By Michelle Baker
Photos by Kerry Perez

Bo Derek decided early that it was better to take the reins rather than let life lead her around. Today, the actress who became an international sensation is a producer, businesswoman, model, and horse welfare advocate. Well-known in the equestrian scene in California, Derek is also a familiar face in the Washington, D.C. area.

Forty years ago this month, a tempting tasteful comedy for adults catapulted a young actress into stardom. The 1979 American romantic comedy film 10 written, produced, and directed by Blake Edwards and starring Dudley Moore, Julie Andrews, Robert Webber, and Bo Derek was one of the year’s biggest box-office hits taking in $74.8 million.

Moore played a successful, middle-aged Hollywood songwriter who falls hopelessly in love with the woman of his dreams, a young newlywed, played by Derek. That year, Derek became the woman in the dreams of millions across the globe. At age 62, Derek continues to make her own dreams come true. We caught up with her to ask about those.

Michelle Baker: When you think of Middleburg, what comes to mind?  

Bo Derek: The first time I visited, I was invited by Karen and Hector Alcalde to ride an exhibition on Mouro, my Lusitano stallion in the Washington International Horse Show. That was in 1990. I stayed at the Alcalde farm and fell in love with the area the day Hector took me for a drive in his four-in-hand (carriage) with his team of gorgeous white Andalusian horses. I count Karen and Hector as some of my dearest friends.

MB: I understand you have attended the Middleburg Film Festival in the past, will you be attending this year?

BD: Yes. The Middleburg festival is my favorite. Sheila premiers the best films and for me, to be around serious film makers, film lovers and horse county is a lovely environment.

(Above: Bo Derek lives with longtime love John Corbett and a string of Andalusian horses on the Santa Ynez ranch on which she spends her days working with animals and for them through her work with several organizations.)

MB: As a film producer, what are some thoughts on what Sheila Johnson is doing for the industry, film directors and audiences with the film festival?

BD: I believe the success of the festival is due to Sheila’s position and passion in the entertainment business. You feel it while you are there. There’s an intimacy that you don’t experience at other festivals.

MB: What creative collaborations are you working on this year?

BD: I’m a producer on a film called “On Silver Wings” about women pilots in World War II. Sheila was our very first investor which is a big feather in my cap.

MB: Like many in Virginia’s Hunt Country, you share a passion for riding, horses, dogs and wildlife conservation. Your household includes several four-legged friends. Who keeps your company these days on your walks?

BD: I’m always amazed at how my love of horses has brought me together with some of the most interesting and diverse people around the world. Right now, I have three Spanish and Lusitano horses and three German Shepherd dogs.

I spend much of my time working on wildlife trafficking issues as a member of the board of WildAid. I even served as the Special Envoy of the Secretary of State for Wildlife Trafficking and the Coalition Against Wildlife Trafficking, a multinational coalition of member countries working together to fight the ten billion dollar black market of trafficking of endangered species. 

(Above: Taking care of business-her way and on her time.)

Former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger asked me to serve as Commissioner and Vice Chair of the California Horse Racing Board to work on behalf of horse and rider welfare and safety from the inside of the industry. In addition, I serve on the boards of The Disabled Jockey’s Foundation and also on the Del Mar Racetrack.

MB: In your 2002 autobiography entitled Riding Lessons: Everything That Matters in Life I Learned from Horses, you share your love for Andalusians. Is that why you became a spokesperson for the Animal Welfare Institute’s campaign to end horse slaughter?

BD: Like most Americans, I was surprised to learn that our beloved horses are slaughtered for human consumption overseas. We don’t use horse meat here at all. We don’t use horses as livestock in the United States. It offends me that foreign owned companies profit off our horses while giving them a horrible death. We were able to shut down the slaughter plants in the U.S. but too many horses are shipped to Canada and Mexico for processing. Even though an overwhelming majority of Americans don’t approve of the trade, Washington, D.C. has been unresponsive. 

MB: When did you make the leap from being a lover of animals and becoming an advocate for animal welfare?

BD: I never set out to be an advocate, I still don’t describe myself as one. Yet, you never know who you’ll sit next to at a dinner. You start up a conversation and pretty soon I’m so impressed and in awe at the good work someone is doing. When they ask for my help…I can’t say no.

MB: And in your spare time, you run a business?

BD: I also have my own company of grooming products because there was a time I found myself with a dozen, smelly dogs that wanted to live in the house with me. It ended up taking three years of testing on dogs and people, but we came up with Bo Derek Pet Care shampoos and conditioners that make the coat so soft and smell so good that you can’t keep your hands off your dog, which when you think about it, is a win-win for both of you. The best part is our sales benefit retired military working dogs.

(Above: A house full of smelly dogs led to a new business adventure for this Californian. The Bo Derek Pet Care is a line of shampoos and conditioners for the furry family members.)

MB: Both your father, Paul Collins, and your late husband, John Derek, were veterans. Is that what moved you to support the VA?

BD: Again, I was at an inaugural breakfast at the Vice-President’s residence and struck up a conversation with the Secretary of Veterans Affairs Anthony Principi. He asked if I would go out to Snowmass Village, Colorado to the National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic (NDVWSC). He said that it would mean so much to the veterans. I did. And I can’t tell you how impressed and moved I was to see 350 veterans of all disabilities competing in such technical sports.

Some of the greatest ski athletes and volunteers give their time and their giant hearts to make sure that every veteran has a great time and generally a breakthrough in knowing what they can do—not what they can’t. My stepson was a quadriplegic, and I was constantly comparing his life with his disability as a civilian and the advances and mini-miracles that were happening on that mountain. I ended up serving as honorary chair of all six national events for nine years.

MB: Over the years, you have received many awards. What was the one that really touched your heart?

BD: I received the honor, rarely given, for my attention to disabled veterans. My Green Beret was a very special moment for me because my stepfather had been a Green Beret who died of Parkinson’s disease. ML

For more information, visit Bo Derek’s website www.boderekpetcare.com

This article first appeared in the October 2019 issue of Middleburg Life.