Wednesday, 5 March 2014

13 Questions with...Pam St. Clement

After appearing in various theatre productions as well as playing many television roles, she wast cast for British soap, BBC EastEnders, in 1986. She played the part of the well-loved Pat Butcher for 25 years until her emotional departure from the soap on 1 January 2012. At the British Soap Awards 2012 she was honoured with the Lifetime Achievement Award for her portrayal of Pat and it was later announced that she was to appear on ITV This Morning as an 'animal expert', Throughout her whole career, she has kindly lent her support to various different charities with one of them being Pets As Therapy. Pets As Therapy is a national charity founded in 1983. It is unique in that it provides therapeutic visits to hospitals, hospices, nursing and care homes, special needs schools and a variety of other venues by volunteers with their own friendly, temperament tested and vaccinated dogs and cats. I got the chance to talk to the lovely woman herself (and she made a huge announcement!). Here are 13 Questions with...Pam St. Clement!

1. Hello Pam. You’re a huge supporter of Pets As Therapy, which was founded in 1983. Can you please tell us a bit about the charity and its aims?
Pam: Well the charity is, and most important of all, it's community based rather than national based [many communities support the charity across the nation] and it provides therapeutic visits to hospitals, hospices nursing and care homes, special needs schools for volunteers to go in with their dogs and cats. Basically, these visits are to give comfort and companionship. The animals can be stroked, held and even talked to! More recent since I joined the charity, a project is 'read to dogs'. To increase confidence and enjoyment in reading for other children in the classroom. Particularly children who, you know, have got a bit of a block about reading. I mean an enormous amount of dogs have been registered over the years (but they come and go because they have shorter lives than we do). What's so nice about it is that the charity's moved with the times. Again, since I got on board, it's (if you'd like to call it) animal-assisted therapy to help people on an individual basis with such things as dog phobias and more particularly (and I think importantly) the Stroke & PAT project, which is something which is more recent and on-going. It's a therapy for stroke survivors which is a collaborative adventure. That's really, basically what the charity's about! 

2. When did you first begin supporting this charity?
Pam: Oh God! Do you know, Adam, I can't give you an exact date but it must've been late 80s/early 90s I should think! So, not that long after the charity had started. 

3. What made you want to get involved with this charity in particular?
Pam: Well as you know, I'm involved with a lot of companion animal charities but I particularly...well, what particularly appeals to me is charities that benefit the animal and the human. I'm a great believer in animals' loving stimulus. Working animals, a classic example is, I don't think the animals lie on a cushion and be so cryptic. They love working and so the appeal works both ways. The several charities I'm involved in work both ways for the animal and the human. I'd actually heard of the charity, somebody had mentioned to me a charity that worked with dogs assisting the elderly and sick people and also I knew at that point that it wasn't only an enjoyable calming experience but it was medically acknowledged, if you like, that the companionship of animals reduced the blood pressure and heart rate - another medical benefit. 

4. Since you've started supporting Pets As Therapy, is there anything you have seen or learnt which has surprised you?
Pam: Erm, do you know, I'm never surprised at the goodness of many people. A desired help to do good things - to put back into society. Which is nice, because I was brought up with the maxim that - you know, it sounds a bit strange now - 'do as you will be done by'. 'Do as you would be done by' is a wonderful sort of maxim to lead your life on. In other words; give and you get back. I mean you don't's not a given! Actually, strangely enough - I don't know if you find - it's like sort of a minor thing, like giving up your seat for somebody in the bus or opening a door. You feel better! As well as they feel better. It's a way of connection with other people. And if that can be linked with animals as well, which is is my passion, it's a no-brainer. I think you've got it made, really. 

5. How would you encourage other people to get involved and to volunteer their pets to be assessed? 
Pam: Well, that's something that I think (it's probably because it's community-based) I can't actually say to anybody. I've actually had people come up to me and say: 'how do I get involved with it?'. Well, first and foremost you have to be really sure in your own mind that your animals, whether it be a dog or cat, is a suitable temperament (and you know that [about] your animal) for that sort for work. But secondly, as I say, because it's community-based [in different communities in the UK], I don't know every area where one would get in touch at a local centre or a person who runs that volunteer group for that area. So, I would always say to people contact Pets As Therapy and I can look up those details for you if you want me to. Because, obviously you can phone them or you can get onto their website (I would assume by that, I'm not sure what listing...they can't do all the area listings so one would probably have to get in touch with Pets As Therapy). And, I would encourage people to get involved because if you've got the time and you've got the pet - it's most rewarding, it really is. 

6. You have fundraised in various different ways for several different charities. For anyone who would like to fundraise for Pets As Therapy, do you have any top tips or advice on ways to raise money?
Pat: Oh Adam! Fortunately, I'm not the one who has to be that imaginative. (Laughs) I can do my bit by giving my time and commitment and do you know that's a wonderful thing in the sense that I'm a known face because you can help by giving a charity a profile. It's a relatively small charity in the scheme of things. I presume because it is community-based and not national [the charity works works with different area co-ordinators]. So, we need all the funds we can get. We've all got to be out there doing things. As I say, because it's community-based, it's not all that easy to have a high profile. It's difficult to say what [top tips] would work for them best. It's best left to the specialists! And I will come on board when I can. 

7. Where did your love for animals first begin?
Pat: Ooh, golly. Well, I was brought up on a farm. Smallholding, where we had hands-on with animals. Milking things...etc and I knew I had an immediate affinity. We had a very caring environment for our animals but also sentimental. There's something sentimental about it. I'm a great pragmatist about the cycle of nature. I suppose that's where it started...and it wasn't just a 'love of' it was a 'knowledge of' as well which obviously my background helped me with.

8. In 2012 (it feels like yesterday!) You were announced to be ITV This Morning’s ‘animal expert’. How did it feel being able to promote animals on this show?
Pam: It does, doesn't it?! Well I thought it was an absolutely super idea and I jumped at it. Erm, it was a great gig. But, the one thing we had to be weary about - it didn't become a predictable slot which paraded animals in need of rehoming. It needed, as well, information and entertainment and so I think that's possibly why [the team had to be weary about the slot] (perhaps quite a lot in the beginning). To a certain extent, I found it difficult to retain the sort of momentum from the beginning, unless there was a specific thing we had to deal with which wouldn've been something probably hanging off a news item or something like that. Do you know what, I think the most incredible thing about that whole gig was that we never ever had a miscreant four-legged or a runaway reptile (laughs). Every time I did one at the studio, live, I always thought: 'something's gonna happen today'...a bit like the Blue Peter episode where the elephant downed all over the studio floor! I always anticipated that and it never happened! It was absolutely incredible how calm they were. It was great. Although those slots were studio-based, I also thought we should also extend the programme - if it were an exploration of various working dogs, and we show films about medical army and rescue dogs which I love doing but it took us out [of the studio].

9. Have you ever met anyone who has had their animals assessed or anyone who has been in need of the company of animal with Pets As Therapy?
Pat: Oh, gosh, Adam, naturally I've met many volunteers because I've had a lot to do with the charity personally as much as I've put my name to it, as it were. They're all dedicated with a great commitment to the aims of the charity. Actually, taking about those films I did, it was interesting that I did have some fabulous feedback from parents as staff when we were filming for one of the dog films at a children's care respite centre when we actually had a PAT dog visiting. It was lovely to get a sharp end feedback, it really was. 

10. Do you have any pets? I don't, Adam. To be honest with you, I've said frequently that as much as I love animals, I've got a sense of responsibly about pet ownership. Basically, I'm not prepared to have an animal while I'm far away from home for a proportion of the year. I think I was away for about four months of last year! So, you know, it's not something that one should take on lightly and again, that brings me back to the idea of sentimentality - 'oh, I'd love a dog' like 'oh, I'd love a baby'. If you can't see it through, then don't take it on. 

11. If you could invite 3 famous people/celebrities to a dinner party, who would they be and why?
Pam: Oh, Peter Ustinov! He was a brilliant raconteur who gave us these wonderful stories and impressions. (If you've ever heard of Peter Ustinov!)
Me: I have now!
Pam: I don't know how old you maybe you haven't! (Laughs) I love the Tudor and Stuart period so it's a difficult pop-up for me whether Charles II - because he's wonderful - or Elizabeth I because I could eeat find out what the Tudor period was like. And lastly...David Attenborough. To share wonderful experiences and his passion for wildlife. 

12. You've had some amazing opportunities! Would you ever consider putting your life into words and writing an autobiography? 
Pam: It's strange you should ask this one...because things are moving, at the moment, in that direction. So, watch this space!
Me: I'm really excited for that! 
Pam: (Laughs) Yeah, you know how the wheels of print take long to turn! But, you know, when we've decided a date it's probably best know. It will happen. So as I say, watch this space!

13. Do you have a message for all your fans and supporters? 
Pam: Oh golly. What can I say to all those wonderful people? Do you know what, I'm really bawled over by how much people think about Pat. They come up and say lovely things that she may have gone but is not forgotten which I think is fabulous! And I would really, really thank all those dear people for their support over the years. And continuing support! Basically, an apology for not being 'out there', as it were, so much recently and being seen on the screens. I've been doing other things...!

You heard it here first - Pam is currently in the process of writing an autobiography! Thank you to Pam for taking the time to discuss her career and Pets As Therapy. Please take a look at the charity's official website by clicking here! You can also donate to the charity or you could even volunteer to get your pets assessed! Maybe your pet could be the key to somebody's smile. Visit the Pets As Therapy online shop for the chance to buy some great products for an amazing cause. Pam also wanted to thank her everyone for their kind support on Twitter and for remembering Pat.

Thank you reading my interview with the lovely Pam.
- Adam!

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