As the world waits to see if the birth of the United Kingdom's first panda cub is about to become a reality, I thought I'd share with you my favourite photo of Tai Shan, the Smithsonian National Zoo's first panda cub, taken on the day he made his public debut in 2005.
See some more pictures in Our Gallery
How it All Began
My passion for pandas began when my aunt bought me a very realistic-looking mohair Merrythought panda to sit on the parcel shelf of my new Fiat Panda. However, although I began to buy anything to do with pandas I came across, I didn’t actually make a conscious effort to track them down until I met my husband, an avid collector, and started going to collectors’ fairs and car boot sales with him. It was eBay, however, that really made a difference to the size of my collection although, in the early days, I learned the meaning of the warning ‘caveat emptor’ the hard way when I discovered that a supposedly ‘rare’ item was so ‘rare’ that the seller listed an identical one immediately the auction ended! After several disappointing purchases, I learned to ignore anything described as ‘rare’, ‘unique’, ‘collectable’ or ‘unusual’ - unless, of course, I knew that it actually was. Within a relatively short time, I had amassed a large collection of panda related items ranging from kitchen timers to bling jewellery, every day ornaments to amazing one-off pieces, inexpensive cuddly look-alikes to some of the earliest pandas produced and I even had panda decals designed for my car which has the ultimate registration number for a panda and dog lover – K9 WWF.
In November 1998, I had my ten minutes of fame when I appeared on Channel 4’s Collector’s Lot with a small part of my huge collection, the programme having been recorded on my birthday a month earlier. Another highlight was identifying and buying a panda at Christie’s teddy bear auction the following year, a cuddly version of Pindar, a panda character created by the political cartoonist David Low, whose adventures had first appeared in the Evening Standard in 1939, when to the experts he was ‘a comical 1950’s panda’, and then having my discovery acknowledged in Christie’s catalogue three years later when another Pindar came up for auction. I decided that Pindar’s story was worth telling and submitted it to the editor of The Teddy Bear Club International magazine who, to my delight, not only wanted to publish it, but invited me to become a regular contributor. Of course, I jumped at the chance and, for the next seven years, wrote a monthly feature which was often, though not exclusively, about pandas.