If there’s one person I owe my fascination with the natural world to, it’s the wonderful Sir David Attenborough.
Watching a natural history documentary narrated by him is completely mesmerizing. His unique dulcet tones hypnotise like an environmental siren. It’s impossible to look away. And just as impossible not to learn from him.
Imagine what a good teacher he would have made. I can visualise a whole class of stroppy teenagers sitting with their head in their hands, chins resting on palms listening intently; only rousing when the bell sounds, wondering what just happened. That’s what it’s like when I watch him. I lose time.
Granted, the visuals are equally enthralling, but it’s his genuine passion and excitement for the subject, no matter what it is, that make him so infectious.
I met him once. Yes, it’s true.
He was signing his autobiography Life on Air at the Natural History Museum in London. What a place to meet him. Very fitting, I always think.
The book signing was in the late afternoon and set to finish when the Museum shut at 5.30pm. I couldn’t get off work in time, so I begged my ever-loving boyfriend to wangle off early and queue for me until I could get there. (Yes, he was a very good boyfriend… so I kept him.)
I thought I’d be the only one in the queue with excitement levels verging on fever pitch, but soon realised the room was full of die-hard fans like myself all fit to burst, so the atmosphere was electrifying.
We chatted excitedly with our neighbours while the queue snaked slowly forwards, and as we inched closer I realised I was actually getting a bit nervous. You know that feeling when start to shiver a little? It started to get slightly out of control so I had to work on composing myself before I blurted out at the top of my voice, “I love you, David!”
Although, I do think most of the crowd would have returned, “I love you more!”.
The clocked ticked closer to 5.30pm, yet I was still about 40 people away. I thought, it can’t happen! I can’t get this close and not meet him.
I was concocting all sorts to avoid being chucked out at closing time, when the curator suddenly announced Mr Attenborough insisted on staying until everyone in the queue had their book signed. I loved him. More.
With a sigh of relief, I waited.
What would I say? What do you say to Sir David? I knew it didn’t really matter – he’d never remember me from the mass of faces, but I still didn’t want to come across as a total eejit.
By the time it came to our turn, the nerves totally took over, all composure left me. I shoved poor Dan to the side and stopped short of smothering David in a giant bear hug.
Instead, I gushed how nice it was to meet him, and what an inspiration he was to me. I also asked what I needed to do to be able to work with him.
You know what he did/said?
He gently took my hand (the right one). Kissed it, and then held it. Smiling at me, he laughed and said, “Oh dear, why on Earth would you want to work with an old fool like me?”
Self-depreciating, too. Does the man have no bad points?
We chatted for a little. I remembered Dan behind and introduced him, telling him how good he was to queue for me. It was a very short exchange of words, but such wonderful words.
I can’t remember being that excited for a very long time again.
The reason I’m telling you all this?
I came across this video of the man himself reciting Louis Armstrong’s What a Wonderful World, and it made me realise that there is no other narrator like David Attenborough, or ever will be… to me. I’ve watched countless natural history documentaries narrated by others, but none draw me in as much as him.
It also made me realize it was around this time 10 years ago that I met him.
And in case you’re wondering, yes, I did eventually wash the hand.