therefore, they trust me but I don’t trust them - that’s the best way to work. They have millions of years of instinct that I can’t begin to understand. I can second guess their behaviour to an extent, but I still have to treat them with a lot of respect.”

It used to be a common sight seeing Charlotte walking her tigers on the beach just over the road from the Sandown-based zoo when they were cubs. She said: “Some of them used to swim in the sea. Zina, the white tiger tried to ‘kill’ the waves by jumping on them. She could never quite understand why they weren’t alive.”

Charlotte is so attached to her ‘pets’ that just before Christmas she cancelled a trip to Antarctica when Zia, one of her tigers, fell ill.

“I ended up sleeping on a camp bed next to her because I was so worried. For me these animals are family pets, and I feel about them like other people would feel about their dogs and cats. I go to great lengths to try to ensure they are feeling secure and comfortable.”

Meerkats and Ring-tailed lemurs are also among her many animal acquaintances. She added: “They are different. You can interact with them in a way that you can’t with the big cats. They are gentle animals, and we do allow visitors to get close to them.

Feeding time for Charlotte's ring-tailed lemursFeeding time for Charlotte's ring-tailed lemurs

“I also love the giant rabbits, they really are joyful. Rabbits get a bad deal when it comes to pet care. It’s still culturally acceptable to keep a rabbit in a hutch at the bottom of the garden. That’s not acceptable as far as I’m concerned, they should enjoy the same quality of life as a dog. They are not generally good animals for children, because they don’t like to be picked up too much. Rabbits litter train as well. Mine live in my house, and although they are sometimes a bit naughty, they are fantastic.”

Dee Caffari

It took yachtswoman Dee Caffari much longer to convince her partner that they should have a dog than it did for her to sail around the world single-handed. But Dee, who has circumnavigated the world four times - twice in each direction - is delighted that her persistence paid off. She and her Springer Spaniel Jack are often seen out walking near their home in Titchfield, and she says: “It’s such a sociable environment it is unbelievable. And it’s funny really because when you meet a fellow dog walker, you tend to know the name of their dog rather than theirs.”

Dee acquired Jack as a 12-week-old puppy and he is now six years old. She said: “As a family we had a cat and some hamsters, but this is my first experience of having a dog.

“My partner Harry and I had a discussion about getting one, and we knew it wasn’t the most sensible thing to do with our lifestyle, because we work away from home quite a lot. I always loved the idea of having a dog, and it took me five years of asking if we could have one. He had kept dogs in the past so was quite realistic about the whole thing, but I was in this fairytale land of ‘wouldn’t it be lovely’. My argument was that having a dog is like having children - it’s never the right time, you just have to make it work, and we have been lucky enough to make it work.”

Dee, who was awarded an MBE for her sailing exploits, admits that although she has lived in Hampshire since 1999 she did not realise there were such beautiful and tranquil places off the beaten track until she started taking Jack for what she describes as ‘voyages of discovery’. She smiled: “I now know so many walks, and visit so many places that I didn’t even realise existed. I can walk Jack off the lead to the beach in half an hour... there are not many places you can do that.”

Dee and her springer spaniel, JackDee and her springer spaniel, Jack

She continued: “I wouldn’t be without him. He’s company in the house, and keeping a dog makes you go outside no matter what the weather...dog walking is my therapy.”

Dee and Harry will soon both be away on business, and although Dee accepts she will miss her pet, she knows he will be in safe hands. She said: “We have some very accommodating family and friends who are willing to take Jack when we go away, so we are very lucky. When we are away I’m sure he thinks he is on holiday.”

Melvyn Hayes

It’s hardly surprising veteran actor Melvyn Hayes has a strong affinity to dogs. He once dressed up as one in pantomime…he has worked with many others, and now he loves walking his two pet Bichon Frise dogs Millie and Mica, which he calls his ‘life savers’.

Melvyn’s career has spanned more than 60 years, and he is still perhaps best known for his portrayal of ‘Gloria’ in the popular comedy TV series, ‘It Ain’t Half Hot Mum’. As well as appearing in several Cliff Richard films, including ‘Summer Holiday’, he has also starred in many stage productions along the south coast, from the Princes Hall, Aldershot, to the Kings Theatre, Southsea and Southampton’s Mayflower.

Now living on the Isle of Wight overlooking the Solent, he said: “Three years ago I had open heart surgery and a triple by-pass, the surgeon told me he could save so many more lives if people had dogs, because they have to take them for walks, and get exercise. So Millie and Mica take me out for a walk every day...I regard them as my life savers.”

Melvyn with pet pooches Mica and MillieMelvyn with pet pooches Mica and Millie

Mica, who is eight, and three-year-old Millie are both rescue dogs, and play a huge part in Melvyn’s family, as does their cat Elsie. He said: “We’ve always had pets because we have children of our own, and have also fostered a lot, and having pets teaches kids so many things.

“We have had Elsie for many years. I had an Aunt Elsie, who left me a bit of money when she died - about £8 I think - so we bought the cat in her memory.”

Melvyn has appeared in many TV adverts, and recalls: “I once did a dog food commercial with a dog, and just as we were finishing, he bit me, and I had to have a tetanus jab. Two weeks later I was working on another advert with a dog that also bit me. When I went back to the hospital I told the doctor I had already had a tetanus injection,and he said ‘that’s amazing, how did you know you were going to get bitten’! ”

Melvyn, now a sprightly 81, and with a wicked sense of humour, added: “I remember we had a big St Bernard dog in the ‘Summer Holiday’ film. We were supposed to shoot a scene on the top of a mountain in Athens, but twice the dog got away and ran down the mountain, so in the end we had to take the whole crew down to the base to film the scene there instead.

“My first job in pantomime was as Bonzo the Dog in ‘Babes in the Wood’ back in 1951. The review in the paper said Bonzo was a great favourite with the children, so that’s probably why I have loved dogs all my life.”


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