During a week where many of my friends were rocking out at the Guns n Roses concerts around Australia, I chose instead to sit in an audience of thousands of adoring fans in Adelaide’s Festival Theatre to listen to the Rock God of the Natural World, Sir David Attenborough, on his “Quest for Life” tour.
For two and a half hours my husband and I were mesmerized listening to Sir David share stories from his lifetime of amazing adventures bringing images of the some of the most exotic species in the most remote locations on Earth to our loungerooms. And if that experience wasn’t amazing enough, I was plucked from the audience to ask him a direct question in Q+A time (and yes my legs were shaking!).
In this blog post I share the experience of my evening with Sir David Attenborough, one of my personal Eco Heroes, and tell you exactly what I asked him in front of that massive live audience.
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He’s been on our TV screens since television was invented and so many of us have his documentaries to thank for igniting our own love and intrigue with the natural environment. There’s no doubt about it, what Sir David Attenborough has managed to experience and achieve in his lifetime is the stuff of dreams.
And last week, my dream to see Sir David Attenborough in the flesh came true.
Late last year when I heard that he would be touring Australia and New Zealand I placed my name on the wait list to be notified as soon as tickets went on sale, and I’m so glad I did because they sold out in a flash!
I figured when a 90 year old announces an international tour, you don’t want to risk waiting around for the next time they may visit. Guns n Roses might come again, but Sir David Attenborough? I didn’t want to take my chances.
So I booked the seats as soon as they were available, and I splurged and booked good ones. The event was scheduled for Valentine’s Day after all!
From the moment we arrived there was a buzz in the crowd. Tweens right through to elderly fans… all were excited to see Sir David LIVE.
There were a few tables with cards on them where you could write a question that you’d like Sir David to answer in question time. I joined the line, penned my question and then took my seat in the audience and waited for the show to start.
Now I have to say I don’t think I’ve ever been at a show where the act received a standing ovation BEFORE the performance. But that’s exactly what happened.
Sir David walked onto the stage and everyone rose to their feet and clapped, and clapped, and clapped. You could just feel the respect, appreciation, and awe of everyone in the audience for this remarkable man.
And he truly is remarkable.
I won’t summarise Sir David’s achievements here…. you can go straight to Wikipedia for them…. but I will share a few highlights and my thoughts on some of the stories he shared as well as some of the qualities I believe he has that have helped him become the most successful broadcaster and naturalist ever.
Qualities of a Remarkable Eco Hero
Sir David started the show by making reference to Charles Darwin and his book “On The Origin of Species” which was first published in 1859. He had a copy of the book on stage with him and he referred to it several times throughout the show.
It was clear that as a young boy, Sir David was intrigued with Darwin’s theories of evolution and captivated by the many adventures and expeditions of Darwin to foreign lands. Darwin was obviously one of his heroes and inspired much of Attenborough’s journey. In fact, Attenborough said that he wanted a life of adventure, and like Darwin, wanted to travel to destinations where no European had ever travelled before.
So, Sir David had ambition and a very clear goal of an adventurous life from a young age.
He was a naturalist foremost and spoke of his desire to understand why animals did what they did. In the early 1950s zoos didn’t play the role of conservation that they play today, they were more for entertainment, and zoo staff would go out on animal collecting expeditions in the wild to bring back live exhibits.
In fact, Sir David’s first TV show, Zoo Quest, involved him and Jack Lester, the curator of the London zoo’s reptile house, making a series about an animal-collecting expedition. Sir David was the film crew, however on return to the UK, he became the presenter due to Lester becoming ill.
So, Sir David took the opportunity to be on screen, despite the BBC previously discouraging him from being on camera as they thought his teeth were too large. This was just one of many examples in Attenborough’s career where he seized the opportunity presented to him and never looked back.
It was also clear that Attenborough was visionary. The fact that he continually pitched series after series to BBC management and they said yes time and time again, is testament to his vision and obvious skill of persuasion. He was also visionary in his use of new technology and film equipment.
After the initial expedition of Zoo Quest to Africa he travelled to South America, South East Asia, Panama and more, often travelling for months at a time to capture some of the most exotic species on the planet. Due to the success of his nature documentaries he was promoted to Head of the BBC Travel and Exploration Unit and then, in the late 1960s, to Head of BBC2, the first television network in Europe to broadcast in colour.
Sir David set ambitious targets for the different animals he wanted to film in the wild and shared the most exhilarating experience of filming the Blue Whale, the largest animal on Earth, in San Francisco Bay.
He also shared his experience of travelling to destinations where no European had never travelled before, in particular meeting a cannibal tribe in remote New Guinea and capturing the encounter on film.
He acknowledged the tireless work of many scientists around the world who dedicate their lives to studying one species, only to have his film crew come in, capture breathtaking footage and seemingly get all the credit for showcasing the animal in the wild. He spoke of the difficulty in capturing the elusive Snow Leopard, made possible thanks to detailed studies by scientists who could predict where the animal may track, and high-tech remote filming equipment that captured the animal beautifully.
Rather than the scientists being annoyed, he said they were always so gracious and delighted that their work and passion could now be shared with the world. But it seemed too that Sir David has immense gratitude for the scientists and film crew who shared his passion for the natural world.
My Question for Sir David Attenborough
After over two hours of being enthralled with breathtaking footage and inspirational stories of Sir David’s life, it was time for questions from the audience. Six pre-written questions were chosen and I can’t tell you how excited I was when my name was the last name called out.
The six of us walked to the front of the stage where we were filmed on the big screen, standing directly in front of a microphone, just metres away from Attenborough and the emcee Ray Martin.
So what did I ask him?
Knowing that Sir David’s work has helped raise environmental awareness and in particular, the plight of biodiversity loss worldwide, I wanted to hear his thoughts on where to from here.
And so I asked him……
“If you had the power and authority to set world environmental policy, what change of policy would you implement first and why?”
Sir David gave quite a lengthy answer (and he spoke directly to me, while my legs shook the entire time) but in short, he made the point that throughout history, nations have never agreed on common policy, but that environmental policy is greater than one country.
Environmental policy needs to be global policy.
He noted that in Paris last year many countries agreed on climate change policy but he’s now very concerned that the US may be backing out of its commitment.
In short he wanted to see all countries agreeing to significantly decrease carbon dioxide emissions, and move swiftly away from coal technology to renewables. He believes that climate change is the greatest threat to our planet, and time is of the essence if we’re to preserve the natural world and life as we know it.
I returned to my seat and Sir David finished his presentation with the following Charles Darwin quote from “On the Origin of Species”:
“There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone on cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.”
Charles Darwin most certainly is Sir David Attenborough’s hero and now he himself is the hero of millions worldwide.
The show then closed with Attenborough’s rendition of What a Wonderful World. The BBC One film showed remarkable wildlife footage and That Voice… the voice we’ve all grown up with, narrating the worlds to this truly beautiful song.
What A Wonderful World is one of my favourite songs of all time. It was our bridal waltz at our wedding and as a trumpet player, I’ve played it many times in my life (Louis Armstrong is one of my musical heros!).
So, it really was the perfect end to a most inspiring and perfect evening. An evening that ended just as it began, with a standing ovation to a truly remarkable man.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this post and that Sir David Attenborough inspires you, like he inspires me, to treasure our precious planet and do your bit to help make green mainstream.