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TV reviews: Britain's Tiger Kings: On the Trail with Ross Kemp

Benjie Goodhart / 26 March 2021

Ross Kemp meets Britain's answer to Joe Exotic, plus in new documentary My Years with the Queen Lady Pamela Hicks reflects on nine decades of friendship with Elizabeth II.

Britain’s Tiger Kings: On the Trail with Ross Kemp, Wednesday 31st March, 9pm, ITV

I’ve mentioned before that I have spent large chunks of the last year watching ‘nice’ telly. Whether it’s costume dramas full of people going to dances and being frightfully polite to each other, shows where comedians go fishing together and ruminate on life, or series involving lovely people making pots or cakes, I’ve spent my evenings de-stressing by focussing on all that is good in the world.

A notable exception to this was Tiger King. Last spring, the (American) Netflix show, about horrible people exploiting animals and being revolting to each other, took the nation by storm. It made a star out of a guy called Joe Exotic, a man whose intellect was dwarfed by those of the dangerous pets he kept. Such was the success of the show that it was simply a matter of time before one of the UK’s broadcasters decided to make a home-grown version. Which brings us to this two-part series on ITV, fronted by actor, presenter and enthusiastic England supporter Ross Kemp.

You don’t imagine people owning dangerous animals in this country. I mean, when I was a kid, we had a chihuahua that was a bit nippy, but he was never likely to take your head off with one swipe of his manicured little paw. But it turns out there are plenty of people in the UK who have what amounts to their own mini zoos. And Ross Kemp is off to meet a handful of them.

“I think most people would prefer to see lions and tigers living in the wild,” he says. Netflix might beg to differ. It seems most people would like to see lions and tigers living in small cages and being ‘looked after’ by a bloke with a peroxide mullet and a misplaced sense of self-confidence.

The unbelievable truth is that there are now more lions and tigers in captivity than living in the wild. One owner is Reece Oliver, who has a two-year-old lion and lioness. (Is it okay to say lioness, still, or is that like actress?) He bought them from eastern Europe when they were just days old. “I brought them up like they were my children,” he says. Social services be warned: If Reece ever has kids, he’s going to make them live in a caged compound and feed them raw meat on the end of a stick.

Ross’ next visit is to Andrew and Tracy Riddel. Their extensive collection includes lions and tigers and bears. Oh my! They have a 40-acre private zoo with over 200 animals. Ross and Tracy watch a lion crunching through bone like it’s soft butter. Ross comments on this to Tracy. “Could be your head,” is Tracy’s cheery reply. I don’t want to get on Tracy’s wrong side.

Jim Clubb, a former circus performer, is the owner of the country’s largest private animal collection. He has over 250 animals, including five tigers. But for him, it’s not just a hobby – it’s a business. He hires out his animals to films, TV shows and adverts. He persuades Ross to go into a cage with some monkeys, who proceed to apply make up to his face. I promise I’m not making it up. Look, it makes sense if you watch it.

Finally, our intrepid reporter heads off to Munich, to meet a British expat who works with his wild cats as a circus performer. Here, Ross is finally persuaded to get into a cage with a 350kg lion… who just happens to be drooling. It’s an uncomfortable moment, but it could be worse… at least Tracy’s not there.

This is an entertaining look at some unusual people and their bizarre habits. But in amongst all of the eccentricity lurks a dark undertone to proceedings. There is undeniably a moral issue with keeping these magnificent beasts as pets in relatively small enclosures in the English countryside. To his credit, Ross is prepared to address the issue, but however much these owners and collectors might bluster their way to a self-justificatory answer, it still seems cruel and self-indulgent. It’s an entertaining programme, all right, but the elephant in this particular room is a large, hairy cat, and it doesn’t look happy.

My Years with the Queen, Thursday 1st April, 9pm, ITV

What is it about posh people? They’re seemingly indestructible. I have a very grand great aunt who is a magnificent creature. She’s 94 years old, and spends her days tramping around the wilds of Northumberland. When she visits London she drives herself. She is always on the go – making jam or tending the garden or doing triathlons. Okay, the last one might be an exaggeration, but you get the idea.

She springs to mind because she is the same age as the Queen, who also seems indestructible. As does the Duke of Edinburgh, who has just come out of hospital after heart surgery, aged 99. As does Lady Pamela Hicks, who is 91, sprightly, funny, full of energy, and with a mischievous glint in her eye. My theory is this: Posh people are all incredibly fit. If it’s a half-mile walk from your bedroom to your kitchen, you will never put on weight. When you live in Baronial splendour, a day spent lounging around the house involves at least 20-miles of walking.

Anyway, Lady Pamela is the subject of this hour-long documentary. Or, more accurately, the Queen is the subject of the documentary, with Lady Pamela’s recollections of a lifetime spent with her friend providing the content.

You can tell lady Pamela and the Queen are long-time friends. Most people address the Queen as Ma’am, or Your Majesty. But to those who have known her for a long, long time, she is Lilibet. And Lady Pamela and HRH have been friends for over nine decades.

Lady Pamela is the daughter of Lord Louis Mountbatten, and the great, great granddaughter of Queen Victoria. She’s Prince Philip’s first cousin, and the Queen’s second cousin. She is, it’s fair to say, better connected than you and I. (If, by any unlikely chance, someone better connected than Lady Pamela is reading this, then I apologise for the error, your majesty).

In this fascinating and hugely entertaining hour-long documentary, Lady Pamela and her daughter India Hicks reminisce, and discuss life and friendship with the royal family. India, incidentally, is presumably so-named because her grandfather, the Viceroy of India, worked there for so many years. I wonder if one day I’ll have a grandchild called Aldi?

Lady Pamela was a childhood friend of the Queen, was a bridesmaid for her 74 years ago, and was her Lady-in-Waiting and constant companion for many years. India, in turn, was bridesmaid to Charles and Diana.

The royal weddings are recalled, with Lady Pamela being very sniffy about the length of Diana’s train (which, to be fair, was longer than the 3:30pm from Kings Cross to Edinburgh). A less happy memory is the death of the King. Lady Pamela was there when the Queen found out. Tragedy, too, affected her own family, when the IRA bombed her father’s boat in Ireland, killing him and three others. Lady Pamela and India were holidaying with Mountbatten at the time, and heard the explosion. Their recollections are vivid and raw.

Their memories of key moments of history are fascinating – but so, too, are the more everyday insights into the monarch’s life. I loved the revelation that, when the Queen goes to stay with someone, she takes two boxes of chocolates – one for her host, and one to keep in her own room. “She has learned to keep it in her room, otherwise, she says, her family is so greedy they will eat them before she can.”

This is a delightful way of passing an hour. Lady Pamela and India Hicks are funny, charismatic, and not afraid to have a little squabble in front of the camera. And, as ever, one is left slightly awestruck by the dedication and duty of the Queen who, unsurprisingly, comes across as a deeply impressive individual.

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The best… and the rest:

Saturday 27th March

Keeping Faith 1/6, 9pm, BBC One: Eve Myles returns as Faith Howells in the third series of the legal drama, guest starring the estimable pair of Celia Imrie and Sian Phillips.

Sunday 28th March

Live International Football, 4:10pm, ITV: Mark Pougatch presents coverage of England’s World Cup qualifier live from Tirana, where Gareth Southgate’s side will be expected to claim all three points against Albania.

Monday 29th March

Johnny Briggs: Coronation Street Legend, 8pm, ITV: Tribute to Briggs, who played Mike Baldwin in over 1,600 episodes of Corrie, and who died last month at the age of 85.

Finding Jack Charlton, 9pm, BBC Two: Another posthumous TV tribute, this time to Jack Charlton, this feature-length film charts the big defender’s playing career, his remarkable stint as Ireland manager, and his complex relationship with brother Bobby.

Tuesday 30th March

Remarkable Places to Eat, 8pm, BBC Two: Each week, a well-known foodie takes Fred Sirieix out to their favourite eateries to showcase the food that means the most to them. Tonight, the brilliant Nadiya Hussain takes him to her most prized establishments in Yorkshire.

The Syndicate 1/6, 9pm, BBC One: Kay Mellor’s lottery-based drama returns for a fourth series, but don’t worry if you haven’t seen it, each series stands alone, a new story with a new cast. This time, a group working at a dog kennels have won £500. Or have they? Starring Neil Morrissey and Katherine Rose Morley.

Wednesday 31st March

Live International Football, 7:15pm, ITV: Another World Cup qualifier for England, this time at Wembley, as they take on their biggest rivals in the group, Poland. With striker Robert Lewandowski in the form of his life, this will be a major test for Gareth Southgate’s team.

In Jane Austen’s Footsteps with Gyles Brandreth, 9pm, Channel 5: The broadcaster and former MP examines the life of one of our most treasured authors, looking at the places and events that inspired her.

Thursday 1st April

Dragon’s Den, 8pm, BBC One: Evan Davis returns with the team of investors looking to support – or disembowel – a host of hopeful entrepreneurs. Tonight’s lambs awaiting slaughter include business start-ups involving tea, mindfulness through art, anti-glare eyewear, and skin care for NHS workers.

Pandemic 2020 1/3, 9pm, BBC Two: The story of a year of Covid-19, told by people from across the world, in this ambitious and far-reaching three-part documentary series.

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.

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