AT THE age of 14 Derek Francis wanted to be a scientist. His mum wanted him to go to grammar school and his dad wanted him to join the family business.

Despite his keen interest in astronomy and zoology, he chose to work with his dad, a furniture maker in Malvern.

After starting an apprenticeship to learn about furniture and upholstery, Derek and his father decided to move into retail as they realised it was more profitable to sell furniture made by other people.

This was the start of the independent family-run furniture, beds and interiors business now known as Francis of Malvern, based in Malvern Link.

Derek’s job was delivering furniture, often on a hand cart he pushed to customers’ homes in Malvern. Now aged 91, he recalls: “It was a hard way of delivering a bedstead in Malvern.” He was, without doubt, very fit and strong in those days.

But despite focusing on a career in business, Derek did not lose interest in science, and particularly zoology. In the 1960s he went on an African safari, which reignited his passion for animals.

“I got hooked on wildlife and the whole idea and necessity of doing something to preserve wildlife. I have had a passionate interest in the subject ever since.

“I thought there should be more places in the world for animals and we were selfish people to take their habitat. The highlight was seeing the gorillas. This was before the days of David Attenborough.”

Derek combined his love of the natural world with a passion for photography. “I was the first British photographer to take pictures of a gorilla in the wild in Rwanda.”

He says he’s had a number of adventurous holidays – three years ago he and his wife Susan, also a keen photographer and artist, went on an expedition to South America – travelling through northern Argentina and the Atacama Desert of northern Chile. This is known as the driest place in the world.

He has also been to the Galapagos Islands, in the Pacific Ocean off the north-west coast of South America - famed for their vast number of endemic species and studied by Charles Darwin during the voyage of the Beagle. His observations and collections contributed to the inception of Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection.

Other highlights of his globetrotting adventures include horseback safaris in Kenya, Himalayan treks, a trip to the Rann of Kutch in north west India and visits to Borneo, Mauritius, Alaska, the Antarctic, the western deserts of Egypt, climbing Kilimanjaro in Tanzania and Kamchatka in far east Russia.

The photographs from these expeditions have been used in many presentations to local clubs and societies for a number of years. Derek has also been associated with the World Wide Fund for Nature, the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust and Flora and Fauna International for many years too.

He and Susan set up their his own charity called the Francis Wildlife Charitable Foundation, which has given thousands of pounds to wildlife charities, and they are currently working to establish a joint project with the David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation to save the duiker antelope found in sub Saharan Africa. The aim is to set up a captive breeding programme.

“It has been under pressure for some years because it is a source of meat for local people,” said Derek.

He is also keen to persuade zoos in North Africa to undertake captive breeding programmes for the Nubian or Barbary Lion, which is now considered extinct in the wild. These lions, said Derek, were used to entertain the Romans in the Colosseum.

Apart from his knowledge of far-flung shores, Derek has set foot in almost every country in Europe too – through the sport of endurance horse racing.

He took up the sport after entering the TT motorcycle races on the Isle of Mann. “I fell off my bike and ended up in hospital so I knew I needed to find another sport.”

The races can be over 100-miles long and Derek put everything into his riding, becoming British Champion one year. It was through horse riding he met his wife Susan.

Just seven years ago, he came out of retirement at the age of 84 to become the oldest man in the UK to compete in a gruelling endurance horse race.

Up against dozens of younger riders and curious to find out if he was still up to the task, he rode Imperial Prince in a 40-mile race over two days in the Sherwood Ride, Nottinghamshire, to take home a prestigious grade one rating.

Apart from these interests, he has a vast knowledge of the furniture trade and only retired as a part-time buyer for the company five years ago.

He is now trying to find someone to help him document his many faceted life covering the part his family business has played in local history to his adventures and charitable work.

He says he has done a lot in his life and thinks it would make an interesting book. He would like to hear from anyone interested in undertaking the task of collecting the information and acting as a sort of ghost writer to his memoires.

Anyone interested in finding out more can ring 01684 567021 and have a chat or write to him at St Giles, Farley Road, Malvern Link, or c/o Francis of Malvern, Worcester Rd, Malvern, Worcestershire WR14 1AE.