Yesterday my good friend and fellow angel ambassador for Angels for the Foundation, Born Free Patron, Actor and Conservationist Dan Richardson completed a challenge that few people would dream of, let alone attempt. Together with athlete Annie Robertson-Connolly they have raised over £11,000 to help the desperate plight of the stray dogs in Romania by kayaking across the English Channel before cycling from Brighton to London. I caught up with Dan to chat all things vegan and what it takes to accomplish a superhuman challenge....
So Dan, can you tell me about what inspired you to go vegan?
It was a combination of a couple of things. As I learned more about the realities of the conditions suffered by animals used for food, I was no longer able to ignore it all, purely from a moral standpoint. Also, as I became more actively and frequently involved in animal conservation and animal welfare endeavours, I grew increasingly uneasy about protecting some species while exploiting others for food.
What advice would you give to someone who was thinking about making the transition?
Do it! Just start. It's much easier than people are often led to believe. The human mind is very good at procrastinating, over-thinking things and finding reasons why something will be difficult. The reality is usually far simpler, and going vegan is no exception. It's really quite easy, especially these days with such a great and growing variety or options. And when you do take the step, preparation is key. Just have those vegan options around and it's a walk in the park.
You’re a passionate conservationist, can you tell me what campaigns you’re currently involved with? Highlights and challenges.
I'm currently raising funds for the International Aid for the Protection and Welfare of Animals (IAPWA) in support of their efforts to help the stray dogs in Romania. I'm hosting a gala screening of the documentary, 'Gods In Shackles', which exposes the cruelty and exploitation suffered by Asian elephants used in religious and cultural festivals in Kerala, India. I'm an ambassador for a campaign called 'Remembering Rhinos' which is a beautiful photographic collection, bringing together some of the worlds best wildlife photographers and raising funds for the Born Free Foundation and their various efforts to protect this desperately endangered species. Working closely with the Born Free Foundation as one of their patrons I'm also in the process of finalising a new campaign with them which we're excited to announce soon but can't just yet. Beyond those mentioned here, there are always a number of other campaigns I'm involved with, some generic such as the battle to end the Taiji dolphin slaughter and trophy hunting, and some specific such as the campaigns to free Lolita the orca and Nosey the elephant. The highlight is whenever I get to see or meet the animals we strive to protect. I'm going to Africa in November to follow up on where the funds from the 'Remembering Rhinos' campaign are being spent. That will inevitably be a profound and wonderful experience. The challenging part of any campaign is the fundraising, especially for a guy who doesn't like to ask people for anything!
You have a very big challenge coming up-how did it come about and what have been the definitive moments so far?
Yes, this is the fundraising effort I mention I'm currently doing for IAPWA. It's an endurance challenge that myself and my friend Annie came up with simply in order to take some decisive action. It's just us doing it, not part of an organised event, just the two of us. We're kayaking 21 miles across the English Channel to Brighton and then cycling 60 miles to London. It'll take about 13 hours in total and we designed it this way to be a genuine challenge, hoping it would really give people a reason to sit up and take notice. We could go even further with that of course, and perhaps in future we will, but we hope this challenge is something that will draw some extra attention and enable us to pull together some much needed funding to assist IAPWA in addressing the truly awful situation in Romania. What has defined this endeavour for me is the way people from everywhere have stepped up to support what they considerate be a worthy cause. Whether it's the guide boat captain who has lent so much of his time and expertise to ensuring our safety on the day, or the team of people who've created events in Brighton and London to welcome us in from the kayaking and cycling legs of our journey respectively, to each and every person who has donated money to our cause, it's been extremely touching and validating. It's very beautiful to be part of and I'm so grateful to them all.
As someone preparing for a gruelling physical challenge, nutrition is key-did you make any adjustments to your diet?
Fitness and physical training has always been a big and important part of my life so the nutrition in that regard has been a consideration for me all along. The challenge prep has been a continuation of that and the only real shift has been in understanding the importance of adequate nutrition to fuel us on the day. It'll be a case of snacking every 45 lutes to 1 hour regardless of whether I'm hungry, otherwise I'll literally just run out of fuel and, as they say, 'hit the wall'. So no major dietary adjustments but certainly an adjustment to mind-set. It's worth it too - I did a long cycle ride a few weeks ago without adequate nutrition and I hit that wall. It's definitely not something I want to repeat on challenge day!
What inspires you about the work that you do and how do you stay positive when faced with the prevalence of cruelty and environmental crisis?
I've always felt a profound and very real connection with animals, along with a deep sense of responsibility to protect them. It's my purpose in life and I'm overflowing with love and compassion for them. That's what drives me. Seeing people who share that love and compassion dedicating their entire lives to the cause, people like Virginia McKenna and Will Travers from the Born Free Foundation, or Anneka Svenska from Angels for the Innocent, that's what inspires me. I stay positive in several ways. I meditate, I visualise positive outcomes for the animals and for myself, I focus on and celebrate the wins and successes - which all too often are lost on the seemingly endless barrage of bad news or overlooked completely. I exercise, I reconnect with nature. I remind myself of the fact that these acts of cruelty have been happening all along and the fact that we now have visibility of them via social media, while undoubtedly painful and disturbing, is a fundamental and absolutely necessary part of that cruelty being stopped. We can't deal with something if we don't know it's happening. Ultimately I stay positive because I believe love is the answer and I know that to live from a foundation built on anything else and project the resulting negative energy into the world would achieve nothing other than to fuel and perpetuate the very things we wish to end.
What’s your go-recipe/favourite vegan dish?
My vegan breakfast wraps. Fried tofu and pumpkin seeds, avocado, hot chilli sauce, all in a tortilla wrap. It's perfection. If I start my day with three of those and a large espresso, there's basically nothing I can't do.
What three words would describe you best?
Happy. Compassionate. Grateful.