Euan Gabbert talks to Simon Cowell of Wildlife Aid

From time to time all of us, I'm sure, take stock of our lives and wish we could do something completely different. Few of us seem to do anything about it!

Simon Cowell was born in Epsom, and educated at City of Freemen's School. His family were farmers, although his father was an agricultural engineer, and it was expected that he would follow the family tradition. In fact, he did six months practical training on a farm in Cornwall which, although he enjoyed the outdoor life, persuaded him that this was not the future he wanted. His father knew the partners of a firm in the City and so, wearing his only suit reeking of cows, Simon went for an interview. Even so, he was offered a job and went on to become a senior trader.

Simon worked as a commodity broker in London, with much success, for 23 years. But he grew to detest the life and his thoughts kept turning to his childhood dream of being a vet. "But I knew I just didn't have the brains to pass the 'A' levels I would have needed," he told me. And so it was the City. "But the last ten years were murder," he admitted.

Euan Gabbert with a rescued badger

And then, in 1979, when he had achieved a very comfortable living, he moved to Leatherhead, buying Randalls Farmhouse in Randalls Road. His vague intention was to start a modest 'aid centre' for wildlife, probably operating out of a garden shed, to help local wildlife which got into difficulties. Such was the start of Wildlife Aid.

Simon continued to work in London, hating it more and more, until a breakdown forced him to make the decision to leave in 1994. For most of the intervening years he had financed the work of Wildlife Aid out of his own pocket.

"But it would have been impossible without the invaluable help of a band of truly wonderful volunteers," he says.

Wildlife Aid now has 140 helpers and handles some 40,000 cases each year. August, when we met, is the busiest time of the year because of all the babies being born. There are only two paid employees, Val and Helen, and one of Simon's major problems is trying to recruit more volunteers at a time when, to many, leisure time is seen as a necessity in the pressurised world in which we live.