Alexandra Bastedo's column

In her first column Alexandra Bastedo, actress and custodian of the ABC Animal Sanctuary near Pulborough, tells us of her abiding love for her work and why it is so important

I have always loved animals. I was promised a pony by my parents if I passed the 11-plus at the age of nine. This normally sluggish student was galvanised into action and passed the exam with flying colours, only to be rewarded with a poodle – which was not the same thing at all. However he was my first dog, and although he was highly neurotic I loved him dearly.By the age of 20 I was starring in the cult television series The Champions as Sharron Macready and my film, TV and theatre career began in earnest. My second dog, an immensely intelligent Yorkshire Terrier, ended up with my parents as I was not allowed to take him to Elstree Studios. When the series ended and I was bothered by stalkers I bought my first dobermann, Blue, who became my companion and protector. I have never ceased to have a dobermann by my side and at the ABC Animal Sanctuary Nellie and Pip patrol the grounds distinguishing between the 55 volunteers and strangers.When I was 35 I met up again with Patrick Garland, the theatre director and writer whom I had dated 14 years earlier, and we married in Chichester Cathedral a year later. By that time he had been made the Artistic Director of the Chichester Festival Theatre, a position he was to hold most successfully for 10 years. They were exciting times: we bought an old farmhouse in the farmland of Almodington six miles from the theatre and soon it was filled with famous visiting actors – and animals.With Patrick so caught up in directing productions and with a few empty acres, pig sties, stables and an old barn I was able to start taking in animals. I met Min Flower who ran an amazing rescue centre and befriended Monique Turk of Cat and Rabbit Rescue, Sidlesham. I became the President of the latter and put my energies into helping raise money for their excellent charity. I also became the President of one of the RSPCA branches, Mount Noddy at Eartham, a position I held for 15 years.We have 55 volunteers and trustees and fundraisers, all unpaid, who work very hard to keep the animals in vet bills and feed. The number varies but we take in unwanted donkeys, ponies, horses, pigs, goats, cats and birds. We rehome them when possible and keep the ones with health problems or that nobody wants. On 4 and 5 June we are holding our major Open Days with celebrities, a string quartet, many stalls, children’s games, parades of the animals, delicious food, and readings of animal poems by the actors at the Blessing of the Animals. So far the celebrities include Jenny Seagrove, Anthea Turner, Peter Egan, Anthony Valentine, Kate O’Mara and Sue Jameson. In my next article I shall be introducing you to all the animals, their different characters and backgrounds. They all have their own personalities and it is wonderful to take in a troubled animal and get it to trust humans again. At the Sanctuary we specialise in complementary medicine and lots of TLC from all the volunteers. We all like to think we are a true animal sanctuary.

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