Obituary: John Rendall The Man With The Heart of a Lion

Things got a lot more fun in Heaven with the passing of the lion of a man, John Rendall.

When we last saw John in December 2021 he’d been battling the debilitating side effects of Covid but was still giving his all to the Chelsea Theatre which he’d helped establish. They were putting on Juliet and Romeo, a production by Intermission Youth Theatre that Sir Mark Rylance says will ‘change the face of classical theatre.’

This was but just the latest chapter in an incredible life.

From Bathhurst near Sydney, to a London King’s Road dandy of the Swinging Sixties, million selling author, Hello! diarist, PR, schools educator, fundraiser, charities Trustee and life-long conservationist, John lived a great life.

In the late sixties, on a sightseeing visit around London, John Rendall and his friend Anthony “Ace” Bourke were appalled to see two three-month-old lion cubs, a brother and sister from a zoo in Ilfracombe, for sale in a small cage in Harrods Zoo pet shop. They thought they could care better for the gentler male lion and ensure a better future for him than a zoo or circus. The sister had been sold but they already had a name for him, Christian, ‘we liked the irony or joke about Christians being fed to the lions in Roman times, which was also a reminder of the danger to which we could be exposing ourselves and the people around us.’

So they moved Christian into the basement of a furniture shop in Chelsea, coincidentally called Sophistocat, where John and Ace worked. Realising it was unlikely that they would be able to have Christian for more than about six months in London, and he would rapidly outgrow any environment they could provide they were determined to make these months as happy and as safe as possible.

The lion cub had been given the name Marcus at Harrods Zoo but Ace already had a new name for him…


Christian chauffeured

Christian became quite a celebrity and had many famous visitors including Virginia McKenna and Bill Travers, actors from the movie “Born Free” who suggested that Ace and John contact conservationist George Adamson to rehabilitate Christian for the wild, and to set him free.

To help Christian’s rehabilitation, George created a pride around him, headed by Boy, one of the lions who had been used in Born Free. One year after taking Christian out to Kenya, John Rendall and Ace Bourke flew back to the country in the hope of meeting Christian again. With the tagline ‘love has no limits and true friendships last a lifetime’, they were movingly reunited. The YouTube videos of this story have had over 100 million views.

If you haven’t seen that video where have you been?!

John Rendall did all he could for conservation, lecturing in schools, leading safaris and fundraising for the George Adamson Wildlife Preservation Trust. John was with us for the DSWF Wildlife Artist of the Year in 2018 with his great friend, Derek Cattani, who took the famous photos of their exploits with Christian. At the event was Virginia McKenna, co-founder of the Born Free Foundation, as guest and exhibiting artist raising funds for the inspiring work of David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation.


MANinLONDON with John Rendall and Christian’s ‘official’ photographer Derek Cattani at DSWF Artist of the Year 2018

A toast was made to Christian in Chelsea in August 2021 as he would have turned 50 years-old and now we make a toast today to celebrate the life of this great man, John Rendall. A warm, charming man with piercing blue eyes, a roaring laugh and a love of life. We will miss him so.

Deepest condolences to his family – daughter Tallulah and sons Maximillian and Nicky and great loves Liz Brewer and his widow Melanie and many, many friends worldwide.

From the 400,000 lions in Africa in 1970 there are less the 20,000 in the wild today. Within 20 years there may be no more lions. Please don’t let that happen, support wildlife conservation in any way you can.