Joanna Lumley, the Absolutely Fabulous former Bond girl and current star of the Broadway play La Bête is still as fabulous as ever. What’s her secret? Not being part of the “blood chain,” as the longtime vegetarian puts it. She recently took a break from treading the boards to chat with PETA V.P. Dan Mathews and dish on fur, foie gras, and “the most horrid animals on the planet.”
Dan Mathews: What made you sympathetic to animals?
Joanna Lumley: My mother early on taught us to respect all animals, and I mean all animals—not just cats and dogs but rats and snakes and spiders and fish and wildlife, so I really grew up believing they are just like us and just as deserving of consideration.
DM: How did you become a vegetarian?
JL: Way back in the 1970s I was eating a steak, and I looked down and for the first time it suddenly looked like flesh to me—like a dead creature. In a flash, I realized that every time I ate any kind of meat, something had been killed for me, and I stopped eating all animals, not just cows and pigs but chickens and fish. I feel so much happier not being a part of the blood chain. It wasn’t too difficult then, but of course it’s so easy now. It’s nice when you happen into a vegetarian restaurant, but really you can find veggie food everywhere. Pastas, salads, a vegetable plate—I actually like ordering vegetarian in a meaty place because it gives them a jolt to come up with something and recognize the demand.
DM: What do you have to say to stores like Fortnum & Mason that continue to sell foie gras?
JL: I’ve had my run-ins with department stores, like Harrods, which stopped selling fur coats, but I found some there with fur trim, which is just as disgusting. Foie gras production is appalling—there’s no excuse for selling it. But I would tell people who don’t eat foie gras or veal but eat other meats that chickens and pigs, who are so intelligent, are living a life of hell and are just as deserving of their attention. Now, of course, the holidays are coming up, which means love is in the air and death is on the table. Poor turkeys.
DM: You played an infamous fashionista—Patsy Stone—on Ab Fab. Any comments to real-life fashion editors who push animal skins?
JL: It’s sad. I thought we had gotten over this, but when you see the designers and models and fashion editors still featuring fur so callously, you realize that humans are by far the most horrid animals on the planet. I can’t bear people who are so thoughtfully unkind.
DM: What do you think of the campaign to replace The Queen’s Guards’ bearskin hats with fake fur?
JL: I read about PETA’s efforts with Stella McCartney and the Ministry of Defence while I was abroad, and I just said, “This is the way to go!” Cruel traditions are hard for some to shake, but I’m thrilled there is progress.
DM: Horse-drawn carriages are banned from the streets of London and Paris but still carry on in Manhattan. Any thoughts on this?
JL: People have an old romantic notion about it. I would just say, “Please think again—think of the freezing and boiling weather they are forced to work in, and think of the cramped city stables where the horses are kept.” I wish they would just allow the horses to remain in Central Park, but I understand that’s hard to achieve with the city. I love the bill aimed at replacing the horse-drawn carriages with Great Gatsby–era cars. That is glamorous!
DM: The EU just postponed the deadline on the ban of cosmetics tested on animals from 2013 to who-knows-when. What do you think of that?
JL: I’m so hotly opposed to cosmetics tests, as is everyone who has learned about it—that’s outrageous. There’s no need for this to go on, there never was. There are such sophisticated cell cultures and tissue cultures. I was very happy to learn that PETA has funded the validation process for replacement tests. The work PETA is doing is wonderful and always seems to have such spirit!
Written by Alisa Mullins