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Saturday, March 17, 2012

The most high-maintenance blonde in Britain: Crufts' biggest diva eats sirloin steak, has twice-weekly blow-drys and pedicures... and is FAR too posh

By Julia Lawrence

There is no unseemly yapping when you ring the doorbell at the Anderson family home. No scuffling or snarling, either.

No harshly snapped orders to ‘get down!’, and, most delightfully, no smelly hound launching itself, wet nose first, at the cowering visitor when the door is opened.

Such behaviour would be unbecoming to a dog such as Champion Zentarr Elizabeth, queen bee of all she surveys.

Far too posh for fussing and barking, she sits regally in the arms of her owner-cum-courtier Margaret, and haughtily lifts her perfectly-coiffed blonde head to be stroked in greeting.

This is no ordinary canine. This is Elizabeth, (not Liz, Lizzie, Beth, Betsie or Betty — heaven forbid), the beautiful Lhasa Apso who this week beat stiff competition from more than 21,000 dogs to be crowned Best In Show at Crufts. She is a princess among dogs.

On walking into the pristine semi that she shares with her owners in Coventry, all, at first, seems reassuringly normal. Family pictures adorn every wall. But, look closer, and it’s Elizabeth’s four-legged relatives you will see. Everywhere.

Her pedigree forebears stare out snootily from the photos. Elizabeth’s image is everywhere, too — on oil on canvas, as well as on huge replicas of the covers of dog magazines, on which she has starred.

This house is a shrine to Elizabeth. The numerous rosettes and trophies from her seven-year career as a show dog, line every surface.

And now, taking pride of place on the sideboard, is the solid silver Crufts champion’s cup and magnum of Moet champagne that Margaret and her husband Andy brought home from the Birmingham NEC last Sunday night.

‘It still hasn’t sunk in yet,’ says Margaret, taking her excited, glittering eyes off her beloved Elizabeth just briefly to survey the collection. ‘It’s unbelievable.’

Pampered pooch: Julia Lawrence styles Elizabeth's fur as she gets up close and personal with the canine diva

After 35 years showing dogs of all breeds, this is the zenith for the Andersons.

Elizabeth is special. In fact, looking at her, it’s easy to forget she’s a real dog at all. The floor-length, gleaming, blow-dried coat streams behind her like a curtain, beneath which her dainty, soft paws trot elegantly.

Up close, she doesn’t even smell like a dog. Salon-fresh, she smells of shampoo and expensive hair oils. Even her breath is sweet, her teeth white and plaque-free.

Margaret is never too far away, bristle brush in hand, to keep the coat that wowed the audience and judges in pristine condition at all times.

Here's looking at you! Julia gets to know the diminutive Lhasa Apso

The hair around Elizabeth’s face is carefully braided out of her eyes today.

Elizabeth accepts all the grooming with the grace and stoicism befitting a lady of her class. She is a living, panting, barking (only very occasionally) canine version of Barbie.

Yet when you look her, you can’t help pondering, with a tinge of sadness, that this is a dog that has never chased a squirrel, scratched a flea or sniffed a lamp post in her life.

Would it, I ask her devoted owner, be totally out of the question for Elizabeth to rough it a little, now and then?

‘She’s far too precious to take out for walks,’ explains Margaret, a 59-year-old retired social worker. ‘That’s not to say she is kept indoors all the time — she has to be kept fit and healthy. She can run around in the back garden for exercise.’

But even the garden has been specially crafted to suit Elizabeth’s status. The vegetable patch and flowers have long gone, replaced instead by paving stones which can be kept scrubbed, bleached and hygienic at all times.

‘She can be walked on grass in the summer, when it is dry and short, but we couldn’t risk twigs and mud getting into her coat. In the house, she sleeps in a special dog crate in the kitchen, where she’s put if ever we are out or busy.

‘We couldn’t have her roaming about freely, in case she had an accident and hurt herself. If she broke a leg falling off a table, or accidentally swallowed something, she’d never show again.

‘Anyway, she’s a bit of a diva and very lazy. A trot around the field at a dog show and she’s bored and wants to come back. If ever I throw a ball for her, she just looks as me as if to say, “So, are you going to fetch that back, or what?” ’

Showing dogs is the Andersons’ passion. They have four grown-up children and seven grandchildren, but share their home with 20 dogs, four other Lhasa Apsos, including Elizabeth’s mother, Madonna, and a clutch of Pomeranians, those little puff-ball toy dogs, many of which are already champions or champions in the making.

Each has its own bed in a special, gated-off section of the large kitchen. Their bedding is washed daily, and each breed has its own allotted play time in the garden, to prevent any squabbles and, most importantly, to stop the Poms damaging the Lhasa Apsos’ treasured locks.

They are as impeccably behaved as Elizabeth, with not a yap to be heard from the garden or conservatory, where they play during Elizabeth’s latest photoshoot. The neighbours have certainly never complained.

It’s a lot of work, admits, Margaret, and a full-time job. They attend around 20 dog shows a year, driving a five-ton van, with all 20 dogs stacked in their individual beds in crates, and towing a family-sized caravan, packed with supplies.

Pristine: Elizabeth proudly poses next to her Best in Show trophy

‘We make quite a sight whenever we hit the road,’ laughs Andy, 66, who used to work as a carpenter.

The caravan has two fridge freezers, one for human food and one for dog food, a generator for electricity, gas bottles, and a proper shower for washing the dogs before a show. It also has an industrial-sized dog hairdryer, a behemoth resembling something out of a steelworks, which travels with them everywhere.

The van has, of course, been specially adapted to keep their darling dogs comfortable on the road.

‘I stripped out the panelling and lined it with foam for extra insulation, and installed a customised fan system to keep them cool in hot weather,’ says Andy, who describes himself as ‘chief dog-poop picker-upper’ in the Elizabeth roadshow.

‘These are show dogs, they have to be kept happy and comfortable. If a dog is unhappy, it is not going to perform well.’

The couple cannot put a figure on how much their hobby costs them in dog food, petrol and vets’ fees. ‘We totted it up once in the early Eighties, and it horrified us so much, we vowed never to do it again,’ says Andy.

‘We’re not puppy farmers, we’re not in this for the money,’ explains Margaret. ‘This is our passion, and as with all passions, you find the money somewhere.’

The prize money for winning Crufts, in case anyone is considering dog showing as a career, was a paltry £100. But love is its own reward and there is certainly a lot of passion and love that goes into keeping Elizabeth beautiful. Listening to Margaret recount the pampering routine, you are put in mind of an A-list actress preparing for the Oscars.

Elizabeth’s vanity case is brought out to illustrate the point. As a none-too-low maintenance blonde myself, looking at the cornucopia of bottles, lotions, clips, scissors and hair accessories, I realise that I barely know the meaning of proper pampering.

Twice a week, and always before a show, Elizabeth is shampooed and her coat conditioned, using Pantene hair products.

Blow-drying her hair straight takes more than an hour. Margaret will then trim it, to keep the edges razor straight. The fur between her toes is also trimmed and her nails clipped. Her gleaming gnashers are then thoroughly cleaned and scraped with a dental pick.

An American blend of baby powder, mixed with corn starch, is dusted through the hair around her mouth to absorb extra moisture. The whole process can take anything up to four hours. Beat that, Paris Hilton.

‘The only thing she objects to is the nail clipping,’ says Elizabeth. ‘But even then, it’s only with a grimace or grumble. I’ve never heard her growl or snap — ever. She has such a lovely, easy-going temperament.’

Fine pedigree: Elizabeth surrounded by the many awards she has won over the years

Under Kennel Club rules, hair lacquers and conditioning sprays are strictly banned in shows. Strands of hair can be taken for spot checks, and offenders banned from the competition. Rules are always bent though, say the couple. ‘I saw someone putting eyeliner on a boxer dog at a show last year,’ says Andy.

As well as her intense beauty regime, Elizabeth’s diet is also strictly controlled. Ordinarily, she eats top-quality, £40-a-bag dog food, with fresh chicken wings to gnaw on to keep her teeth and gums healthy.

During shows, however, she is served sirloin steak, cubed and fried in organic olive oil as a treat. ‘That’s why she loves shows so much,’ says Elizabeth. ‘Also, she gets to spend time with me, on her own, which she enjoys. She knows it’s a special occasion, she’s very intelligent.’

After her Crufts win, the Andersons are aware that Elizabeth is hot property.

Neither can put a figure on what their champion is now worth, but to them she is priceless. ‘I wouldn’t sell her for £2 million,’ says Margaret.

With her impeccable breeding and ancestry — she’s the daughter of two Lhasa Apso champions, the mother reared by Margaret herself — Elizabeth is very eligible in dog breeding circles. At the ripe old age of seven, the time is now right for her to put show life behind her and settle into motherhood. Potential suitors are being carefully screened.

‘I use every dog show as an opportunity to weigh up the males to see if there are any good enough for Elizabeth,’ says Margaret. So far none has made the grade.

‘I think I’ll probably use one of my own males. There’s Morgan, who’s just one certificate away from champion status,’ she says. The dogs are, she admits, distantly related, a few generations back. But then that’s royalty for you.

Ordinary Lhasa Apso puppies can sell for as much as £1,000 each, but for the offspring of such a high pedigree as Elizabeth and Morgan — presuming he’s up to the job — Margaret could probably name her price.

‘But I won’t sell to just anyone,’ she says. ‘I have to like the owner and know where they are going. ’

And when the time comes, Margaret plans to convert her back bedroom into a special birthing (whelping) suite for Elizabeth, suitable for a royal mother-to-be.

The grandchildren’s bunkbeds will be stripped out, and replaced with a bed for Margaret, midwife elect, so she can support Elizabeth through her first birth. ‘It will be a very anxious time for me,’ she says with a shudder.

But as with all celebrities, there will be no slackening of the beauty routine post childbirth. Anyone calling in unannounced is unlikely to find Elizabeth with tangled hair and less-than-perfect nails.

‘She’s far too beautiful to allow that to happen,’ says Margaret.



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