Byline: KIM WILLSHER
Brigitte Bardot, the 31-year-old screen siren, was at the height of her fame and desirability in 1966. In the decade since she had first wowed the world reclining on the beach in St Tropez in the film And God Created Women - made as a vehicle for her charms by her first husband Roger Vadim - 'BB' had gone through two broken marriages, to Vadim and actor Jacques Charrier, and countless extramarital affairs.
Her legion of lovers allegedly included Warren Beatty, Jean-Paul Belmondo, Marlon Brando, Sean Connery and Mick Jagger. But Bardot was already collecting animals in the same way as she attracted her legions of male admirers.
Early in 1966, French actor Alain Delon called Bardot. His German Shepherd dog, Charly, was playing up and the actor wanted to have him put down. He pleaded with her to take the animal off his hands. Horrified that he could even consider destroying the dog, she agreed. (Later, while skiing in the chic resort of Meribel, Bardot met future French president Valery Giscard d'Estaing when Charly bit him on the leg.) But, for Bardot, the call from Delon was the beginning of a self-appointed mission to save any persecuted or abandoned animal. She has dedicated her fortune - and her life - to her Brigitte Bardot Foundation, which has some 50,000 supporters in 60 countries.
Now 70, and living reclusively near St Tropez, with her fourth husband, Bernard D'Ormale, whom she married in 1992, Bardot insists she has left the fame and celebrity of her youth far behind, 'All that showbiz stuff has finished,' she says. 'There will be no more films, no more television.
Nothing will tempt me back on the screen.
'When I was famous I had people running around doing everything for me. Now, I have put myself at the service of poor animals everywhere. I want to make people understand that animals should not suffer or be killed.' Time has not been kind to Bardot's celebrated beauty - the passage of the years is etched in deep creases around the once-famously pouting lips and clear blue eyes.
But she is proud of keeping her mane of luxurious hair - which she describes as 'my glory' - is remarkably fit and trim, and still purrs with a sexy, pussycat voice.
But this cat has claws - displayed when she fired off an angry letter denouncing another famous sex siren of yesteryear, Italy's Sophia Loren, for doing an ad for the fur trade. 'I thought it was appalling and sent her a very rude letter, asking how she could demean herself in that way,' says Bardot.
Despite her revulsion for the world that made her famous, Bardot is not above using her name to gain publicity for her cause. 'If I wasn't Brigitte Bardot but Madame Whoever, then nobody would be interested in my animal work,' she says. 'If I can use my fame to stop animals being exterminated, then I can make a difference. It's like I had two lives. The film years were another world, and now I'm in a second existence. …