By Donna Iliffe-Pollard


I believe in fate… A predetermined moment in time that’s quietly waiting in the wings to change our life dramatically, for better or worse. We all have those moments, question is, when it happens how do we respond to it?

After a hectic Autumnal weekend last October, I curled up in front of the crackling fire in my tiny three hundred year old workers cottage on the North Yorkshire border and switched on the TV.  I was channel flicking to keep myself awake, fighting my heavy eyelids that were so desperate to close my windows to the world.  And then it happened, that split second catalyst.

On the TV screen was a snapshot for an upcoming episode of the UK XFactor and the contestants were being entertained at a judge’s house in Mexico… by captive dolphins.

Now, when I hear people mention armchair activists in a negative way it confuses me, because in reality I believe you can be just as determined and have just as much impact on certain issues from the confines of your own four walls than you can marching outside a government building or a department store.  You might not be able to significantly alter the path of something, but you can help tweak a tiny cog in a very big wheel.  The only difference is you need an army of social media warriors behind you … You can’t march alone.

With the magical powers of social media streaming the whole world straight into our laptops I had been following Ric O’Barry’s Dolphin Project and Sea Shepherd Conservation Society for quite a while. I’d watched the harrowing drive hunts, the gruesome captive selection and horrific slaughter of thousands of innocent Dolphins off the coast of Taiji, Japan and I felt utterly  helpless.  I still do now, watching the atrocities unfold on a daily basis, as babies are ripped from their mothers, as families are torn apart and all with the same common denominator… The exorbitant price tag of a trained captive dolphin.

With the haunting images of Taiji fixed firmly in my head, the thought of millions of young, influential viewers seeing captive dolphins on the upcoming XFactor show filled me with dread, and if Simon Cowell, international TV and Music Mogul deemed it fun and morally acceptable to watch captive dolphins perform tricks for dead fish else starve, then how many UK families would be visiting the likes of Seaworld in the summer?  I felt sickened at the prospect.

I’ve never campaigned before but wondered what the chances of me starting a petition and appealing to Simon Cowell to pull the upcoming slot were, so I asked a few dolphin related groups on Facebook for advice.  Only one person replied, an American guy called Jeremy Olsen, he told me to just go for it … So I did.  After all, what had I got to lose? I didn’t realise at that very moment that I would be catapulting Simon Cowell into the captive cetacean spotlight and that his status as animal lover would be forever changed to something much more profound.

I raised a petition on Avaaz and things took off from there, literally within minutes.  Animal rights campaigners rushed to my aid and offered all they could from all corners of the globe, it was unbelievable. These strangers offered kindness, experience, eagerness and compassion, it was truly overwhelming.  One woman stood out from the crowd though, a wonderful like-minded woman…and her name was Jo Phillips.  We inadvertently became a team that day… I’m still trying to shake her off even now!

The petition pretty much self-perpetuated while Jo, (who’s a genius with graphics and all things technical) and I (a children’s author) and a handful of brilliant, knowledgable campaigners set to work sharing it on Facebook and Twitter.  I couldn’t have done it without any of them… We were marching together, a team of Dolphinistas in a virtual world.  As the petition miraculously gathered momentum I had calls from PETA, AVAAZ and even from SYCO (Simon Cowell’s company) and within twenty four hours of launching, the petition had reached 8,000 signatures and counting.  Simon Cowell read the petition, supported by the thousands of tweets and by Tuesday he pulled the slot and posted that now infamous tweet.

Astonishingly, the outcome proved to be that positive, it made both local and international news, which was an even better result.

Articles: Closer  /  OK / MTV / The Mirror / Ecorazzi / Irish Examiner / NewsBeat

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Disaster averted.  But not really, nothing had changed in the overall scheme of things, maybe just a few thousand potential tickets sales lost for Seaworld and other marine parks but dolphins were and are still being captured or slaughtered in several parts of the world, Taiji being the most catastrophic, even to the point of local extinction for some cetaceans.  Simon Cowell hadn’t actually mentioned Japan or the connection between the two and we desperately needed that.

In the months that followed we stayed in touch with SYCO.  They got used to me bothering them and actually started to communicate with me which has proved invaluable.

We furnished Simon Cowell’s team with as many facts and figures as we could about Taiji, and other organisations around the world relating to the lucrative captive selection process.  They asked for figures once more at the start of this Taiji hunting season too so they are still very much interested in what’s happening.

 And because of Simon Cowell’s promising tweet we were inundated with emails and messages from around the world asking what our next move was.  

After four months of waiting for Simon Cowell to reveal his hand, frustratingly nothing happened.  So Jo and I, not ones to rest on our laurels, launched phase two and officially named our ongoing campaign #Cowell4Dolphins … Nice and simple, just like us.  We offered our previous supporters a chance to join ranks with us once more and as a group we set to work on a campaign with a difference.  Not your average tweetstorm, but a powerful Cetacean Cyclone.

14th February is Valentine’s Day here in the UK, a day of love and appreciation, a chance to demonstrate to those close to us just how much we care.  Lovers exchange gifts, children and parents share cards, friends get together … So this year we showered Simon Cowell with love, comedy and compliments in the hope that he’d reciprocate.  We like to believe that peace begets peace and positivity begets positivity so that’s how we rolled.  And after 52,000 tweets in under twenty four hours we got a statement from SYCO … 

A brilliant result for yet another huge collective effort but that carrot still dangled.  He still hadn’t mentioned Japan or the slaughters, just the promise once more of highlighting the captive industry.  We weren’t giving up, we could wait forever for his tweets to come to fruition and that might never even happen.  We really needed a tweet about Japan because with 12.4 million followers, a lot of them young fans in Asia and America, a word from him about the slaughters in Taiji might be a game changer.  So we pressed ahead emailing him and his right hand man regularly for the months that followed leading right up to last Tuesday when we got a phone call from SYCO. Cowell was going to tweet for us!   It was a big risk for him on several levels seeing as Japan accounts for a huge percentage of his music sales, but we were told that he would tweet, so we kept the faith.

Once again we were asked to keep it quiet until the actual day, which we respectfully did.  Considering Simon Cowell produces four international TV shows, has numerous musicians to account for, has a family and pets of his own, supports twenty one different charities, works as a PETA Ambassador and is grieving the recent loss of his beloved mother, his willingness to communicate and cooperate with Jo and I on Cowell4Dolphins is nothing but honourable.

On Thursday last week the tweets that we wanted, using two of the words we asked him to use ‘Horrific’ and ‘Japan’ were delivered all around the world.   Another little tweak to a small cog in that very big wheel, but a tweak nonetheless.

Our campaign is still ongoing and we welcome anyone who wants to join our little formidable team.  Our next campaign hurdle is trying to persuade SYCO to fully commit to very first tweet. We’ll keep chipping away and update you of what’s in the pipeline nearer the time, with Phase Three.

Just one last thing … In future, when a celebrity is willing to put their power and voice behind something they believe in, be it a brief tweet, a statement, a physical intervention, anything they can do in the timescales they’ve got, don’t see the negative in their efforts to help or what you think they should have done… instead see the positive in their contributions to bring about change.  They aren’t miracle workers, they’re just human beings with a celebrity status.  Channel your energies into thanking the ones who use their positions for the greater good and try and convert the ones that don’t.

Were it not for that little twist of fate last October we may never have had such a big celebrity on our side.  Now suddenly everybody wants a piece of him!

Simon Cowell, in our opinion deserves the upmost respect.
For the dolphins … Always.
Donna x