Oxford

Donkey's stage and screen life story told in new book

Pollyanne donkey
Image caption Pollyanne has shared the stage with operatic tenor Placido Domingo

Mistreated, neglected and moments from slaughter, the future looked pretty bleak for Pollyanne the donkey until an Oxfordshire sanctuary came to her rescue.

Dubbed "a great scene-stealer" by legendary operatic tenor Placido Domingo, Pollyanne went from the knacker's yard to the West End stage in less than a decade.

Believe it or not, this rags-to-riches fairytale has now become the subject of a book telling the grey mare's life story.

From the Island Farm Donkey Sanctuary in Brightwell-Cum-Sotwell, near Wallingford, the next stop for Pollyanne turned out to be the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden.

But, it could all have been so different for the 22-year-old had sanctuary owner John McLaren not decided to take Pollyanne in and nurture her back to health.

Salami meat

He said: "She came from the horse sales market near Salisbury where she had been earmarked for slaughter in March 1997.

"Her owner was reluctant to let me have her at first as at the time, there was a great demand for donkey meat among Italians for salami.

"But, with a little persuasion he came round and Pollyanne was ours.

"Sadly, she had been taken to the market with very badly overgrown and mishaped hooves. She was turning them in and actually stepping over herself to get moving.

"When she first arrived with us, she was not a very happy donkey at all and was in a lot of pain. You couldn't get near her for her kicking you, but slowly in time she came around."

Image caption Pollyanne and John McLaren behind the scenes of Carmen at The Royal Opera House, Covent Garden

Pollyanne soon became a great companion and her first acting job was for the Kempton Theatre in Henley-On-Thames, wandering around the town with an advertising board previewing future performances.

It was during this time that she and John, 65, were spotted by a representative from agency Animal Ambassadors. On the spot, they were offered the chance to go to London to audition for a coveted part in a production of Italian opera Pagliacci.

Stage presence

"I was more nervous than the donkey to be honest on the first day we went to London for rehearsals," recalled Mr McLaren.

"But I need not have been, Pollyanne proved a big hit and before we knew it, she was a natural on stage."

For the last seven years, Pollyanne and Mr McLaren have performed hand-in-hand in productions of Bizet's Carmen, taking the stage together as extras with added presence.

Pollyanne's other artistic credits include appearances in episodes of Midsomer Murders as well as church services at Christmas and on Palm Sunday, where she regularly leads a procession through Wantage.

Her portfolio also includes a photoshoot in Vogue.

Away from the bright lights of the opera house stage, Pollyanne shares a stable with three other female donkeys at the Island Farm Sanctuary.

Mr McLaren, who has run the sanctuary for more than 20 years, said putting Pollyanne's story into print seemed a logical next step.

He said: "It's been quite a rollercoaster ride for her and it's quite a sad story in places, but one all ages will enjoy."

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