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Episode
444

The Amazing Story of Christian The Lion

Feb 9, 2024
Feel-good stories
-
16
minutes

It's a short, feel-good tale about a lion called Christian.

In this episode, we'll be telling the heartwarming true story of Christian's unique journey and his special bond with his owners.

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Download transcript & key vocabulary pdf
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Transcript

[00:00:04] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:00:11] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:20] I'm Alastair Budge, and today we are going to switch things up a little.

[00:00:24] We’ve had some heavy, thought-provoking subjects recently: debates about immigration, a teenager who joined ISIS and her citizenship revoked, fraudulent doctors and the search for eternal life.

[00:00:37] But today we are going for something lighter.

[00:00:40] It is a short, feelgood tale about a lion called Christian.

[00:00:45] It’s fun, it’s heartwarming, and it's a true story, so I hope you’ll enjoy it.

[00:00:50] OK then, the amazing story of Christian the Lion.

[00:00:56] London in the late 1960s was, so I am told, a very different city to today.

[00:01:03] If you walk down the streets of Chelsea in the year 2024, you will be greeted by expensive restaurants, designer clothing shops and multi-million pound flats.

[00:01:15] Going back 50 years ago, it was a different story altogether.

[00:01:21] Back then, Chelsea was the epicentre of a cultural revolution.

[00:01:25] It was a melting pot of artists, musicians, and free spirits, all contributing to a vibrant, dynamic atmosphere that defined an era of London’s history.

[00:01:38] The streets were lined with bohemian boutiques, avant-garde galleries, and lively music venues.

[00:01:44] It was a place where anything felt possible, a hotbed of creativity and unconventional ideas.

[00:01:52] Two young men that were drawn to this magnetism of the city were John Rendall and Anthony 'Ace' Bourke, a pair of young Australians who had hopped on a plane after finishing university and headed to Europe.

[00:02:06] These two friends got a flat on the King’s Road, which is now one of London’s most desirable and expensive locations, but back then it was very different. It was cheap, perfectly affordable for a pair of unemployed recent graduates.

[00:02:22] They started working in a furniture shop, to pay the bills, and took to exploring the city.

[00:02:28] On their travels, they would go to Harrods, London’s most famous department store just a tiny bit to the north, in Kensington.

[00:02:36] As a quick side note, we actually have an episode dedicated to the history of Harrods, its episode number 54, so if you are interested in learning more about the story of this cult London shop, I’d recommend giving that one a listen.

[00:02:50] Anyway, nowadays Harrods is famous for selling all manner of products: designer clothing, jewellery, expensive furniture, you name it.

[00:03:00] In fact, until 2014, it sold something even more unexpected.

[00:03:07] If you took the lift and got off on the fourth floor, you would arrive at Harrods' famous “Pet Kingdom”.

[00:03:15] This section of the shop sold live animals, everything from dogs and cats to more exotic animals such as tropical fish and snakes.

[00:03:25] And it was while wandering around “Pet Kingdom” in 1969 that Ace Bourke and John Rendall noticed something that caught their eye: a baby lion.

[00:03:37] The price tag was quite steep, something like €500 in today’s money, a lot of money in any case, and certainly a lot for a couple of young men who worked in a furniture shop.

[00:03:49] But the pair thought they just had to have him.

[00:03:53] They split the cost, and the lion cub was theirs.

[00:03:57] Now, it might sound crazy that you could just buy a lion at a shop, without any kind of licence or checks or anything like that, but this was London in the 1960s. The rules were different, or rather, there were no rules.

[00:04:12] The two young men decided to call him Christian.

[00:04:16] They took him home, to their flat, and soon started to learn a lot about lions.

[00:04:23] As you may know, or could probably imagine, lions grow quite quickly, and need a lot to eat.

[00:04:31] Of course, they eat meat, and plenty of it, and the men found that they were quickly spending a not insignificant amount of their salaries on buying meat for their growing ball of fluff.

[00:04:43] The lion also soon outgrew their little flat, and the pair took him to work with them at the furniture shop, keeping him downstairs in the basement while they attended to customers upstairs.

[00:04:55] They discovered that lions sleep a lot, up to 18 hours a day, but they do need a fair bit of exercise.

[00:05:04] In the wild they would be out hunting, chasing zebras and so on, but there weren’t so many huge open parks to take him to in London.

[00:05:13] In fact, compared to some cities, London does have plenty of large parks, open green spaces, but the two men perfectly reasonably thought that they might get into quite a bit of trouble if they brought their pet lion to Hyde Park and let it off its lead, with children and tourists alike getting a bit of a fright if they saw a large lion running towards them.

[00:05:37] But they did find a solution.

[00:05:40] See, Christian The Lion had started to be quite well-known in Chelsea. The young men would walk down the street with him, or take him around in their car, and as you might imagine, people started to notice.

[00:05:54] After word got around that Christian’s owners were looking for a place where the lion could run around, a kindly vicar agreed that Christian could use the church graveyard for exercise for a few hours a day.

[00:06:06] It had a large wall around it, nobody else would come inside, and it became a substitute for the open plains of Africa, right there in the centre of London.

[00:06:17] During all of this time, the two men formed a very strong bond with the lion.

[00:06:23] They were incredibly affectionate towards him, and the feeling was mutual.

[00:06:29] There are amazing clips of this, with this now huge lion jumping up to give the men hugs. It's surreal, scary even, to see this almost fully-grown lion running at a human, but absolutely heartwarming to see him being remarkably gentle with his owners to make sure that he didn’t hurt them.

[00:06:51] But, Christian the lion cub was becoming Christian the fully-grown lion.

[00:06:57] Ace and John knew that Christian couldn’t stay in London forever. London was no place for a lion, and certainly no place for an adult lion.

[00:07:08] One option was to send him to a zoo or sanctuary in the UK, but that was not ideal, they dreaded the idea of Christian being caged up.

[00:07:18] What the pair really wanted was to send him to Africa, where he belonged.

[00:07:24] But there was no clear path to do this. Christian was theirs, they had bought him, getting him to Africa, and then successfully integrating him into the wild would be no mean feat, it would not be easy.

[00:07:38] However, a chance encounter gave them an opportunity.

[00:07:43] One day, a couple walked into the furniture store. Their names were Bill Travers and Virgina McKenna, and they had starred in a film from 1966 called Born Free. This film was about another real-life couple that raised an orphaned lion cub and then reintroduced it to the wild, and it had been a great success at the box office.

[00:08:09] Naturally, the young Australians jumped at the chance to talk to Travers and McKenna, telling them about Christian, and saying “he’s actually right downstairs if you’d like to come and meet him”.

[00:08:21] Again, it seems kind of mad to us now that they were able to take their lion to work with them, and their boss wasn’t too bothered by them taking some customers downstairs to see it, but this was the 1960s, and the rules were “there are no rules”.

[00:08:38] Travers and McKenna, the Born Free actors, took an immediate interest in Christian, and offered to put Ace and John in touch with a man called George Adamson, a British conservationist living in Africa who had helped with the lion from the Born Free movie.

[00:08:54] Contact was made, and plans were put into place to transport Christian to Kenya, and introduce him into the wild.

[00:09:04] It was a bold plan. The previous lions that George Adamson had rehabilitated and introduced to the wild had all been born in Africa, so there was some sense of familiarity and return.

[00:09:19] Christian knew none of this; he was a city lion, born and bred.

[00:09:26] Nevertheless, Adamson agreed to the challenge.

[00:09:29] After several months negotiating with the Kenyan government to allow Christian to enter the country, an agreement was reached.

[00:09:38] Christian flew out to Kenya, accompanied by his owners, of course, and took his first smell of the land he would come to call home.

[00:09:48] They met George Adamson, this legendary conservationist and lion expert, and off they went, heading for a nature reserve.

[00:09:57] The pair would later recall an incident during the trip when they were in a car in the middle of nowhere, and they could see that Christian needed to go for a pee.

[00:10:07] They asked Adamson to stop the car, so that Christian could go out and do his business.

[00:10:14] Adamson was reluctant, saying that if Christian ran away, they would never find him again. After all, this was the bush, it wasn’t a walled graveyard in Chelsea.

[00:10:27] Undeterred, Ace and John said “no no, it’s ok, he’ll come back”.

[00:10:33] The car stopped, out Christian got. He stopped, did his business, and then dutifully hopped back into the car.

[00:10:43] The group arrived at Adamson’s compound, but clearly introducing Christian into the wild safely and successfully was more complicated than dropping him in the middle of nowhere and saying “ok, there you go, good luck!”

[00:10:58] Christian didn’t know how to hunt, he didn’t know how to interact with other lions, he didn’t know how to be a wild lion. He was a city lion; he might have known how to catch the number 11 bus, but he didn’t know how to track a zebra or find a safe place to sleep at night.

[00:11:17] Fortunately, George Adamson had a plan. He wanted to create a new pride of lions, with Christian at the helm. This would include another older lion called “Boy”, and a younger female lion called Katania.

[00:11:35] Christian got a nasty shock when he was viciously attacked by Boy during their first meeting, but with Boy’s dominance now successfully asserted, there was a semblance of normality.

[00:11:49] The two male lions became close friends, and the lion pride was starting to come together.

[00:11:56] With this new pride forming, Ace and John knew that their time with Christian was coming to an end. Christian would never be able to be a fully-functioning, wild, lion if he continued with one foot in the lion world and another in the human world.

[00:12:15] Ace and John had to go.

[00:12:19] 4 weeks later, the pair returned to London, and would be kept up to date with letters from Kenya, from George Adamson, about Christian’s progress.

[00:12:28] All was going well, but then Boy was attacked by some other wild lions. Everything about Boy changed, and tragedy then struck when Boy attacked one of the men working for Adamson, and Adamson was forced to shoot Boy to stop the attack.

[00:12:49] Christian was distraught, and he would spend his days sitting next to Boy’s grave.

[00:12:55] With seemingly no way to shake Christian out from this sadness, George Adamson wrote to the Australians and asked if they would come out to visit Christian.

[00:13:07] They jumped at the opportunity, and a year after seeing Christian for the last time, John and Ace returned.

[00:13:15] They were understandably nervous about how Christian would react. He was now a semi wild lion, and one who had lost his best friend at that. How would he react? Would he remember his former owners?

[00:13:31] Or would he perceive them as a threat, unknown humans disturbing his territory?

[00:13:38] What actually happened is nothing short of marvellous.

[00:13:42] There is actually a video of this reunion on YouTube, it is absolutely heartwarming. Christian approaches cautiously, and then when he recognises Ace and John, his pace quickens and he runs towards them, jumping up and giving them both enormous hugs, licking them and nuzzling his head in theirs.

[00:14:04] The pair returned to London, and continued to keep updated on Christian’s progress via George Adamson’s letters.

[00:14:12] Back in Kenya, Christian was now growing into an adult lion. Ace and John returned to Africa again, a year later, and they found a very changed and more mature lion. By this time, Christian had been going away from the compound for days and weeks at a time, trying to find his own territory, far from his human friends.

[00:14:36] When the pair met Christian, it was an emotional reunion of course, but Christian was now a fully grown, adult lion. He was different, he was mature, he was Christian The African Lion, no longer Christian The Lion Cub From Harrods.

[00:14:55] This would be the last time that any of them saw Christian. One day he left the compound, as he had been doing for several months by then.

[00:15:05] But this time, he never returned.

[00:15:09] Nobody knows what happened to him, one can only hope that he went on to live a long, happy, and most certainly wild life.

[00:15:19] OK then, that is it for today's episode on Christian The Lion.

[00:15:24] If you enjoyed this episode, I’d definitely recommend checking out the short documentary film about Christian The Lion. It’s a lot of fun, and you’ll see all the characters I’ve been talking about today.

[00:15:34] Just search for “Christian The Lion” on YouTube, and you should find it right away.

[00:15:38] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:15:43] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.

[END OF EPISODE]

Continue learning

Get immediate access to a more interesting way of improving your English
Become a member
Already a member? Login

[00:00:04] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:00:11] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:20] I'm Alastair Budge, and today we are going to switch things up a little.

[00:00:24] We’ve had some heavy, thought-provoking subjects recently: debates about immigration, a teenager who joined ISIS and her citizenship revoked, fraudulent doctors and the search for eternal life.

[00:00:37] But today we are going for something lighter.

[00:00:40] It is a short, feelgood tale about a lion called Christian.

[00:00:45] It’s fun, it’s heartwarming, and it's a true story, so I hope you’ll enjoy it.

[00:00:50] OK then, the amazing story of Christian the Lion.

[00:00:56] London in the late 1960s was, so I am told, a very different city to today.

[00:01:03] If you walk down the streets of Chelsea in the year 2024, you will be greeted by expensive restaurants, designer clothing shops and multi-million pound flats.

[00:01:15] Going back 50 years ago, it was a different story altogether.

[00:01:21] Back then, Chelsea was the epicentre of a cultural revolution.

[00:01:25] It was a melting pot of artists, musicians, and free spirits, all contributing to a vibrant, dynamic atmosphere that defined an era of London’s history.

[00:01:38] The streets were lined with bohemian boutiques, avant-garde galleries, and lively music venues.

[00:01:44] It was a place where anything felt possible, a hotbed of creativity and unconventional ideas.

[00:01:52] Two young men that were drawn to this magnetism of the city were John Rendall and Anthony 'Ace' Bourke, a pair of young Australians who had hopped on a plane after finishing university and headed to Europe.

[00:02:06] These two friends got a flat on the King’s Road, which is now one of London’s most desirable and expensive locations, but back then it was very different. It was cheap, perfectly affordable for a pair of unemployed recent graduates.

[00:02:22] They started working in a furniture shop, to pay the bills, and took to exploring the city.

[00:02:28] On their travels, they would go to Harrods, London’s most famous department store just a tiny bit to the north, in Kensington.

[00:02:36] As a quick side note, we actually have an episode dedicated to the history of Harrods, its episode number 54, so if you are interested in learning more about the story of this cult London shop, I’d recommend giving that one a listen.

[00:02:50] Anyway, nowadays Harrods is famous for selling all manner of products: designer clothing, jewellery, expensive furniture, you name it.

[00:03:00] In fact, until 2014, it sold something even more unexpected.

[00:03:07] If you took the lift and got off on the fourth floor, you would arrive at Harrods' famous “Pet Kingdom”.

[00:03:15] This section of the shop sold live animals, everything from dogs and cats to more exotic animals such as tropical fish and snakes.

[00:03:25] And it was while wandering around “Pet Kingdom” in 1969 that Ace Bourke and John Rendall noticed something that caught their eye: a baby lion.

[00:03:37] The price tag was quite steep, something like €500 in today’s money, a lot of money in any case, and certainly a lot for a couple of young men who worked in a furniture shop.

[00:03:49] But the pair thought they just had to have him.

[00:03:53] They split the cost, and the lion cub was theirs.

[00:03:57] Now, it might sound crazy that you could just buy a lion at a shop, without any kind of licence or checks or anything like that, but this was London in the 1960s. The rules were different, or rather, there were no rules.

[00:04:12] The two young men decided to call him Christian.

[00:04:16] They took him home, to their flat, and soon started to learn a lot about lions.

[00:04:23] As you may know, or could probably imagine, lions grow quite quickly, and need a lot to eat.

[00:04:31] Of course, they eat meat, and plenty of it, and the men found that they were quickly spending a not insignificant amount of their salaries on buying meat for their growing ball of fluff.

[00:04:43] The lion also soon outgrew their little flat, and the pair took him to work with them at the furniture shop, keeping him downstairs in the basement while they attended to customers upstairs.

[00:04:55] They discovered that lions sleep a lot, up to 18 hours a day, but they do need a fair bit of exercise.

[00:05:04] In the wild they would be out hunting, chasing zebras and so on, but there weren’t so many huge open parks to take him to in London.

[00:05:13] In fact, compared to some cities, London does have plenty of large parks, open green spaces, but the two men perfectly reasonably thought that they might get into quite a bit of trouble if they brought their pet lion to Hyde Park and let it off its lead, with children and tourists alike getting a bit of a fright if they saw a large lion running towards them.

[00:05:37] But they did find a solution.

[00:05:40] See, Christian The Lion had started to be quite well-known in Chelsea. The young men would walk down the street with him, or take him around in their car, and as you might imagine, people started to notice.

[00:05:54] After word got around that Christian’s owners were looking for a place where the lion could run around, a kindly vicar agreed that Christian could use the church graveyard for exercise for a few hours a day.

[00:06:06] It had a large wall around it, nobody else would come inside, and it became a substitute for the open plains of Africa, right there in the centre of London.

[00:06:17] During all of this time, the two men formed a very strong bond with the lion.

[00:06:23] They were incredibly affectionate towards him, and the feeling was mutual.

[00:06:29] There are amazing clips of this, with this now huge lion jumping up to give the men hugs. It's surreal, scary even, to see this almost fully-grown lion running at a human, but absolutely heartwarming to see him being remarkably gentle with his owners to make sure that he didn’t hurt them.

[00:06:51] But, Christian the lion cub was becoming Christian the fully-grown lion.

[00:06:57] Ace and John knew that Christian couldn’t stay in London forever. London was no place for a lion, and certainly no place for an adult lion.

[00:07:08] One option was to send him to a zoo or sanctuary in the UK, but that was not ideal, they dreaded the idea of Christian being caged up.

[00:07:18] What the pair really wanted was to send him to Africa, where he belonged.

[00:07:24] But there was no clear path to do this. Christian was theirs, they had bought him, getting him to Africa, and then successfully integrating him into the wild would be no mean feat, it would not be easy.

[00:07:38] However, a chance encounter gave them an opportunity.

[00:07:43] One day, a couple walked into the furniture store. Their names were Bill Travers and Virgina McKenna, and they had starred in a film from 1966 called Born Free. This film was about another real-life couple that raised an orphaned lion cub and then reintroduced it to the wild, and it had been a great success at the box office.

[00:08:09] Naturally, the young Australians jumped at the chance to talk to Travers and McKenna, telling them about Christian, and saying “he’s actually right downstairs if you’d like to come and meet him”.

[00:08:21] Again, it seems kind of mad to us now that they were able to take their lion to work with them, and their boss wasn’t too bothered by them taking some customers downstairs to see it, but this was the 1960s, and the rules were “there are no rules”.

[00:08:38] Travers and McKenna, the Born Free actors, took an immediate interest in Christian, and offered to put Ace and John in touch with a man called George Adamson, a British conservationist living in Africa who had helped with the lion from the Born Free movie.

[00:08:54] Contact was made, and plans were put into place to transport Christian to Kenya, and introduce him into the wild.

[00:09:04] It was a bold plan. The previous lions that George Adamson had rehabilitated and introduced to the wild had all been born in Africa, so there was some sense of familiarity and return.

[00:09:19] Christian knew none of this; he was a city lion, born and bred.

[00:09:26] Nevertheless, Adamson agreed to the challenge.

[00:09:29] After several months negotiating with the Kenyan government to allow Christian to enter the country, an agreement was reached.

[00:09:38] Christian flew out to Kenya, accompanied by his owners, of course, and took his first smell of the land he would come to call home.

[00:09:48] They met George Adamson, this legendary conservationist and lion expert, and off they went, heading for a nature reserve.

[00:09:57] The pair would later recall an incident during the trip when they were in a car in the middle of nowhere, and they could see that Christian needed to go for a pee.

[00:10:07] They asked Adamson to stop the car, so that Christian could go out and do his business.

[00:10:14] Adamson was reluctant, saying that if Christian ran away, they would never find him again. After all, this was the bush, it wasn’t a walled graveyard in Chelsea.

[00:10:27] Undeterred, Ace and John said “no no, it’s ok, he’ll come back”.

[00:10:33] The car stopped, out Christian got. He stopped, did his business, and then dutifully hopped back into the car.

[00:10:43] The group arrived at Adamson’s compound, but clearly introducing Christian into the wild safely and successfully was more complicated than dropping him in the middle of nowhere and saying “ok, there you go, good luck!”

[00:10:58] Christian didn’t know how to hunt, he didn’t know how to interact with other lions, he didn’t know how to be a wild lion. He was a city lion; he might have known how to catch the number 11 bus, but he didn’t know how to track a zebra or find a safe place to sleep at night.

[00:11:17] Fortunately, George Adamson had a plan. He wanted to create a new pride of lions, with Christian at the helm. This would include another older lion called “Boy”, and a younger female lion called Katania.

[00:11:35] Christian got a nasty shock when he was viciously attacked by Boy during their first meeting, but with Boy’s dominance now successfully asserted, there was a semblance of normality.

[00:11:49] The two male lions became close friends, and the lion pride was starting to come together.

[00:11:56] With this new pride forming, Ace and John knew that their time with Christian was coming to an end. Christian would never be able to be a fully-functioning, wild, lion if he continued with one foot in the lion world and another in the human world.

[00:12:15] Ace and John had to go.

[00:12:19] 4 weeks later, the pair returned to London, and would be kept up to date with letters from Kenya, from George Adamson, about Christian’s progress.

[00:12:28] All was going well, but then Boy was attacked by some other wild lions. Everything about Boy changed, and tragedy then struck when Boy attacked one of the men working for Adamson, and Adamson was forced to shoot Boy to stop the attack.

[00:12:49] Christian was distraught, and he would spend his days sitting next to Boy’s grave.

[00:12:55] With seemingly no way to shake Christian out from this sadness, George Adamson wrote to the Australians and asked if they would come out to visit Christian.

[00:13:07] They jumped at the opportunity, and a year after seeing Christian for the last time, John and Ace returned.

[00:13:15] They were understandably nervous about how Christian would react. He was now a semi wild lion, and one who had lost his best friend at that. How would he react? Would he remember his former owners?

[00:13:31] Or would he perceive them as a threat, unknown humans disturbing his territory?

[00:13:38] What actually happened is nothing short of marvellous.

[00:13:42] There is actually a video of this reunion on YouTube, it is absolutely heartwarming. Christian approaches cautiously, and then when he recognises Ace and John, his pace quickens and he runs towards them, jumping up and giving them both enormous hugs, licking them and nuzzling his head in theirs.

[00:14:04] The pair returned to London, and continued to keep updated on Christian’s progress via George Adamson’s letters.

[00:14:12] Back in Kenya, Christian was now growing into an adult lion. Ace and John returned to Africa again, a year later, and they found a very changed and more mature lion. By this time, Christian had been going away from the compound for days and weeks at a time, trying to find his own territory, far from his human friends.

[00:14:36] When the pair met Christian, it was an emotional reunion of course, but Christian was now a fully grown, adult lion. He was different, he was mature, he was Christian The African Lion, no longer Christian The Lion Cub From Harrods.

[00:14:55] This would be the last time that any of them saw Christian. One day he left the compound, as he had been doing for several months by then.

[00:15:05] But this time, he never returned.

[00:15:09] Nobody knows what happened to him, one can only hope that he went on to live a long, happy, and most certainly wild life.

[00:15:19] OK then, that is it for today's episode on Christian The Lion.

[00:15:24] If you enjoyed this episode, I’d definitely recommend checking out the short documentary film about Christian The Lion. It’s a lot of fun, and you’ll see all the characters I’ve been talking about today.

[00:15:34] Just search for “Christian The Lion” on YouTube, and you should find it right away.

[00:15:38] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:15:43] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.

[END OF EPISODE]

[00:00:04] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:00:11] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:20] I'm Alastair Budge, and today we are going to switch things up a little.

[00:00:24] We’ve had some heavy, thought-provoking subjects recently: debates about immigration, a teenager who joined ISIS and her citizenship revoked, fraudulent doctors and the search for eternal life.

[00:00:37] But today we are going for something lighter.

[00:00:40] It is a short, feelgood tale about a lion called Christian.

[00:00:45] It’s fun, it’s heartwarming, and it's a true story, so I hope you’ll enjoy it.

[00:00:50] OK then, the amazing story of Christian the Lion.

[00:00:56] London in the late 1960s was, so I am told, a very different city to today.

[00:01:03] If you walk down the streets of Chelsea in the year 2024, you will be greeted by expensive restaurants, designer clothing shops and multi-million pound flats.

[00:01:15] Going back 50 years ago, it was a different story altogether.

[00:01:21] Back then, Chelsea was the epicentre of a cultural revolution.

[00:01:25] It was a melting pot of artists, musicians, and free spirits, all contributing to a vibrant, dynamic atmosphere that defined an era of London’s history.

[00:01:38] The streets were lined with bohemian boutiques, avant-garde galleries, and lively music venues.

[00:01:44] It was a place where anything felt possible, a hotbed of creativity and unconventional ideas.

[00:01:52] Two young men that were drawn to this magnetism of the city were John Rendall and Anthony 'Ace' Bourke, a pair of young Australians who had hopped on a plane after finishing university and headed to Europe.

[00:02:06] These two friends got a flat on the King’s Road, which is now one of London’s most desirable and expensive locations, but back then it was very different. It was cheap, perfectly affordable for a pair of unemployed recent graduates.

[00:02:22] They started working in a furniture shop, to pay the bills, and took to exploring the city.

[00:02:28] On their travels, they would go to Harrods, London’s most famous department store just a tiny bit to the north, in Kensington.

[00:02:36] As a quick side note, we actually have an episode dedicated to the history of Harrods, its episode number 54, so if you are interested in learning more about the story of this cult London shop, I’d recommend giving that one a listen.

[00:02:50] Anyway, nowadays Harrods is famous for selling all manner of products: designer clothing, jewellery, expensive furniture, you name it.

[00:03:00] In fact, until 2014, it sold something even more unexpected.

[00:03:07] If you took the lift and got off on the fourth floor, you would arrive at Harrods' famous “Pet Kingdom”.

[00:03:15] This section of the shop sold live animals, everything from dogs and cats to more exotic animals such as tropical fish and snakes.

[00:03:25] And it was while wandering around “Pet Kingdom” in 1969 that Ace Bourke and John Rendall noticed something that caught their eye: a baby lion.

[00:03:37] The price tag was quite steep, something like €500 in today’s money, a lot of money in any case, and certainly a lot for a couple of young men who worked in a furniture shop.

[00:03:49] But the pair thought they just had to have him.

[00:03:53] They split the cost, and the lion cub was theirs.

[00:03:57] Now, it might sound crazy that you could just buy a lion at a shop, without any kind of licence or checks or anything like that, but this was London in the 1960s. The rules were different, or rather, there were no rules.

[00:04:12] The two young men decided to call him Christian.

[00:04:16] They took him home, to their flat, and soon started to learn a lot about lions.

[00:04:23] As you may know, or could probably imagine, lions grow quite quickly, and need a lot to eat.

[00:04:31] Of course, they eat meat, and plenty of it, and the men found that they were quickly spending a not insignificant amount of their salaries on buying meat for their growing ball of fluff.

[00:04:43] The lion also soon outgrew their little flat, and the pair took him to work with them at the furniture shop, keeping him downstairs in the basement while they attended to customers upstairs.

[00:04:55] They discovered that lions sleep a lot, up to 18 hours a day, but they do need a fair bit of exercise.

[00:05:04] In the wild they would be out hunting, chasing zebras and so on, but there weren’t so many huge open parks to take him to in London.

[00:05:13] In fact, compared to some cities, London does have plenty of large parks, open green spaces, but the two men perfectly reasonably thought that they might get into quite a bit of trouble if they brought their pet lion to Hyde Park and let it off its lead, with children and tourists alike getting a bit of a fright if they saw a large lion running towards them.

[00:05:37] But they did find a solution.

[00:05:40] See, Christian The Lion had started to be quite well-known in Chelsea. The young men would walk down the street with him, or take him around in their car, and as you might imagine, people started to notice.

[00:05:54] After word got around that Christian’s owners were looking for a place where the lion could run around, a kindly vicar agreed that Christian could use the church graveyard for exercise for a few hours a day.

[00:06:06] It had a large wall around it, nobody else would come inside, and it became a substitute for the open plains of Africa, right there in the centre of London.

[00:06:17] During all of this time, the two men formed a very strong bond with the lion.

[00:06:23] They were incredibly affectionate towards him, and the feeling was mutual.

[00:06:29] There are amazing clips of this, with this now huge lion jumping up to give the men hugs. It's surreal, scary even, to see this almost fully-grown lion running at a human, but absolutely heartwarming to see him being remarkably gentle with his owners to make sure that he didn’t hurt them.

[00:06:51] But, Christian the lion cub was becoming Christian the fully-grown lion.

[00:06:57] Ace and John knew that Christian couldn’t stay in London forever. London was no place for a lion, and certainly no place for an adult lion.

[00:07:08] One option was to send him to a zoo or sanctuary in the UK, but that was not ideal, they dreaded the idea of Christian being caged up.

[00:07:18] What the pair really wanted was to send him to Africa, where he belonged.

[00:07:24] But there was no clear path to do this. Christian was theirs, they had bought him, getting him to Africa, and then successfully integrating him into the wild would be no mean feat, it would not be easy.

[00:07:38] However, a chance encounter gave them an opportunity.

[00:07:43] One day, a couple walked into the furniture store. Their names were Bill Travers and Virgina McKenna, and they had starred in a film from 1966 called Born Free. This film was about another real-life couple that raised an orphaned lion cub and then reintroduced it to the wild, and it had been a great success at the box office.

[00:08:09] Naturally, the young Australians jumped at the chance to talk to Travers and McKenna, telling them about Christian, and saying “he’s actually right downstairs if you’d like to come and meet him”.

[00:08:21] Again, it seems kind of mad to us now that they were able to take their lion to work with them, and their boss wasn’t too bothered by them taking some customers downstairs to see it, but this was the 1960s, and the rules were “there are no rules”.

[00:08:38] Travers and McKenna, the Born Free actors, took an immediate interest in Christian, and offered to put Ace and John in touch with a man called George Adamson, a British conservationist living in Africa who had helped with the lion from the Born Free movie.

[00:08:54] Contact was made, and plans were put into place to transport Christian to Kenya, and introduce him into the wild.

[00:09:04] It was a bold plan. The previous lions that George Adamson had rehabilitated and introduced to the wild had all been born in Africa, so there was some sense of familiarity and return.

[00:09:19] Christian knew none of this; he was a city lion, born and bred.

[00:09:26] Nevertheless, Adamson agreed to the challenge.

[00:09:29] After several months negotiating with the Kenyan government to allow Christian to enter the country, an agreement was reached.

[00:09:38] Christian flew out to Kenya, accompanied by his owners, of course, and took his first smell of the land he would come to call home.

[00:09:48] They met George Adamson, this legendary conservationist and lion expert, and off they went, heading for a nature reserve.

[00:09:57] The pair would later recall an incident during the trip when they were in a car in the middle of nowhere, and they could see that Christian needed to go for a pee.

[00:10:07] They asked Adamson to stop the car, so that Christian could go out and do his business.

[00:10:14] Adamson was reluctant, saying that if Christian ran away, they would never find him again. After all, this was the bush, it wasn’t a walled graveyard in Chelsea.

[00:10:27] Undeterred, Ace and John said “no no, it’s ok, he’ll come back”.

[00:10:33] The car stopped, out Christian got. He stopped, did his business, and then dutifully hopped back into the car.

[00:10:43] The group arrived at Adamson’s compound, but clearly introducing Christian into the wild safely and successfully was more complicated than dropping him in the middle of nowhere and saying “ok, there you go, good luck!”

[00:10:58] Christian didn’t know how to hunt, he didn’t know how to interact with other lions, he didn’t know how to be a wild lion. He was a city lion; he might have known how to catch the number 11 bus, but he didn’t know how to track a zebra or find a safe place to sleep at night.

[00:11:17] Fortunately, George Adamson had a plan. He wanted to create a new pride of lions, with Christian at the helm. This would include another older lion called “Boy”, and a younger female lion called Katania.

[00:11:35] Christian got a nasty shock when he was viciously attacked by Boy during their first meeting, but with Boy’s dominance now successfully asserted, there was a semblance of normality.

[00:11:49] The two male lions became close friends, and the lion pride was starting to come together.

[00:11:56] With this new pride forming, Ace and John knew that their time with Christian was coming to an end. Christian would never be able to be a fully-functioning, wild, lion if he continued with one foot in the lion world and another in the human world.

[00:12:15] Ace and John had to go.

[00:12:19] 4 weeks later, the pair returned to London, and would be kept up to date with letters from Kenya, from George Adamson, about Christian’s progress.

[00:12:28] All was going well, but then Boy was attacked by some other wild lions. Everything about Boy changed, and tragedy then struck when Boy attacked one of the men working for Adamson, and Adamson was forced to shoot Boy to stop the attack.

[00:12:49] Christian was distraught, and he would spend his days sitting next to Boy’s grave.

[00:12:55] With seemingly no way to shake Christian out from this sadness, George Adamson wrote to the Australians and asked if they would come out to visit Christian.

[00:13:07] They jumped at the opportunity, and a year after seeing Christian for the last time, John and Ace returned.

[00:13:15] They were understandably nervous about how Christian would react. He was now a semi wild lion, and one who had lost his best friend at that. How would he react? Would he remember his former owners?

[00:13:31] Or would he perceive them as a threat, unknown humans disturbing his territory?

[00:13:38] What actually happened is nothing short of marvellous.

[00:13:42] There is actually a video of this reunion on YouTube, it is absolutely heartwarming. Christian approaches cautiously, and then when he recognises Ace and John, his pace quickens and he runs towards them, jumping up and giving them both enormous hugs, licking them and nuzzling his head in theirs.

[00:14:04] The pair returned to London, and continued to keep updated on Christian’s progress via George Adamson’s letters.

[00:14:12] Back in Kenya, Christian was now growing into an adult lion. Ace and John returned to Africa again, a year later, and they found a very changed and more mature lion. By this time, Christian had been going away from the compound for days and weeks at a time, trying to find his own territory, far from his human friends.

[00:14:36] When the pair met Christian, it was an emotional reunion of course, but Christian was now a fully grown, adult lion. He was different, he was mature, he was Christian The African Lion, no longer Christian The Lion Cub From Harrods.

[00:14:55] This would be the last time that any of them saw Christian. One day he left the compound, as he had been doing for several months by then.

[00:15:05] But this time, he never returned.

[00:15:09] Nobody knows what happened to him, one can only hope that he went on to live a long, happy, and most certainly wild life.

[00:15:19] OK then, that is it for today's episode on Christian The Lion.

[00:15:24] If you enjoyed this episode, I’d definitely recommend checking out the short documentary film about Christian The Lion. It’s a lot of fun, and you’ll see all the characters I’ve been talking about today.

[00:15:34] Just search for “Christian The Lion” on YouTube, and you should find it right away.

[00:15:38] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:15:43] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.

[END OF EPISODE]