I just discovered that one of my heroes does an annual lecture on wildlife, in Richmond every May. It raises money for an environmental charity, and is always, without fail, sold out.
Men, women and children turn up in their dozens, in their hundreds, just to hear this guy talk for half an hour.
I wonder if you can guess who it is. A naturalist, born in 1926 and still going strong, who has a voice that is like chocolate for the ears…
That’s right. It can only be the one and only David Attenborough.
I am not sure how many of you will know him; I know a few of you lovely folks are from the US – is David Attenborough a household name over there? Do you guys know of him? I just don’t know how far his extraordinary documentaries have travelled! Pretty far, I gather.
Any way, this year, the lecture was on the migration path of butterflies. A yawn fest, one might think. Something only the biologists and the nerds care about. But every single person in that auditorium, including some very young children, was silent for his entire speech. It was incredible to see someone hold a room like that. And he truly was fascinating, with anecdotes and photos to accompany a, surprisingly interesting, subject.
I wish he could do all the lectures at university. I feel my grades would be sky rocketing by now…
There were 2 others, who discussed eels – a mainstay in the Thames and it’s tributaries until recently; and amphibians. Unfortunately I have to admit, the amphibians I did not find as interesting, simply because I had spent so much time studying them for exams (they are a favourite exam question at my university)! But she had a game for the children so that they were included, with masks and everything, so that was good for the kiddlywinks who might have been getting a bit fidgety by then.
There was a question and answer session, during which one boy very sweetly asked into a microphone, ‘David, how many butterflies are there in the WORLD?!’
His response was, rather aptly, ‘Lots.’
Afterwards, Attenborough had very kindly agreed to a book signing session. I took a copy of Life on Earth, published in 1979 – he was surprised to see it! I was starstruck at this point, having watched his documentaries since I was a very young child. Learning about wildlife would just encourage me to pursue my career choice even more – at that point vet medicine, now some rather nebulous position in wildlife conservation, but always with animals. So I suppose in a way he helped inspire me to get to where I am today.
When I was a child it was a huge treat to be allowed to stay up until 10 pm so that I could watch Blue Planet, the show about marine wildlife that ventured deep into the abyss for the first time. Every Wednesday night, I’d have my beanbag and hot chocolate, and watch it avidly for the hour it was on.
Now the man was in front of me, I could just about choke out a ‘Thank you’, but not much else.
So, for you other wildlife fans, naturalists and nerds, I believe his touring Australia soon or maybe now – so if you happen to be there, maybe look him up! Otherwise, he’ll be back in Richmond next May, I imagine, for another lecture and book signing.