22 June 2012
Paddington Bear celebrates his summer birthday on Monday 25 June.
When he was first found by the Brown family at Paddington station, the small bear wasn’t sure how old he was. Because he’s such a special bear, the Browns decided he deserved two birthdays, just like the Queen! (his winter birthday is 25 December).
Naturally Paddington’s creator, Michael Bond, will be marking the occasion with a feast of marmalade sandwiches. But that is not the only cause for merriment for Bond.
Paddington’s birthday is the icing on the cake, following a series of accolades leading to an unprecedented surge in the popularity of the bear from Darkest Peru.
The first Paddington book came out in 1958 and since then the lovable bear has appeared in three TV series, won the Favourite Ever British Animated Award 2012 and is soon to make his film debut. His statue proudly sits on Paddington Station.
Over 35 million copies of the Paddington books have been sold in 40 different languages.
What many call the ‘Paddington effect’ shows no sign of waning. The latest instalment – Paddington Races Ahead – came out this April and is the thirteenth edition of the Paddington novels. Fittingly, it is set in the run-up to London 2012 Olympics.
Paddington was also one of the first to walk the new athletics track at the Olympic Stadium earlier this year. Flying the flag for Action Medical Research as part of the Gold Challenge charity event, he was accompanied by excited children and ever-so-thrilled teenagers.
Paddington has been loved by children since the 1950s and was always an obvious candidate to be the official mascot for children’s charity Action Medical Research. A chance meeting between Michael Bond and the charity’s founder Duncan Guthrie in 1976 sealed the deal for the endearing bear.
The charity, celebrating its 60th birthday this year, has been funding medical breakthroughs since 1952. With thanks to Paddington’s fundraising support since the 1970s, the charity has spent over £100 million on research that has helped save thousands of children’s lives and changed many more.
Over a cup of tea in his home near Paddington station, Michael Bond, the 86-year-old former TV cameraman with the BBC lets me in on the secret of how it all began.
“In the winter of 1956, I bought a bear in Selfridges as a Christmas present for my then wife Brenda. She was absolutely delighted with the gift.
We christened him Paddington as we lived in Notting Hill Gate, close to the station.”
The first book – A Bear called Paddington – was published just two short years later.
“With Paddington sitting on my mantelpiece I was inspired to put pen to paper. I had written the draft of the first book within ten days!
Very few people know this but in my first draft, Paddington came from Africa. It was only later, when my agent brought it to my attention that there are no bears in Africa, did I change it to Peru. Not many had heard of Peru in the 1950s. Now of course it is very different!” Michael Bond reveals.
It is often said that books mirror the author’s life and experiences. I was keen to learn if it was the same with him.
“Mr and Mrs Brown are modelled on my parents. I imagined how my mother will have immediately warmed up to a bear found at a station and my father will have been more concerned about the law and the correct procedure.” He divulged.
I was very curious to learn why Paddington has two birthdays. To this he responded very matter-of-factly, “bears just do, and he is a special bear.”
Times have changed since the Peruvian bear first appeared on the nation’s bookshelves, but Paddington remains quite unchanged. He is still being fooled into running errands for his troublesome neighbour Mr Curry, elevenses are still being taken with Mr Gruber, the antique shop owner on Portobello Road - and he continues to try desperately to fit into the ever-evolving human world.
Set in present day Olympic-crazed London, Paddington races Ahead sees the adventurous bear upsetting a bus driver by smearing shellfish on an oyster card reader, being mistaken by a reporter for an Olympic hurdler as he makes a dash for the bakery and being offered his first big-screen role.
Michael Bond now lives with his second wife Sue and has two adult children – Karen and Anthony.
Bond’s daughter, Karen Jankel - lives in Kingston with her husband Tony and three children – Robyn, Harry and India.
Karen was born with development dysplasia of the hip and, until a hip replacement operation in 2008, was unable to walk without the help of a stick.
"I was given a bear of my own as a young girl and I took to it instantly. My bear and I soon became inseparable.”
Karen speaks fondly of how she and Paddington Bear led almost parallel lives and learned various life skills together.
“When I was learning to ride a bike, Paddington learnt how to ride a bike. When I took my driving test, my father wrote Paddington Takes the Test.”
Karen became the Managing Director of Paddington and Company Limited in 1984.
“I was in between publishing jobs when my father suggested I help him out with the company. Though it started off casually, I soon realised that I had found my calling. It is coming up to 30 years and I have never looked back!”
In 1992 Karen joined the Board of Trustees for children’s charity Action Medical Research. She is an avid supporter of the charity that Paddington mascots and has helped raise thousands of pounds.
One of the events she participated in, following her hip replacement surgery, was the Trek to Darkest Peru in 2010 with her eldest daughter Robyn, which raised over £120,000 for Action Medical Research.
“The fact that as a result of my hip operation I could not only go to Peru, but also complete the trek and raise funds for Paddington’s favourite charity is amazing. It was a very special trip and one that I would cherish forever.”
Perhaps surprisingly Karen was the first and only member of her family to make the trip to Paddington’s home country. Her father and Paddington’s creator, Michael Bond, has never made the trip to Peru though he was due to - for a television film about Paddington’s roots - but sadly got taken ill and had to cancel.
As a pet project, separate from the series of Paddington books, Michael Bond and his daughter Karen Jankel together authored the book Paddington Goes to Hospital in 2002.
Talking about how she drew on her own experiences for the book, Karen said: “Going to hospital can be a traumatic experience for many of us. I have spent a lot of time in hospital and appreciate how difficult it can be. This book was an attempt to help children understand what to expect if they found themselves in such a situation.”
Television presenter Davina McCall, a long-standing supporter of Action Medical Research, has lent her voice to the Paddington Goes to Hospital e-book which is released by Harper Collins on 25 June with 100% of the royalties coming to Paddington’s favourite charity to fund more life changing research for some of the UK’s sickest babies and children.
As my interview with Bond drew to a close and he walked me to the door, I was struck by how Paddington Bear’s pleasant mannerisms so generously draw from the man’s own polite nature and affectionate disposition.
NOTES TO EDITOR
Hi-res images can be downloaded using the links below:
Paddington’s birthday wish list
• Help spread the word by tweeting - Happy Birthday to Paddington Bear. See his birthday list. Please RT http://bit.ly/NUcyUZ
• Donate by texting PADD25 £2 to 70070
• Become Paddington on your Facebook page or Twitter http://on.fb.me/LHg5WM
• Buy the latest Paddington e-book ‘Paddington goes to Hospital’. Action Medical Research will receive 100 per cent of royalties from every sale
iTunes - http://bit.ly/LlNRzt
Amazon - http://amzn.to/Mxc03y
For further information about Action Medical Research please contact:
Follow us on Twitter at @actionmedres
Action Medical Research - the leading UK-wide medical research charity dedicated to helping babies and children - is celebrating 60 years of vital research in 2012. We’ve been funding medical breakthroughs since we began in 1952 and have spent more than £100 million on research that has helped save thousands of children’s lives and changed many more. Today, we continue to find and fund the very best medical research to help stop the suffering of babies and children caused by disease and disability.
We want to make a difference in:
• tackling premature birth and treating sick and vulnerable babies
• helping children affected by disability, disabling conditions and infections
• targeting rare diseases that together severely affect many forgotten children.
But there is still so much more to do. Make 2012 a special year and help fund more life-changing research for some of the UK’s sickest babies and children.