Tony Wardle Interviews Juliet Gellatley, the Founder of Vegan Group Viva! about campaigning and her investigative Face Off series.
I’ve known Juliet Gellatley a long time – a very long time – 26 years to be precise.
When I first met her she was a young youth education officer at the Vegetarian Society but within three years was its director. She then left to found the vegan campaigning group, Viva! which she still directs from its Bristol offices.
That’s a long time to be constantly fighting for animals but in truth, it started way before that, as a 15-year-old on the streets of Stockport, handing out leaflets against seal pup slaughter, snaring and other barbarities. It was also then that Juliet blagged her way into a ‘model’ pig farm and the suffering she witnessed – particularly a limping, lame old boar who implored her with his eyes – determined the rest of her life. She was compelled to try and turn Britain – the world – vegan.
There have been many farm visits since then but if you are so ripped apart by animals suffering, why would you continue to expose yourself to it? There’s no equivocation in Juliet’s answer: “I do it because I care about animals and someone has to tear away the veil that disguises their pain with constant hype that encourages people to believe that they have to eat animals. It is a massive deceit built on terrible cruelty and self-interest yet it is the source of so many human diseases and is destroying our world.
“Our children should know this – it should be on the school curriculum but the opposite is happening. Their environmental awareness consists of recycling and biking, which suits the establishment perfectly as no one talks about the huge damage done by livestock on so many fronts.
“We know that children hate cruelty to animals and their parents hide them from it, taking them to lovely, cuddly petting zoos. And so they are woven into the thread that runs through society – that animals are well-cared for. It is almost a conspiracy and we’re all part of it. The industry would fall apart if the truth was known and that’s why I do what I do.”
Juliet is mother of 13-year-old twin boys, Jazz and Finn, directs the Viva! team in Bristol and is responsible for an equally big team at Viva! Poland in Warsaw. And she’s still taking part in exposes, deciding how best to connect with you and I.
“I try to personalise it, which is why I talk to the animals and say things such as, ‘this little girl will never see a vet.’ I named one pig Blue because of her penetrating blue eyes, to remind people that pigs are every bit as complex as us and in the wild run free, often for miles, have a complex social structure and here she is, locked into a rape rack so small she can barely move, desperate to escape – transformed into a commodity, a tiny cog in a huge machine.
“We have to stop seeing animals as things. They are not here for our use, for us to abuse, ours to kill. Someone has to show what happens or no one will believe it.”
Most people would not want to do what Juliet does and I asked if there was anything she found particularly difficult.
“Normally, I carry a camera but on the recent Face Off pig investigation I didn’t have that barrier between me and the animals, I was talking straight to camera about my emotions and had nowhere to hide. I found it very difficult.
“It was the same breeding sow, Blue, who ripped a hole in me. I bent down to her level, talked to her and made a connection with her. She had probably never before heard a kind word from any human in her life and I could see her trying to work it. I so wanted to take her out of that dreadful place but couldn’t. I left feeling absolutely dreadful and on the train back I started crying for Blue and the millions of others who are subjected to relentless suffering.”
If you look at Juliet on camera at www.viva.org.uk/faceoff you will be in no doubt about how deeply affected she was. But there is also a powerful positivity about this seasoned campaigner for the animals.
“What helps me is being surrounded by people who feel the same as I do. I let my feelings pour out on social media and the messages come rushing back so I know we’re not alone. Society is changing and we are part of that change. Blue now has a place in my heart and the pain of her comes back to me at the most unexpected times – and so it does with the hens I recently filmed. I want to rescue them all but it isn’t an answer as they will simply be replaced with others.”
I guessed there must have been some hair-raising moments over the years and I was right.
“One of the first undercover exposes I did was into duck farming. My colleague and I were so naïve – two women chatting up a worker so we could see inside a duck shed. The noise and stench and overcrowding were overwhelming but I dropped to my knees in the crap and filmed.
“The managers weren’t as gullible and I was suddenly surrounded by angry men so I surreptitious ejected the tape and hid it in my knickers. They wouldn’t dare search there! It was all worth it as it got enormous media coverage – the first-ever view inside an intensive duck farm.
“You have to be robust to do this work and know your limits. I filmed in one slaughter house and struggled to suppress the urge to shout out, ‘stop it, stop it you bastards, you can’t do this!’ I won’t film slaughter again – others do that.
“We know from our Face Off street viewings that the cruelty affects people deeply and challenges their perceptions, which is why we have to keep doing it. Our Face Off chicken film has also been viewed by 260,000 people on one Facebook page alone. I feel no sense of elation as I know the scale of what’s happening. But we have to change people – we are changing people and the pace of that change is now quite extraordinary!”
If you want to support Juliet’s work go to www.viva.org.uk/join.