Face to face with Chris Wight...

In her latest Face to Face interview, KAREN BETHELL talks to former Gresham's School pupil Chris Wright. A nature-lover since early childhood, Chris gave up a career as an art historian to work with, and sketch, some of the world's most threatened animals .

In her latest Face to Face interview, KAREN BETHELL talks to former Gresham's School pupil Chris Wright. A nature-lover since early childhood, Chris gave up a career as an art historian to work with, and sketch, some of the world's most threatened animals . . .

Kings Lynn-born Chris moved to Holt at the age of 6, where, as a pupil at Gresham's School, he volunteered at Holt Country Park, also playing football for Holt United from the age of 9 and, as a teenager, playing hockey for Norfolk Under 18s.

A gap year spent travelling to East Africa, where he saw mountain gorillas in Uganda, fired Chris's interest in conservation and, during his time studying for a degree in history of art and Italian at Birmingham University, he became involved in projects including helping at an orang-utan rehabilitation centre in Borneo.

After a spell working as an art historian in London, Chris realised his true passion lay with conservation, and he returned to Norfolk to consider his future.


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With time on his hands while waiting to begin studying for a master's degree in environment and development, he decided to concentrate on his second love - art - and began producing painstakingly accurate drawings of wildlife ranging from owls to elephants.

Early success saw Chris sell a number of his drawings at Picturecraft Gallery, Holt. He went on to exhibit at north Norfolk nature reserve Pensthorpe and to have work accepted by the prestigious National Exhibition of Wildlife Art at Chester.

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Having become established as an artist, Chris went back to his studies, travelling to the Nigeria to map the effects of bush meat hunting on endangered species as part of his master's dissertation.

Two years ago, he joined international charity the Born Free Foundation as programmes officer and he now works as part of a conservation team striving to protect rare and endangered species and to “keep wildlife in the wild”.

The charity, was founded by the stars of the 1966 film Born Free, Virginia McKenna and Bill Travers, runs education, animal welfare and conservation projects throughout the world, also campaigning on behalf of wild animals held in captivity, and those hunted for sport or meat.

Chris, who is now based in London, project manages some of the charity's field conservation work, including a scheme in Tanzania which has encouraged the Masai to monitor wildlife under threat from poachers.

He continues to draw in his spare time, with a percentage of all sales of his work donated to the Born Free Foundation.

Chris lives with his wife Rebecca, a solicitor who is also a former Gresham's pupil, and cats Willy and Bob in South East London. The couple regularly return to north Norfolk, where they both have family and where Chris continues to exhibit his artwork.

To find out more about the Born Free Foundation, visit www.bornfreefoundation.org.uk

Look out for next week's North Norfolk News gallery competition for a chance to win a framed print of one of Chris's drawings. To see more of his work visit www.cwright.co.uk

What is the best thing about your job?

Doing something that I care about, and that I'm really passionate about.

And the worst?

Just the simple fact of being reminded on a daily basis of how many threats there are to the world's wildlife and what and uphill struggle it is to keep fighting for them.

What is the one possession you would save if your house was on fire?

Sadly, probably my laptop as it has all my artwork on it.

Where do you go to unwind?

Between Holt and Hunworth there is a beautiful walk I like to do. It goes along an old footpath through fields and woodland, and I don't think I've ever bumped into anyone else on the way. I'm really not much of a city bod' and I'm only in London through circumstance; if there were tigers to save in Norfolk, I'd much rather be there.

What is your favourite Norfolk building?

The sappy answer is my Mum and Dad's house, but I'd also say Carrow Road. I had a season ticket from the age of 6 and it's brought me some of my best moments, but also some of my lowest!

Have you ever done anything outrageous?

I have - at university - but I'm not going to tell you about it!

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

I'm not very patient - with myself or with other people - which is why my sister finds it hilarious that I do the kind of art I do. My drawing is very painstaking, but it is the only area of my life in which I am patient.

What is your proudest moment?

I think that was when I got married last year; having all our friends and family there and doing something so momentous will be very difficult to top.

And your greatest achievement?

Last year, we rescued 2 lion cubs from Romania. They had been abandoned on a vet's doorsteps about 4 weeks after being born - we think in a circus. The vet took them in and they were then taken to the Born Free sanctuary in South Africa where they are now fast growing. They were named Marina - after the girlfriend of the man who has funded their lifelong care - and Sarnia, which is the original name for Guernsey, where the cubs spent time en route to South Africa.

Whom do you most admire?

Leonardo da Vinci, as I think the range of things he explored and was able to master was incredible, and I think he would be the most amazing person to go back and meet.

Do you have any fears or phobias?

Spending 3 months in the middle of a rainforest in Nigeria either kills you or cures you, so no! You find ridiculously huge spiders on your hammock in the morning and hand-sized cockroaches in the toilet shack.

What makes you angry?

Cruelty in general, to people or animals, and narrow-minded people who can't empathise with others.

Favourite book, film and TV programme?

Book: The Poisonwood Bible, by Barbara Kingsolver, film: Magnolia (1999 Paul Thomas Anderson epic drama), and TV programme: Tribe, with Bruce Parry. I was on expedition with Bruce in Borneo and he is a really infectious character who is incredibly friendly and interesting.

How would you like to be remembered?

As someone who tried to make the most of their talents and interests and, ideally, as someone who contributed to keeping tigers from becoming extinct.

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