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Karen Jankel on living with Paddington Bear

Karen Jankel
Written by Michael Lloyd

With the upcoming release of Paddington 2, we spoke with Karen Jankel.

Overlooking London’s wonderful vista in the Shard’s Shangri-La Hotel sits Karen Jankel, the daughter of Paddington Bear creator, Michael Bond. The view is fitting since Paddington 2 is set in the capital and features a lot of its landmarks.

Paddington Bear is the iconic, innocent bear from Peru who emigrates to London. There, he has many adventures with the Brown family – in between eating his marmalade sandwiches of course.

It started with Selfridges

On Christmas Eve, 1956, Michael Bond brought a toy bear from Selfridges that looked lonely. He named him Paddington after his local station. Then in 1958 he published ‘A Bear Called Paddington’.

Karen was born two months before its publication and grew up with the toy bear as part of the family. She says: “He lived with the family. He used to sit at the table during mealtimes and go with us wherever we went. The house was sort of full of Paddington books and they were read to me so they were always there. My parents divorced but stayed on very, very good terms so they used to have joint custody. But Paddington never goes to meet people because he’s too personal and special.”

When asked if she loved the bear but hated its fame, Karen replies: “It was love, there wasn’t any hate at all. I mean how could you not love Paddington? He was so real to me because he was always there for me. The first book came out the year I was born. So he was always part of the family. If he walked into a room now, I wouldn’t be surprised.”

She listened with intent every time her father read one of his Paddington stories and says she thoroughly enjoyed the new Paddington sequel. Even more than the first one. “I only saw it for the very first time a few days ago. People kept saying to me it’s even better than the first one and I thought it can’t be. But actually I agreed with them. I just thought it was tremendous.”

Lifetime inspiration

Michael Bond received a lifetime of inspiration from the bear. He wrote 150 Paddington books, selling over 35 million copies worldwide. He enjoyed seeing Paddington come to life on the big screen in 2014, even having a cameo in it. But in June 2017, he passed away aged 91.

“I think he’d been pleased with the new film. First time round, one is obviously terrible nervous about what they were going to do with Paddington. But second time around, I think one has confidence with the filmmakers because you know they’ve done a good job already.”

Karen Jankel and her father consulted with the scriptwriters on the first Paddington film. It was a huge success, grossing over $250 million worldwide. This time around, she trusted the filmmakers.

“I had more input on the first film because that actually involved establishing Paddington, his look and everything else. The script, again, with the first one, I probably had more involvement. It’s difficult to often visualise how it’s going to be if you’re not a filmmaker. Though I found it easier the seconKaren Jankeld time around to understand how it was going to translate into film. It was wonderful that I didn’t really need to make any suggestions or or changes.”

Paddington was a hit not only with children, but with adults too.

“My father never set out to write a children’s book. He never wrote down to children and I think the film’s the same. You can view it on different levels: there’s some very adult humour and themes in it. But children can also enjoy it on the simplest level.”

A third film?

Its no surprise that Karen Jankel, like many other fans, would love to see another Paddington film. “I should think all filmmakers are absolutely exhausted from making this. And it’s a bit like when you’ve had a baby, you never want to have another baby. But there’s plenty of material in the books and new storylines they could go with.”

Paddington Bear sees the best in others and does everything he can to help people. One assumes, then, that the films are sending out a moral message to the audience. “I think it does. I think it’s if you’re being kind and true to yourself and polite then actually you can achieve anything and people will be kind back to you so I think that’s probably the message.”

Paddington 2 sees the return of Ben Whishaw, who voices Paddington, and Hugh Bonneville and Sally Hawkins as Henry and Mary Brown. “I got to know Hugh him very well and he became a good friend of my fathers after making the first film.”

While she has nothing but praise for Hugh Grant’s stand-out performance as the villainous Phoenix Buchanan. “Fabulous, very, very funny. Great, wonderful and quite hard to bring another new character in but he works quite well.”

Karen’s run the business side of Paddington since 1981, including helping out with Museum of London’s Paddington Bear exhibition. But what’s next for her?

“I’d actually like to do some writing myself. So if I can find some time, that might be it.” She’ll “keep well clear of bears” but one wonders what might inspire her.

Perhaps she’ll start with Selfridges too.

Paddington 2 is out on 10th November in UK cinemas.

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