Pulling the crowds in North Devon is a 16-month-old Indian Runner duck. Caroline Rees finds out more
PUBLISHED: 17:09 31 October 2012 | UPDATED: 22:15 20 February 2013
Right now, North Devon's hottest celebrity isn't an avant-garde artist or a reclusive pop star. It's an upright-walking, bowtie-wearing bird that can't fly, lives indoors and enjoys televised sport and a sip of ale!
One Man & his Duck
Pulling the crowds in North Devon is a 16-month-old Indian Runner duck. Caroline Rees finds out more...
Right now, North Devons hottest celebrity isnt an avant-garde artist or a reclusive pop star. Its an upright-walking, bowtie-wearing bird that cant fly, lives indoors and enjoys televised sport and a sip of ale!Star, a 16-month-old Indian Runner duck, hit the headlines last year after reports that it accompanied its owner Barrie Hayman to the pub and watched the Rugby World Cup from the sofa, seemingly convinced it was human. Since then, the friendly fowl has become a crowd-puller as Barrie collects for charity around the regions markets and shows. Watching the pair in Bideford, the duck handles the attention with the poise of a seasoned entertainer, popping a coin in the bucket and strutting about photogenically.Cowboy-hatted Barrie, 66, a failed actor, former scuba instructor and sometime sheepdog handler, chuckles at all the fuss. The American network NBC sent a film crew, theres a Facebook page and YouTube videos.I hadnt looked for this, says Barrie. I just took it for granted that he came round with me. Then the local paper got hold of it. I had photographers and cameramen here, and the duck was in newspapers around the world. He could run for president in Brazil! On the anniversary of 9/11, I put on the ITV news. It showed Osama bin Laden, the crumbling towers, President Obama the next thing, taking up the whole screen behind the presenter, was me and my bloody duck!
Barrie communicates in what he calls duck whispering, but what sounds like a fair impersonation of Donald Duck!
Whoah!In May, the odd couple almost upstaged the Barnstaple leg of the Olympic Torch Relay in what Barrie describes as a farce worthy of Norman Wisdom. I was trying to get to The Square to wait for the crowd to break up, but people thought I was in the parade and were running to put money in the bucket. Then the torchbearers bodyguards tried to catch the duck. It was pandemonium. But Star wasnt fazed at all. He does believe hes human.Anthropomorphising animals has its detractors, but notwithstanding his jokes about the duck enjoying a pint of Doom Bar actually, its never more than a beakful Barrie insists that Star is neither trained nor bribed to do anything unnatural. In fact, it periodically does something natural on the arm of the sofa, but Barrie is ready with a cloth.Pennines-born Barrie, who has lived in Devon for ten years, has been breeding Runner ducks for only a few years, chiefly because he found them an amusing round-up act with his dogs. He could see instantly that Star was different. He was in the corner of the cage, very alert. When I put him down, he went mad, so I took him out again, his wings started going and he ran straight to me. Since then, the duo has been inseparable. Its entirely his decision. He wouldnt mix with the other ducklings. Even a football match at Exeter didnt ruffle the cool drake.Barrie accepts that there is a degree of imprinting involved, whereby the duck regards him as a surrogate mother, but he sees it as a genuine friendship. Runner ducks are an excitable breed and Barries four others take off round his Eastleigh garden as we approach. Star, on the other hand, chatters away in the living room next to Barrie, occasionally sidling over to nibble my fingers. Barrie communicates in what he calls duck whispering, but what sounds like a fair impersonation of Donald Duck! Outside, its feet slap-slap down the lane behind Barrie like a feathery Charlie Chaplin.While most people are enchanted, Barrie has fallen foul of a few: he was shown the door by jealous regulars at his previous local, and has crossed swords with the Big Sheep visitor attraction, where he used to work. Perhaps his enthusiasm for his webbed wonder is too full-on for some. As he pays tribute to his wife Sue, a youth manager for a charity, whose salary finances the pairs adventures, I wonder what she thinks about sharing her husband with a juvenile waterfowl. I do sometimes sit there and shake my head, she says merrily, but the duck has given Barrie a new lease of life. Hes a born performer and the fact that he and Star have found each other means hes out there doing what he does best. But I have drawn the line at him coming to bed with us!There is a serious side to the story. Barrie has several long-term health conditions and was keen to make use of his new-found fame. His first thought was that the duck could make him money, but he changed his mind. Im not religious, but it was like an epiphany. I thought: hes been given to me for a reason. So I spoke to the childrens hospice, Little Bridge House, in Fremington, and he has become their mascot. I go in whenever they need me. It cheers the nurses up as well when they see the children laughing.Star has already raised several thousand pounds for the hospice. In Barnstaple, one day in the Easter holidays I took 380, which is massive. Were out at least twice a week on our own. At weekends, Im either going to a show or to help other collectors. I make sure he gets some rest but he gets upset when I dont take him out. Mixing with other ducks, says Barrie, doesnt interest Star at all. Instead, he has a cage in the kitchen, a ready supply of worms and a growing wardrobe of bow-ties for public engagements.Looking ahead, Barrie would like to extend his charity work around the country. Id love to tour with him and raise money for every childrens hospice. He also wouldnt mind the odd bit of film work, if only to pay his expenses. Midsomer Murders, say, where theyve got this strange bloke walking around with a duck Not much acting required, then. You think? He roars with laughter. The duck pipes up contentedly. It really is one chilled super-Star.