By Jeremy Miles
Sixties glamour girl Alexandra Bastedo is best remembered as secret agent Sharon Macredy in the cult TV adventure series The Champions.
Each week, alongside sidekicks Craig Stirling and Richard Barrett (played by Stuart Damon and William Gaunt), she would leap into action as part of an international team, fighting evil and rescuing the good people of Britain and its allies from a variety of dastardly threats to civilisation as we know it.
Forty years on Bastedo, now 61, is only occasionally seen on screen or stage but she's still very much in the rescue business. And she's still a champion, battling to save animals from pain, cruelty and neglect.
As a tireless campaigner for animal welfare, she has run her own sanctuary for the past 25 years, sharing a 10-acre estate with her husband, the actor and director Patrick Garland, and 150 cats, dogs, horses, pigs, sheep, poultry and sundry other creatures.
It is clearly a full-time job, but occasionally her "other life" as an actress and celebrity helps out.
She does the odd play. A couple of years ago she appeared alongside Leslie Grantham and Simon Ward in Jeffrey Archer's Beyond Reasonable Doubt in Poole and has turned up on screen in movies like Batman Begins and TV shows like Absolutely Fabulous. The money goes straight to the sanctuary.
Most of the time she says she is simply too busy with the animals to take the work. On Sunday Bastedo will be back in Poole again, making the journey from her West Sussex base to co-host a Gala Magic of Mantovani concert at the Lighthouse Centre for the Arts. "I'm really looking forward to it. My mother was Italian and I love Mantovani's music. I have such happy memories of dancing to it, she told me.
Tellingly she is taking the co-host job, alongside broadcaster Ed Stewart, in return for a donation to the sanctuary.
Bastedo says she has always loved animals. "I wanted to be a vet before I wanted to be an actress but got side-tracked by being sent to Hollywood by Columbia Pictures when I was 16."
She admits that she grew up as ignorant about the wider issues of animal welfare as most people of her generation. "I was just an ordinary girl who thought that chickens were what you bought wrapped in plastic from the supermarket."
One of her earliest dreams was to join the circus. "I wanted to be Elephant Girl. Of course I don't think that way any more. It's all Born Free' with me these days but we didn't have much of an idea back then."
However, she believes those childhood dreams were prophetic. "The circus is about both animals and showbiz - the two parts of my life."
A natural love of animals led the young actress and model slowly but surely on the mission that today dominates her life - providing new homes and new lives for animals that are sick, old or traumatised by cruelty and ignorance.
"There's an awful lot of cruelty out there. I have a cat that had darts thrown at it by yobs and another that was found in a carrier bag hanging from a tree."
Shetland ponies are a problem too. People treat them as playthings. They seem to think that, because they're small and cute, they're just toys. They keep them for a couple of years and, when the novelty wears off, just shove them out."
The work, she says, is tough and never ending. "I'm up with the alarm every morning, but it's immensely rewarding. When I have a pony that comes to me with its ribs sticking out and in a state of collapse it's a wonderful feeling to be able to restore it to health and happiness.
With medical and surgical back up from local vets, Bastedo says she uses a mixture of vitamin supplements, careful nutrition and love and care to nurture her animal guests. She realises that she's engaged in an uphill struggle.
"My philosophy is try and do your little bit'. I'm limited by my 10 acres which is absolutely full but I'll only allow an animal to be destroyed if it's in terrible pain or there is absolutely no hope and I'll only re-home to extremely good homes and even then I ask that they make provision in their wills for the animal in question."
She says she gets depressed by people who think the world is only for human beings. "I believe that the world is for everyone and every creature."
A committed vegetarian, Bastedo says she has been gladdened by the recent TV campaign by people like Jamie Oliver and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall to alert the nation to the cruelty of intensive poultry farming.
But she says the real truth is not as black and white as some might think. "I rescued a whole lot of free-range chickens that didn't have a feather between them.
"It's about more than free range or organic, it's about the density of stock and a variety of other factors."
It's a subject she feels strongly about and before long she's talking turkey and revealing her one overriding secret wish: "I hope that Bernard Matthews will be reincarnated as one of his own turkeys. That would really please me!"
l Alexandra Bastedo co-hosts The Magic of Mantovani concert at Lighthouse in Poole on Sunday, January 27. Find out more at www.alexandra- bastedo.com