Judi Dench’s Wild Borneo Adventure

Judi Dench’s Wild Borneo Adventure (ITV)

Michael Palin had better watch his back. For decades now, the newly ennobled Sir Monty Python has held the unassailable position of TV’s classiest backpacker. But now he’s got competition from another highly decorated British monument in the form of your actual Dame Judi Dench CH, DBE, FRSA – a booking so swish (especially for ITV), she makes Joanna Lumley look like Keith Lemon.

Heading off for a jungle adventure with her “chap”, the conservationist David Mills, the 84-year-old Oscar winner proved she was game for anything, whether it was flying over the tropical rainforest in a helicopter or being hoisted up one of the world’s tallest trees in a harness. (Careful with that priceless national treasure!)

The vast green canopy of Asia’s largest island provides shelter to more plants and creatures per square mile than anywhere on the planet, and our leading lady seemed happy to let her exotic supporting cast – an elephant casually strolling through the scene here, an organgutan doing a bit of comic business there – steal the show. But the biggest ‘aaaaw’ moment came when she played Goldilocks to three tiny sun bears as they were released back into the wild, having been raised in the orphanage of Dr Weng Siew Te – Borneo’s own ‘Papa Bear’.

At one point, a praying mantis jumped onto Dame Judi’s neck. ‘He’s going for the jugular,’ joked her guide. She looked just the tiniest bit worried. Later, she made friends with a dung beetle called Bob. When she said she wanted to keep him, it was hard not to imagine Tracy Ullman’s ‘naughty Dame Judi’, sniggering as she released Bob into Maggie Smith’s dressing room, or up Ian McKellen’s trouser leg.

Being a proper RSC sort, our host marvelled at ‘this multi-layered Eden’.  But there is trouble in paradise: the Borneo rainforest is one of the ‘lungs of the world’, and it is being lost at an alarming rate due to our insatiable appetite for palm oil. So I think we all know what to do. As a species, we already risk disappointing Sir David Attenborough; let’s not let Dame Judi down as well.

TV extra:


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John McEnroe: Still Rockin’ at 60 (BBC One)

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Published in Waitrose Weekend, 4 July, 2019

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