When the young David Shepherd was rejected by the Slade School of Fine Art for having “no talent whatsoever”, he resigned himself to life as a bus driver.
He had already been told he would never fulfil his boyhood ambition of working as a game warden in Africa, after a fruitless trip to Kenya in 1949.
But after a chance meeting back in London, he was taken under the wing of artist Robin Goodwin, and went on to become the world’s greatest wildlife painter.
It was another chance encounter that turned him into one of our most notable conservationists too.
He was on a trip to East Africa in 1960, having been commissioned by the RAF to paint his first wildlife picture, of a rhino on a Kenyan airstrip.
During the trip he came across 255 dead zebra at waterhole in Tanzania that had been poisoned by poachers.
From that moment on he vowed to do everything in his power to protect the wildlife that have given him so much success as an artist.
He started by donating pictures to help fund conservation projects. His iconic painting Tiger Fire raised £127,000 for Operation Tiger in 1973, which helped raise the population of the species from between 50 and 60 up to 450.
In 1984, he founded the David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation, which has raised more than £7million to fund conservation projects in Africa and Asia.
But his success can be measured in so much more than purely financial terms.
The Foundation has also helped to save the Siberian tiger from almost certain extinction and trebled the size of a South African national park, reintroducing black rhino and cheetah after an absence of over 170 years.
It has funded some of Africa's largest seizures of illegal ivory and paid for a vital state-of-the-art communications network for rangers patrolling
India’s Kaziranga National Park and neighbouring strongholds of critically endangered tigers, rhinos and other species.
Recently, it has set up Zambia’s first elephant orphanage project and a vital park protection programme to help combat increasing wildlife crime in the region.
Now 85, David is still a tireless force fighting on behalf of the animals he loves. He still donates paintings and hosts fundraising dinners, and in 2011, he launched a new campaign to save the tiger in the wild.
TigerTime has been backed by celebrities and campaigners including Ricky Gervais, Sir Paul McCartney, Stephen Fry, Joanna Lumley, Sir Michael Parkinson, Naomie Harris, Brian Blessed, Susan Sarandon, Sir Roger Moore, David Gower, Jeremy Irons and Anjelica Huston.
David’s vigour and enthusiasm for the project still shine through. He says: “TigerTime is very exciting. More and more people are realising we cannot go on destroying the species around us. When you’ve seen a tiger in the wild you never want to see anything else. They are just mind-boggling.”