The first Sir David Attenborough documentary I remember sitting down to watch was The Private Life of Plants, which must have aired in Australia in 1996. It was soon after we moved back from the US, and I was still in the habit of sitting down in front of the TV with my parents some nights– and it’s the first time I remember being actually fascinated by a documentary like that.
I’m quite sure I had seen Attenborough before then; it wouldn’t surprise me if part of the appeal of that particular series was, for me, the soothing, familiar nature of his voice. He quickly became ‘that guy’ (and to this day, it horrifies me that, in the US, his voice was replaced by Sigourney Weaver’s for Planet Earth— why would you do that? She’s not a bad choice, but… She’s not Attenborough. Can Americans seriously not cope with a non-American narrator?).
Having a natural history bent (something that would have been difficult to imagine in me when I was a child), Rohan and I watch a lot of documentaries. We’re big fans of people like Brian Cox, and we’re still slowly working our way through all of the Attenborough.
Needless to say, there was no way we were going to miss seeing him on stage in person, talking about his life. He’s eighty-six years old: how much longer is he going to be around? I can’t imagine we’ll get another chance.
So we went.
Doing the kind of work he has always done, I certainly expected that he would be a good storyteller. After all, when you’re dealing with animals in the wild you can’t simply stick to a script – they don’t always act the way you expect them to. You have to run with it. And after sixty years in television, he has an awful lot of stories to tell.
In other words: he was fabulous. The whole evening was fabulous.
He’s funny, he’s quick witted, and he clearly has at least some of the acting ability of his actor-brother. Obviously, some of what was talked about was prepared (last night was not the only talk he was doing), but it felt natural – like a real conversation and not a scripted one. They did a wonderful thing with questions in collecting them before the show and picking out a few good ones (thereby saving us all from the horror of stupid questions, questions that are actually just a soap box and not questions at all, and so on). He answered them without even needing to think, launching into another magnificent story about something fascinating.
He’s doing amazingly well for eighty-six. He may not be going out into the middle of things the way he used to, but he’s definitely not retired. It’s obvious how much he loves what he does.
We should all be so lucky.
(I am very disappointed to see that Sir David’s autobiography is not available in Kindle format. It is, however, available as an audiobook… yes, I think that’s appropriate. Mine.)