How to give it: Joanna Lumley

The actress Joanna Lumley, 65, is a campaigner for animal and human rights. She is also patron of the newly launched £4m appeal to create a Scottish National Centre for Children’s Literature at Moat Brae, a Georgian house in Dumfries that helped to inspire JM Barrie to create Peter Pan (

What is the first charity you can remember supporting?

The first one I made a huge effort for was Oxfam, when I was about 17. I sent them a silver bracelet – probably the last thing they needed, but I thought that they could sell it.

Which cause do you feel most strongly about?

What I feel is stingingly unfair still is the world’s lack of support for Tibet. I also feel very strongly for compassion in farming. Indifference to factory-farmed animals is appalling. People say “Well, yes, but I do like my grub,” rather than forgo meat or treat it as a luxury. As well as cruelty there is the environmental impact of inefficiently devoting fields of crops to fatten animals.

Does charity make up for ineffective government?

I often wonder what taxes are for when charities buy a new scanner for a hospital. Half the charities are [supporting] what we thought we were spending tax on. At the same time I’m a great believer in doing things for ourselves. We wait for the government to act and it doesn’t. So [regardless of] whether the government should or shouldn’t act, I think if something doesn’t work, the answer is to find out why and fix it.

How did you become involved with Moat Brae?

It would be a shame to lose such a beautiful, important Georgian house on the River Nith. You can’t just save things any more, you have to have a project, so the idea of a children’s literature centre, with storytelling and reading, which will foster imagination and creativity, is quite wonderful.

Do people in the public eye have a duty to charity?

A well-known character is more likely to attract attention. I’m not a nurse or a scientist so I can’t offer my skills in those ways, but if my support will generate more interest then that’s marvellous.

What do you get out of your giving?

Enormous selfish pleasure to know that something is happening. I like things being made better. This sounds so geeky but in motorway service stations’ lavatories, when there are bits of paper on the floor and taps left running, I tidy them up. You can’t always make everything better but if we all tried a bit things would be a lot better.

What’s your favourite example of a charity in action?

In Bangladesh with Sightsavers I watched an operation to remove cataracts from a five-year-old boy who’d been blind since birth. When the bandages were removed he saw his blue toy truck and was spellbound. Then his mother spoke and he looked up and saw her for the first time. I absolutely cried my eyes out. The operation cost £27.

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