‘Impassioned, erudite, amusing….just fabulous’; Dame Joanna Lumley takes to the stage for Compassion

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Credit: KT Bruce

On Saturday 2nd April, our wonderful Patron, Joanna Lumley delivered an outstanding lecture to a sell-out audience at the Oxford Literary Festival.

She spoke about ‘The True Meaning of Compassion’ in honour of our Founder, Peter Roberts MBE, in the magnificent Christopher Wren-designed Sheldonian Theatre. 

The following testimonials are just a few of those expressed by an enthralled audience. 

‘I wish there were more Joanna Lumley’s in this world – what a fabulous speaker – compassionate, engaging, witty, and humble with it… bravo Joanna for all of the lobbying you do for the rights of others – of all species on the planet. What an amazing humanitarian.’ 

‘A thoroughly thought provoking, inspiring and engaging talk. Joanna was a fabulous speaker, and is an amazing woman for all she is and stands for. Thank you, Joanna.’

‘A thoroughly enjoyable event with some healthy debate at the end. Fabulous.’

‘Super engaging, interesting and informative.’

‘Joanna Lumley was engaging and charming, with a deep inner strength, talking from the heart and taking a stand against bullying whether fellow humans or animals.’

Philip and Joanna | Credit: KT Bruce


Last weekend, it was an absolute honour and privilege to welcome and interview Dame Joanna Lumley as part of the 25th annual Oxford Literary Festival.  This prestigious festival has become the home of the annual Peter Roberts Memorial Lecture, which is held in memory of Compassion’s late founder, Peter Roberts MBE, a former dairy farmer who gave up farming to dedicate his life to ending factory farming.  Peter and his wife Anna were good friends of Joanna who described Peter in her lecture as a ‘kind and gentle man with a compassion for animals and a very special vision, who taught me that it’s not enough not to harm something. You have to fight to do the right thing’.

Joanna and Philip seated for questions | Credit: KT Bruce

Teaching Compassion

Joanna, a BAFTA-winning actor, TV presenter, longstanding Compassion Patron and champion for animal welfare, began her lecture by talking of her childhood where her empathy for animals first began.

‘Something happened to me as a child that I’ll never forget.  It was during the Malayan emergency with the rabies scare.  One’s dog had to have a tag or it would be shot on sight.  Judy was our family rescue dog and my Mum and me were making our way past a submerged tank when we heard the last of a drowned litter of kittens.  That kitten grew up to be the best and most adorable cat and repaid thanks by letting us dress her up in dolls’ clothes.  My mother was the most compassionate person – she saved everything including spiders (our house was full of cobwebs!), mice, rats and toads.  They were all loved, loved.  She taught me compassion and to never let anyone bully anything, animals or people’.

It was a spell-binding lecture.  Joanna was masterful in her ability to deliver key information and a serious message in a gentle manner, with good humour and a lightness of touch.  There were quiet, reflective moments, time for serious thought, but also for smiles and for laughter. For light, for shade and for colour.  The audience could not have asked for more.

Joanna at lecturn | Credit: Compassion in World Farming

True Compassion has no Limits

As Joanna informed her audience of the cruelty of factory farming and how she had dedicated her support to our farm animal welfare charity, she also spoke passionately about the importance of compassion for all things.

‘I was taught that compassion doesn’t have limits.  We need to include all life in our circle of compassion.  That compassion stretches to everything, to Oceans, to caviar, to factory farmed salmon, snow leopards, hedgehogs, caged birds, fur farms and of course farm animals.  Of the 80 million farm animals slaughtered every year, 70% are from cruel factory farms.  We have to listen to what our hearts say, not our heads’.  

She continued by talking about the importance of educating the very young.  Not relying on screens and devices to help their education, but to go back to a time when little children say ‘oh‘ when they saw something marvellous. A time when they love everything, touch everything. ‘We have to find our inner sweetness’ she said.  Joanna warned the audience, with a little shake of her finger and a wry smile, that they couldn’t ‘unknow‘ what she had told them.  

The packed Sheldonian audience | Credit: KT Bruce

The Finale

Among the many topics discussed was her admiration for Her Majesty the Queen and the joy she had in compiling a book, ‘A Queen for all Seasons’, to celebrate the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee, with some special memories around key moments in her 70-year reign. 

It was a ‘compassionate’ lecture indeed from a truly compassionate human being and, not surprisingly, the outstanding lecture ended with loud cheers of approval, whistles and enthusiastic applause.  As the majority of the audience rushed forward to have books signed and to shake Joanna’s hand, I have a feeling that Peter Roberts would have been looking down and smiling.  It was a day that will live long in the memory.

The final curtain call | Credit: KT Bruce

If you were unable to be with us, I urge you to watch a recording of the lecture. You will not be disappointed.

In closing, it remains for me to say a heartfelt thank you to incomparable Dame Joanna Lumley and to the Oxford Literary Festival for so kindly supporting Compassion in World Farming and the Peter Roberts Memorial Lecture. 

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