Dipping a toe back in the water:
Sir David Attenborough returns with Blue Planet 2.
In the UK, Sir David Attenborough is habitually referred to as a ‘national treasure’. So how does he feel about the label?
“What does ‘national treasure’ mean?” he replies, with a twinkle in his eye. “Nothing, except that people are favourably disposed towards you. You’re not being elected. You haven’t got the power to become Prime Minister. The problem is that you are credited with more wisdom and apprehension than is the case – which is quite easy actually. People think you know everything but, of course, you don’t.
“It’s a TV image and a very one-dimensional image at that. You certainly don’t get more money for being a national treasure. There is no national treasure premium.”
Attenborough pauses before he bursts into infectious laughter. “It’s a national scandal.”
It is said that you should never meet your heroes, but I’m delighted to have met this one. In person,
Attenborough is exactly the way you’d hope he would be: charismatic, compelling and charming.
Of course, one of the many reasons why people have been moved to call him a national treasure is because of such landmark BBC series as
Blue Planet. Broadcast in 2001, the multi-award-winning series fronted by Attenborough made a splash all over the world.
Now, a generation on, the BBC’s cameras have gone back to these underwater worlds for Blue
Planet 2. Featuring even more breathtaking filming and a fresh cast of uncanny aquatic animals, this epic seven-part series took four years to shoot off every continent, and in all of the Earth’s oceans. The result plunges the audience into some of the most captivating but least explored parts of our planet.
Blue Planet 2 sparks Attenborough’s magnetic sense of wonder about the natural world – a sensation that, over 63 years of
making TV, he has never lost. He enthuses that, “Experience has taught me how amazingly big and unpredictable the natural world is. When you’re young, you think you know it all about the natural world – ‘Yawn, yawn, everyone knows about that’.
“But, in fact, we only know a tiny proportion about the complexity of the natural world. Wherever you look, there are still things we don’t know about and don’t understand ... There are always new things to find out if you go looking for them.”
Blue Planet 2 features stunning sights such as methane volcanoes which explode in the Gulf of Mexico and the so-called “boiling sea” phenomenon in the Pacific Ocean.
The series features remarkable creatures, including hairy-chested Hoff crabs, snub-fin dolphins that spit water through the air, and a tool-using tusk fish – all filmed for the first time.
Also, there are astonishing examples of behaviour, such as the advanced hunting activity of a coral grouper and a reef octopus, a giant trevally that can catch flying birds in mid-air, and a sperm whale mother and calf diving deep into the abyss on a hunting expedition.
Attenborough is said to have travelled further than any other human, apart from astronauts, and yet his trademark passion shows no sign of waning. What is most appealing is that even after such a stellar career, he does not take anything for granted.
The presenter, who in 2006 was voted the Greatest Living British Icon by viewers of BBC2’s The Culture Show, observes that, “I can think of an awful lot of my own contemporaries who got into jobs where, after 10 or 20 years, they were thinking, ‘I’ve had enough of this’. But they’re stuck with it because it’s what their career is and they have a pension. They’re counting the years off till they get to 65, and then they do nothing but play golf.”
By contrast, he continues, “I’m fantastically lucky. I think, ‘Oh, I’ll go to the Amazon next year – why not?’ I’m more grateful than I can say that people still want me to do things.”
As he prepares to make more documentaries, he shudders at the word ‘retirement’. “You never tire of the natural world. Putting your feet up is all very well ...”
Casting me one last smile, Attenborough concludes: “But it’s very boring, isn’t it?”
Above: A superpod of sperm whales gathering off the coast of Sri Lanka.
A giant trevally hunts a flying bird.