LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, BOYS AND GIRLS... welcome to the big top blog of Douglas McPherson, author of CIRCUS MANIA, the book described by Gerry Cottle as "A passionate and up-to-date look at the circus and its people."

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Amanda Holden bitten by lion tamer Thomas Chipperfield

Anyone old enough to remember Johnny Morris being dragged across the Blue Peter studio by a widdling baby elephant will know that animals and live television just don’t mix. So getting Tsavo the lion to kiss his trainer Thomas Chipperfield on This Morning was always going to be touch and go - and it was. As Britain’s last lion tamer puckered up, Tsavo let out a roar and leapt off his pedestal in the other direction.

The 25-year-old Chipperfield wasn’t fazed, however, and calmly told presenter Phillip Schofield that he liked working with big cats because “they’re not machines and can have off days just like the rest of us.”

Appearing in a live link from Swansea, where he’s appearing in An Evening With Lions and Tigers for the rest of this week, Chipperfield then went on to conduct his interview from inside the lion cage, without so much as a glance at the disgruntled lion, who first sat on a nearby pedestal then lay down broodingly on the grass in the background. All of which made Chipperfield look like the bravest man on British television.

So it was no wonder he didn’t take any nonsense from This Morning’s co-host Amanda Holden when she said his animals shouldn’t be kept in captivity. When Holden suggested he’d feel “claustrophobic” and “like a prisoner” if kept in a cage, the lion tamer coolly countered that animals perceive the world in a completely different way to what we do.

Amanda Holden as ringmistress in
BBC sitcom Big Top.
Then, when Holden talked about her work with the animal rights organisation Born Free, Chipperfield went on the offensive and accused her of “double standards” after working with trained animals on the TV show Wild At Heart.

A clearly ruffled Holden harrumphed that the animals she’d worked with were “rescue animals - rescued from people like you.”

But before Schofield could break up the spat between presenter and guest, Chipperfield pointed out that he knew the trainer who had trained them. (see update below)

This was thrilling television, and a reminder of why the crowds have been queuing to see Chipperfield’s show - because an entertainment that involves snarling wild beasts is completely unpredictable; anything can happen.

But full marks to Chipperfield for exposing the double standards of so many celebrities who are quick to partner with organisations like Born Free, PETA and Animal Defenders International in bashing the use of circus animals while many are happy to appear with trained animals on film and in TV shows. (see update below)

Sherlock Holmes star Martin Freeman, for example, recently called on the Prime Minister to ban animals from British circuses, despite appearing with horses in The Hobbit and trained dogs in Sherlock episode The Hounds of the Baskervilles.

Holden, meanwhile, also appears on Britain’s Got Talent, which frequently features performing animals. Earlier this year, she told contestant Marc Metral that he had “made television history” with his ‘talking dog’ Miss Wendy - a trick apparently achieved by fitting a false mouth over the animal’s snout, much to the ire of the RSPCA.

Holden’s BGT co-host Simon Cowell has previously dismissed claims that having animals on BGT is cruel, saying, “God no, I think the opposite! We show animals’ personalities. I think they all have a great time on our show, you can see the dogs are wagging their tails.”

Anyone who’s taken the time to visit An Evening With Lions and Tigers will know that that all Chipperfield does is showcase the natural ability and personalities of his big cats, and that they enjoy the organised play of the training routines as much as any animal on BGT.

Anyone who looks a little deeper, will also realise that circus animals and circus trainers are the first port of call whenever an animal is required for film and TV work.

Actors and television celebrities should know that better than anyone, so isn’t it about time they all stopped bashing the circus and embraced Britain’s last lion tamer as one of their own?

January 2016 update: The animals in Wild At Heart were trained by Alex Larenty, who grew up on Chipperfields Circus. For more on the double standards of actors including Brian Blessed, Alec Baldwin and Roger Moore, who have publicly condemned the circus while working with circus animals on stage and screen, click here to read my article in The Stage

January 2017: And in latest news, tiger tamer Thomas tackles former James Bond Roger Moore, the spy who once worked with circus tigers but now wants them banned. Read the full story here.

Douglas McPherson is the author of Circus Mania - The Ultimate Book For Anyone Who Dreamed of Running Away With The Circus. Click here to read the reviews on Amazon.


  1. Oh thank God for the voice of reason. I have seen the show 3 times, turned up unexpectedly to ask how the big cats were kept and was immediately shown the enclosures where they live and where they exercise. I got to know the family over a few weeks and they deserve credit not just for their work but how every single one of them have remained calm, respectful and pleasant against the tirade of abuse and lies about them. The first time I attended there were protesters on a hot day who had left their dogs in their cars. Thomas was clearly worried about them and offered water which was refused, even after he brought bottles with unbroken seals. They said he had probably laced them with poison. It is obvious that Thomas had a good upbringing the way he kept apologising to Amanda Holden even though she was so venomous towards him in her unprofessional attack.

    Far too many celebrities are riding on the back of charities pretending to care when in fact most of them charge for appearing, and even on Children in Need they get paid. Having founded the charity MAMAA 21 years ago I have lost count how many celebrities we approached for help - hundreds of them. They either wanted large sums of money to appear or it was too controversial to help. The only people who helped us free of charge were Tony Hadley, Paul Ross, Noddy Holder, Sean Williamson, Lorraine Kelly and David Dimbleby.

    Today I have seen many people accusing Thomas's mother of being charged with cruelty to animals when it fact that was a distant cousin Mary who died over a year ago. Everyone is entitled to an opinion but they need to get their facts right first. If someone in your family commits murder does that make the entire family murderers too.

    Well done the Thomas for reminding her of her double standards. If they had let him speak they would have learned a lot and if they did their research they would know that the safari park at Longleat house - the first in the world outside of Africa was the brainchild of Thomas's Grandfather

    1. Thanks for your comment, D. That's a great point about the amounts celebs are paid to support various organisations. It's something they should be asked to declare whenever they speak to the media, a bit like MPs declaring a personal interest in a subject.
      Shame Jeremy Vine didn't include a correction about Thomas' mother (unless he did by the end of the show; I didn't listen to the end, but I was hoping someone would have told him and that he would have said something after the news at the latest.) Other than that, though, full marks for Vine giving Thomas a nice respectful interview.

  2. Thank you, D Thomas! I've just added this message to Amanda Holden's page on Facebook:
    Amanda behaved badly towards someone she was supposed to be interviewing. Her producers are also at fault in allowing her to take this interview - as a declared activist for an organisation which opposes having animals in circuses, she is not suitable to interview from a neutral position. But, for a moment, set aside the emotion and look at the facts. Whenever neutral scientists (I mean scientists who aren't in the pay of an activist organisation) study the physical and the psychological condition of animals in circuses, they conclude that all is well. The 'evidence' put forward by such as Born Free and Animal Defenders deliberately misquotes research and distorts the truth - one world-class expert cited in such literature complained to a UK government minister that his work had been 'egregiously misquoted'. Why do they do that? Not because they are active in 'helping animals', as many supporters and donors believe! It's almost entirely in the interest of their bank balances. Animal Defenders is a commercial Limited Company, not an 'animal welfare charity' as they encourage people to think. Others spend far more on executive salaries than they do on working with real live animals and giving actual help. People like Thomas Chipperfield devote their lives to caring for their animals. They run their businesses, usually on a shoe-string, not as a get-rich-quick con, but so that they can go on doing what they love doing. Those who wish to support 'animal welfare', as opposed to the often-sinister philosophies of 'animal rights', would do better to stick up for such as Mr Chipperfield.

    1. You're right, Chris, it was totally unethical for Amanda Holden to use her position as a presenter to attack Thomas on behalf of Born Free. Luckily snapping, snarling predators hold no fear for a Chipperfield. I keep imagining him reaching out of that video screen and pacifying Holden with a lump of pork on the end of a stick! Good to hear Jeremy Vine doing a proper interview with Thomas on R2 today and for once not choosing to make it a debate with an animal rights spokesperson.

    2. On the subject of broadcasting ethics and professionalism, though, one caveat: although Vine did a good interview, I thought he let standards slip by immediately afterwards reading out a listener's comment that abused Thomas in the foulest terms. Should the BBC provide a public platform for such a personal and offensive attack, which would probably constitute a public order offence if delivered face to face? In the old days, a presenter might have said something like "we've had a couple of comments that were too abusive to read out," which would have conveyed the commenter's strong feelings without subjecting Thomas and the rest of us to the actual tirade.