A Voice for Animals

Songstress Leona Lewis on animals, Avatar, and advocacy.
It’s obvious right from the lilting Hello, this is Leona at the other end of the phone line that the only thing diva-like about Leona Lewis is her powerhouse singing voice. The British pop star got her start just four years ago on The X Factor, the UK counterpart to American Idol, when she was famously one of the few to stun the critical Simon Cowell into silence. Since then, she has successfully hopped the pond with her music, being the first British solo artist to top the US Billboard 200 with a debut album.


I could rattle off a whole list of Lewis’ fabulous feats: she performed at the closing ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics, she was hand-picked to sing the theme song for James Cameron’s latest golden project, Avatar; but best of all, she’s using her amazing voice to stand up for those who don’t have one. Originally a fan of Lewis’ music, a fact I shamelessly admit to her over the course of our conversation, I soon become a fan of the woman herself as I listen to her discuss her passion for animals.

Lewis’ alignment with the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) started out as support in the form of monthly donations, signing petitions, and spreading the word to friends and family. But it was “when everything happened” in her career that she really got involved, doing a campaign called “Animals Matter To Me” that asks for public support for WSPA’s mission, one Lewis believes in very much.

“Basically WSPA’s mission is to have a universal declaration for the protection of animals,” Lewis says, “which is kind of like a human rights act, only for animals, so that they can enforce more animal protection laws. I just really admire the way they go about things, changing laws and petitioning.” WSPA’s Universal Declaration on Animal Welfare doesn’t just cover companion animals, but wildlife and farm animals as well, another thing Lewis can relate to.

“Ever since I was little, really, I’ve always had an affinity for animals. I’ve always wanted to be around them. My rabbit’s jumping on me as we speak; her name is Melrose, she’s really sweet. I’ve always had animals around me, I’ve always felt very comfortable with animals and I’ve just always loved them. I’m sure I was an animal in a previous life!”

When pressed a little as to what kind of animal she might’ve been, Lewis laughs softly. “I definitely think I was a horse in a past life, because I love horses and I just feel a very deep connection with them.”

It was a Yorkshire Terrier named Suzie, however, that was Lewis’ companion for seventeen years before passing away, and leaving a dog-sized hole in Lewis’ life.

“[Suzie’s death] was very upsetting to the whole family. Literally, I don’t remember life without my dog.” There’s still the family dog, Misty, a rescued Staffordshire Bull Terrier, and she has plans to adopt in the future.

“I would love to [adopt]. Actually, after we did the [Modern Dog] shoot, my friend went to adopt one of the dogs that came to the shoot. Unfortunately, when we got there, she’d been homed the day before, so we were sad but happy at the same time that she got a home. That organization is really helping. I would never buy from a breeder or from a pet store. I’ve talked to a lot of my friends about this. There are so many dogs in shelters.”

Lewis cites the Lange Foundation, a non-profit shelter in Los Angeles where the photo shoot dogs came from, as well as the Battersea in London, as somewhere she would look for her future furry companion.

“I really feel for [animals] and I feel sorry for how poorly they’re treated. They’re not protected. I feel they need to be because they can’t speak for themselves. That’s why I pick animal charities to work with because I feel there are not enough people that are really supporting them.

“WSPA has a lot of different issues that they’re tackling at the moment, but I’m really passionate about horses. There are horses sent to slaughter that are perfectly healthy and I’m very passionate about trying to stop that. I’d love to have a sanctuary for horses, because they’re such big animals; they require a lot of work, a lot of space, so it’s very hard for charities.”

Her devotion to animal welfare is evident not only in her zeal for animal charities, but in her lifestyle choices as well.

“I am a vegetarian. I don’t eat meat or any fish, and I do try to be a vegan at least once a week where I don’t drink milk or eat cheese or eggs. I’ve been a vegetarian since I was twelve.”

Lewis tweeted recently: “Knowing is not enough, we must apply. Willing is not enough, we must do” and she applies that principle in her own life.

“You can know about things, but kind of hide it and pretend it’s not really happening. I’m speaking about basically applying it to yourself. and doing things instead of just talking about it, which a lot of people tend to do. I love people that take action. I admire that.”

She admires the McCartney family in particular for everything they’ve done in the fight against animal cruelty, from Stella’s animal cruelty-free accessory line to Sir Paul’s new initiative, Meat Free Mondays.

“I really admire that family for all that they’ve done. Paul McCartney is just lovely and Stella is just a cool vegetarian.”

Seeing her beliefs shared by others means making a real difference, as well. Every year on her birthday, Lewis requests that her friends and fans donate to charity instead of giving her presents. This year, J records donated to the SPCALA to remove dogs from “death row” in shelters.

“It’s so amazing. It’s so wonderful getting the message out there; it’s getting through to people. People are supporting it and being made aware of it. If I can make a difference in a tiny, tiny way, that’s great.”

Lewis gets the message out there with her music, as well, where the core theme is always love.

“I feel that having compassion and a love for animals and humans alike helps inspire me for every song. I’ve always wanted to be a singer. I actually studied classical from when I was very young. I wanted to be an opera singer for a very long time. It’s still in my repertoire and it’s helped me so much in my pop singing. Then I got into more modern. I try to keep my mix very eclectic. I’ve just always wanted to do music.”

This mix of classical and pop styles may have helped her to win over the decision makers behind Avatar’s theme song, “I See You.”

“I was approached by the writers of [“I See You”]. They asked me to sing the song and see how it sounded. They told me what it was for and I was, ‘Oh wow!’ I’m very into movies and I had heard about this movie a long time before they asked me to be involved. They said, ‘We’ll play it for James [director James Cameron] and see what he thinks.’

“I was very nervous, and like ‘please use it’, because that would be so amazing. He heard it and loved it. I went and met him and he showed me reels from the film. It was so incredible to be involved in such a historic film.”

Lewis’ composed voice reveals excitement, thrilling me into the realization that even celebrities can get a little star-struck. She also admires Alicia Keys as her creative contemporary, and has worked with some of the music industry’s top players.

“I’ve worked with some of the best writers in the world. I worked with Clive Davis who discovered Whitney Houston. It’s quite daunting at first, it’s such an amazing opportunity. I was just so humbled and just so honoured to be working with people like that.”

But her most memorable moment is probably one that is etched into the minds of the billion or so people who watched Lewis perform atop a red double-decker bus, belting out “Whole Lotta Love” with Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page at the closing ceremonies of the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing.

Lewis is currently focused on touring to promote her two albums, Spirit and Echo, while continuing to work closely with WSPA; a visit to one of their bear sanctuaries is in the works. Animal advocacy is not something she is likely to lay aside, no matter her fame or her busy schedule.

“Remember the love the animals bring, and remember that they are vulnerable and they don’t have a voice. We need to help them in any way we can because they’re part of our lives and our history, and we need to be very aware and help protect them any way that we can.”

Comments (1)

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Fri, 07/20/2012 - 11:37

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