Juliet Gellatley interview | Viva! - The Vegan Charity

Juliet Gellatley interview

Viva! The Bloodless Revolution!

I have known Juliet Gellatley for over a quarter of a century. I watched her meteoric rise from youth education officer at the Vegetarian Society to become its director. I witnessed her surrendering that position to go solo so she could more effectively campaign for animals. And I saw the genesis of Viva!, in a converted garage in the little Cheshire village of Church Minshull. If she wasn’t so driven by a passion to help animals, I’m sure that if she wanted it, Juliet Gellatley could by now be the CEO of ICI such is her drive.

Who knows from where commitment springs but there were very early signs: “I rescued a stray pregnant cat when I was a schoolgirl, sneaking food to her up in my bedroom. I told my mum about her only after she’d given birth in my wardrobe!”

By all accounts, Juliet grew into a teenager who was hungry for information about the natural world but found it hard to handle the cruelty that her search unearthed – the torture of vivisection, the needless murder of baby animals for their flesh, hunting with dogs: “I thought that no one could condone such cruelty and all I had to do was tell the world and people would change. I was deliciously naïve, boundlessly optimistic, enraged – oh, and bloody determined!” Perhaps with that mix something was bound to happen!

Anyone who has read Juliet’s book The Silent Ark will know the trigger that ultimately led to Viva! but it’s worth repeating.

“I talked a student into taking me around a modern farm and I remember it all vividly – the isolated calves sucking my fingers; the battery hens half-bald, five to a cage in a shed that, to me, was a picture of insanity. And the pigs! As soon as I walked through the door of the big,  ugly, industrial building, a nagging unease gnawed at me. No cosy sties, no wallowing contentment, just row upon row of individual concrete stalls, each pig separated from its neighbours and unable to touch them.

“These were pregnant sows who would provide the piglets who would be torn away to be killed for meat. In the same shed was a massive boar, his huge head hanging down towards the barren floor. He dragged himself towards me on lame legs and looked straight at me. I saw in those sad, intelligent, penetrating eyes a plea – a question to which I had no answer: ‘Why are you doing this to me?’ I kept repeating: ‘I’m sorry, so sorry’”. It was inevitable that Juliet Gellatley would be become vegetarian and later vegan.

Juliet cut her teeth in other organisations, created National Vegetarian Week and hit the press with a wallop. I can remember her staff carrying in the press clippings at an AGM, armful after armful. She was a force of nature that the more staid in the movement did not know how to handle.

I still find this hard to believe but it did happen. Juliet organised a big campaign in London but refused to tell the chair of council the address where it was being launched. She was afraid members would turn up who were at war with each other and some of whom were against her ‘radical message’. The refusal was point blank – “I’m not telling you!”

Unbelievably, she got away with it but only because I’m sure the council members were afraid to confront her. She had taken their organisation from near anonymity to public prominence and almost tripled its membership. But it was crystal clear that eventually she would have to captain her own ship for such brazen self-belief, commitment and contempt for the jobsworths of this world.

And so it was in 1994 that Viva! came into being with almost no money but not once did I detect even a shadow of doubt in Juliet that it would not succeed. “In truth, without a donation from the foresighted and kind Audrey Eyton, and a lot of help from those close to me, especially you, it is doubtful Viva! could have launched,” Juliet tells me. But it did (and was always going to one way or another, I reckon!).

During these early months, lights from the converted garage were illuminating the quiet countryside way into the night as campaign after campaign was launched – Convert-a- Parent, The Crate Escape, BSE Hotline.

A remote location was clearly not ideal and after two years, Viva! relocated to Brighton and with (old) offices in the city centre immediately set about establishing it as the veggie capital of Britain. A string of campaigns followed and another move, in 2003, to Bristol, to help Viva! grow.

Now with twin boys, Jazz and Finn, and a few more years on the clock, has Juliet mellowed? You must be joking! She is still trying to save the world but it’s not easy. “There is constant stress and frustration in running an active group like Viva!. You have so many ideas but are not able to bring them all to fruition through lack of resources, therefore not saving as many animals as you want to – which, of course, is all of them. And worry about funding is a constant!

“But – and it’s a big but – I am now surrounded by the most amazing staff, most of whom have been with Viva! for at least five years. And there are the thousands of enthusiastic and warm supporters I have met over Viva!’s 20 years; the tens of thousands of people who have told Viva! they became vegetarian or vegan because of us; and all the campaigns that have followed one upon another and what they mean.” A phone call gave birth to Viva!’s first really big successful campaign and it came from Juliet’s mum who had seen kangaroo meat on sale in Tesco. Disbelief quickly transformed into action:

“We discovered that the commercial killing of kangaroos in Australia is the largest land wildlife massacre in the world with millions slaughtered every year. We exposed the barbarity of the nightly outback shooting of these gentle creatures and we showed baby joeys being removed from their dead mothers’ pouches and beaten to death.” One by one, each supermarket was targeted, and one by one they conceded victory until Viva! had driven kangaroo meat off the shelves of all UK supermarkets.

“We are still saving kangaroos. Most kangaroo skin goes for football boot manufacture and in 2013, after years of challenging them, Adidas and Nike, the two biggest users, dropped 99 per cent of their kangaroo-skin football boots in favour of synthetics. The Australian kangaroo industry said that they saw the UK as the gateway to Europe. That gate has been closed!”

Juliet’s refusal to be beaten is exemplified by her and a colleague’s investigation of duck farming – the first ever people to film inside a UK duck farm undercover. “The birds weren’t white and beautiful and proud but filthy, diseased and depressed little creatures crammed together in their thousands.”

That footage hit the British media but they were not aware of the drama of how it actually got to them. Juliet and Kate were caught but completely undaunted, Juliet removed the tape from the camera and stuffed it down her knickers then later, surrounded by irate farm bosses, surreptitiously hid it in a ditch, retrieving it when the furore died down. But that was only the start of the campaign.

“One after another, we exposed all the major duck producers with shocking national media coverage. We ended the callous and painful debeaking of UK ducks by targeting all those supermarkets that sold meat from debeaked birds. Duck sales slumped from 19 million in 2005 to 14 million in 2013.” Knicker bocker glory, you could say!

For several years, Viva! campaigned against the intensive farming of turkeys and much to his fury, three years running investigators went inside Bernard Matthews turkey sheds. Each time, the scenes of animal abuse that were filmed almost beggared belief.

“On one of these visits, TV AM accompanied us and it was hugely gratifying to see their presenter, standing outside these stinking sheds, showing the footage to millions of viewers and saying: ‘Bernard Matthews are well aware that TV AM and Viva! have been inside the sheds.’ Sales dropped by four million turkeys over the four year period of the campaign.”

Viva! also campaigned against the selling of ostrich meat in the UK and you can hear the pride in Juliet’s voice: “All supermarkets withdrew the sale of this meat from sale directly due to Viva!’s campaign, responding to our Days of Action. Ostrich Industry News ‘credited’ Viva! with closing down the whole of the UK industry.”

No one knows better than Juliet the multi-faceted nature of cruelty in farming – and she has had a crack at most: “We secretly filmed religious and mainstream slaughter, slashed live horse exports in Poland, showed the horror of force feeding ducks for foie-gras and cut sales, exposed Cadbury’s dairy farms, revealed how birds have to live inside sheds of the UK’s biggest producers of chicken meat and we showed the shocking fate of male chicks in the egg trade – being gassed or minced alive…”

As always with Juliet it is back to her beloved pigs: “We have filmed at over 50 UK pig farms and the consumption of these bright, emotional animals has dropped by 11 per cent in five years.”

A small organisation essentially taking on the world and its huge vested interests – is Viva! really on a hiding to nothing?

“No it’s not, there have been dramatic changes. I have to remind myself that one in six 18 to 24 year olds say they are vegetarian and one quarter of the UK cut back on meat last year and the top reason given was animal welfare. A massive three billion fewer meaty meals were eaten in Britain in 2011 when compared to 2005. And just last year it was reported that five million Brits avoid dairy.

“The people who made these choices did not get their information from the Government and they didn’t get it from the meat and dairy industries – they got it from Viva! and the network of people and groups across Britain who are determined to end animal abuse. What started as a ripple is turning into a wave. We still have a long way to go but we are succeeding and one day it will be a tidal wave. Viva! the bloodless revolution!”

Juliet and her twins Jazz and Finn.

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