My Throwback Thursday this week is one of the most extraordinary true stories I’ve read. Two young Australians arrived in London in the 1960s, went into Harrods one day and came out with a lion cub.
This story appealed to me when I saw the YouTube clip, quite a few years ago now. I had to get the books and the DVD. It’s such an incredibly heartwarming story and I’m a sucker for animal stories with happy endings. Obviously Christian is no longer, but it still brings tears to my eyes when I re-read it or watch the DVD.
Even now I find it astounding to think that a person could go into a department store and come out with a lion cub. Ilfracombe zoo in Devon had a pair of lions who had a litter of four cubs. Christian and one of his sisters were bought by Harrods and the remaining two cubs ended up in a circus.
There was a measure of credulity from John and Ace in not thinking things through but I’m not sure I wouldn’t have done the same. And, on reflection, I think Christian had the best of both worlds. Better by far than being bought for a zoo or circus and the fact the two men with the help of George Adamson managed to get Christian back to Africa and rehabilitated into the life he was meant to live is nothing short of amazing.
The fact that Christian actually remembered them a year later, and again when they visited him in Africa, is very special and touching in the extreme.
The photo on the cover of the book is surreal and they actually drove round London just like that, with a lion in the back of the car! There are lots of wonderful photos charting Christian’s life throughout the book.
The two men lived in a small flat in the King’s Road, Chelsea above the furniture shop where they worked. They persuaded the owners to let them use the basement for Christian and had friends very near to the shop who had access to a fully enclosed, quarter of an acre garden.
The road to Christian’s release in Africa was anything but straightforward. Eventually, after several stages and months later, the two men said their sad goodbyes. Christian was where he belonged, but that wasn’t the end of the story.
There are several videos on YouTube, these are two of my favourites.
About the Book
In 2008, YouTube.com featured an extraordinary film clip that soon became an internet phenomenon. It showed the emotional reunion of two young men and their pet lion, Christian, after they had left him in Africa with Born Free’s George Adamson, who would introduce him into his rightful home in the wild. A Lion Called Christian relates how Anthony ‘Ace’ Bourke and John Rendall visited London from Australia in 1969 and bought a boisterous lion cub in Harrods. For a while, the three of them lived together as flatmates on the King’s Road, Chelsea, where Christian became a local celebrity. But he was growing up, fast, and even the church garden in which he exercised was becoming too small for him. How could Ace and John avoid incarcerating him in a zoo for the rest of his life? A chance meeting with Virginia McKenna and Bill Travers, stars of Born Free, led to Christian being flown to Kenya and placed under the expert care of Adamson.