If you walked past the Tate Modern on any weekend this summer, it is likely that you saw the eccentric Budgieman and his performing budgies. Londonist caught up with him to ask him about his budgies and what they do over the winter, his plans to hit the UK charts and his success in teaching a budgie to drive a helicopter.
What began your interest in Budgies?
My real interest came when I was a child. I visited pet shops & markets in Newcastle and was fascinated by budgies. I was told they could talk and I liked pretty colours and shape of their heads and mouths.
Who was your first budgie?
My first budgie was Fred who I rescued from a pet shop in Ilford. He was tiny, no feathers, not fully developed wings and a bald head. He was given to me.
Where is your favorite place in London to do your budgie performance?
I used to like Leicester Square where all the tourists came to see me. The council did not like all the many buskers and the loud noise. Someone mentioned that the Southbank was a good place for my type of show so I tried this. I have not looked back since. I favourite place now is by the Tate Modern by the river. Many families come with their children and they seem to enjoy their life.
Do you have a favourite Budgie?
I really love them all. John is very friendly to me and seems to be more attracted to me. I think he is the head budgie.
On your website you write "As a young man Don realised he had budgie power". What exactly is budgie power?
Many people get bitten by budgies or they scare them away. When I come to them they are friendly and relaxed. I think this is because I have "Budgie power". This is not just my budgies, but if I go to a pet shop I can relax them within a few minutes.
Is there anything that you can't teach a budgie to do?
There are many things that budgies can't to and I don't have time to find this out. I have taught budgies to fly a helicopter and ride a motorbike. This been shown on TV and in the newspapers in the 1970s.
What do you and your budgies do through the winter when it is too cold outside to perform?
My budgies live in a special aviary with temperature controlled heating. I am looking after them all the time to make sure they are OK. Near to Christmas I am a window painter and paint like Rolf Harris. Things like reindeers, Father Christmas and other scenes. I also do some charity paintings for hospitals and children’s homes.
What do you think about pigeons? Could you train a pigeon to do
tricks? Perhaps a big synchronized dance in Trafalgar Square?
I would love to train pigeons but I don't have time.
As your budgies perform, you sing 'Budgieman the Party Mix' which you say has for a long time been number one in the Canary Islands. Any plans to hit the UK charts?
Yes - I do plan to hit the UK charts but I need the airplay from the radio stations and TV so that more people can hear about it.
What is your favourite thing about London?
London is the greatest city in the world. I love the wide variety of cultures. Red buses, taxis, the people.
What advice would you give Ken Livingstone?
My advice would be to start thinking more about Londoners as they are the people that put you in office. Think about the cost of living and keep it reasonable. Ken is not doing an easy job so I wish him all the luck in the world.
The world is ending in 24 hours. How would you spend your last day in London?
I would go to St.Pauls with by budgies and family to pray. "God save the animals. They have not done anything. Men have caused the problems, not animals".
Image from John Pannell's flickr photostream.