Joanna Lumley and the Human Swan

Monday:Joanna Lumley and the Human Swan; (ITV, 9pm)

By Claire Cartmill
Saturday, 30th October 2021, 5:00 pm

From November 1, many of the world’s leaders will be in Glasgow attending the Cop26 summit, dubbed by America’s climate envoy John Kerry as the “last best hope for the world to get its act together.”

ITV is putting the environment front and centre with Climate Action Week, and this one-off-special is among the highlights.

It sees the veteran actress set out to follow adventurer Sacha Dench, also known as the ‘Human Swan’, as she flies around the country’s coast in search of climate change solutions as part of her pioneering Round Britain Climate Challenge expedition.

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Sacha Dench and Joanna Lumley beside Sasha's electric paramotor at Beachy Head

Over a three-month period, Sacha aimed to complete an unprecedented journey with her electric paramotor, attempting to set a new world record for electric flight with a powerful purpose.

Sacha had almost completed her voyage when, last month, her support pilot Dan Burton died after a mid-air paramotor collision with Sacha, who was seriously injured.

This film is dedicated to his memory, and Dan’s family, Sacha herself and all involved are keen for this story to be told – alongside its urgent message in the drive for a net-zero environment.

Joanna Lumley’s relationship with the natural world reached a turning point in 1994, and the BBC documentary series Girl Friday, in which she spent 10 days alone on a desert island near Madagascar. She later said it was “such a colossal part of my life that I knew would change me forever, which it did”.

Joanna told the audience at the 2018 Edinburgh TV Festival that she’d kept the occasional script from her long career, but she wanted to be “buried” with the things she’d brought back from Madagascar: a one-pound bag of rice, a ladle, a shell, a small knife and a pair of shoes she made from her bra to protect her feet from the razor-sharp volcanic rocks.

The experience led to a parallel career in activism. Joanna campaigned vociferously for Gurkhas who retired before 1997 to be given the right to settle in the UK, and has been an outspoken advocate for environmental causes for over 20 years, from finding safer ways to remove unexploded ordnance from the seabed, to calling for the Great Barrier Reef to be placed on a list of World Heritage sites that are in danger.

She’s the patron of UK charity Tree Aid, which helps African communities fight poverty and become self-reliant, while also improving the environment, as well as the Earth Restoration Service, which plants tree nurseries and wildflower meadows around the UK.

Joanna said in 2019: “Nature isn’t something that belongs to us. We are actually part of it and it might turn around and bite us. We live on this gorgeous planet filled with the most phenomenal things you could never dream of still waiting to be discovered. Let’s not wreck it.”

She’s seen enough of the world to understand how much peril some parts of it are facing. The documentaries listed on her CV read like a travel agent’s dream: she has visited the Kingdom of the Thunder Dragon and the Land of the Northern Lights, travelled the Nile and enjoyed Trans-Siberian and Silk Road adventures, and journeyed from Havana to Haiti.

Her travels with Sacha may be the most fulfilling yet.

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