Get involved: send your pictures, video, news and views by texting BWNNEWS to 80360 or email us »
Leona: Why I love Hopefield so much
WHAT is it exactly that keeps a multi-platinum selling artist coming back to a small animal sanctuary in Essex?
Leona Lewis, whose first single Bleeding Love reached number one in more than 30 countries, has been patron of the Hopefield Animal sanctuary, in Brentwood, since 2011 and regularly appears at their fundraising events and Christmas shows.
She says it’s her love of horses, and all animals, that has made her so passionate about helping the sanctuary.
At a recent appearance, where she performed to a crowd the fraction of the size of one of her normal gigs, she even brought X Factor winner, Matt Cardle, along with her.
Leona says helping animals keeps her down-to-earth and connected to what matters most.
Her sparkly green eyes light up as she tells me: “Through everything, being near to animals has kept me grounded. “I love being in nature and close to animals. It reminds me what is important.”
I interviewed Leona in Brentwood on the day of the Hopefield Animal Sanctuary Winter Wonderland.
There was a two-hour delay in chatting to her, after Leona had been caught in traffic and then the crowds had to evacuate the field so she could do a private soundcheck.
She then emerged fleetingly to have photos taken with fans, looking beautiful, but also strikingly ‘normal’, in a green checked coat and black wellies.
The interesting thing about watching a really famous person, is not the person themselves, but how people react to them. The atmosphere became positively electric every time she appeared and there were people falling over themselves to get a look at her, me included!
It must feel a bit like being the most popular person in the room all the time. No wonder Leona was a little distracted when we finally came to have a chat.
Eyes darting to her security and manager every now and then, Leona says: “This is a different type of event for me as it is very close to my heart.
“Usually, intimate gigs are more scary for me, but I find being here really relaxing and enjoyable.”
So why did Leona, who won the third series of the X Factor in 2006, become patron of Hopefield?
She says: “It started with my manager, Nicola Carsen, who told me about here. She used to come and ride here as a child and had a lot of lovely memories of here.
“She brought me to visit and I fell in love with the place. “Now I call it my Hopefield too.”
Leona regularly visits the sanctuary to see the staff and the horses.
“It is nice because people mostly leave me be when I am here to visit the horses.
“Occasionally, someone will come and say hello, which is nice too.”
She also comes back to help raise awareness and funds for the non-profit organisation, which cares for around 200 sick, unwanted and mistreated animals. The sanctuary cares for a variety of animals, including horses, donkeys, goats,sheep, pigs, chickens, geese, ducks, cats and more recently has become home to smaller animals such as rabbits, guinea pigs and chinchillas. As a small charity, Hopefield relies upon donations and support from volunteers to be able to continue this work.
Statistics show that increasing numbers of horses will be abandoned or neglected.
That is something which Leona, a keen dressage rider who owns a black Friesian gelding called Spirit, finds hard to stomach.
“It is so that horses are being neglected and in some cases put down because owners can no longer manage to keep them. “People are struggling, especially in a recession, which is why every town needs a Hopefield. That is something I would like to be involved in.
“When I think of my horse, the idea of him being put down in the same way makes me so sad.”
Leona’s third album Glassheart was released in October.
Leona, who brought her dogs, Misty and Lily, with her to the fair, says: “It was so important to me to get the album exactly how I wanted it.
“I am so lucky to have so many people around me who support me in what I do.”
Leona’s single, Lovebird, was released last week, taken from the album Glassheart.