That Time I Met Sir David Attenborough

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If you follow any of my social media, you will probably have seen that I met Sir David Attenborough recently! It’s true to say that something like this doesn’t just happen spontaneously; awarding Sir David Attenborough an honorary fellowship to SfAM has to be done in style and it’s unbelievable how much preparation the staff at SfAM did behind the scenes to make the event possible.

We arrived at BMA House in London an hour before the event was to start so that we had plenty of time to rehearse the question panel session that Sir David had agreed to participate in! We nervously practised our questions, both our own and those submitted by members and I could tell that everyone’s stomachs were filling up with butterflies even though we only had people stading in as Sir David at this point! 

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A Drawing of Sir David Attenborough by my good friend and artist, Joelle Hawes

Soon everyone began arriving and it was time to assume my podcast duty. The question I asked the guests was “What sequences spring to mind when you think of David Attenborough documentaries?” The answers I got were fantastic! I know that at an event celebrating Attenborough’s achievements, the room is bound to be full of Attenborough fans, but I wasn’t quite prepared for the love and admiration that everyone had for him. There were so many sequences mentioned that I had forgotten about and it just goes to show how one amazing man has managed to deliver life on earth to the masses in such a way that most science communicators could only dream of!

All of this happened before he walked into the room and when he did there was no chance of me getting any more podcast material! All eyes were on him, but he took it all in his stride and listened to the people who spoke to him so carefully so that my nerves were instantly banished!

Soon it was time to get my mic pack on, a tricky experience when you’re wearing jumpsuit with no pockets, and after Professor Mark Fielder had thoughtfully introduced him, it was time to take to the stage with Sir David!

I’m still shocked that I managed to shake his hand without squealing and instead managed to say how lovely it was to meet him before sheepishly taking my seat on stage. A brilliant introductory anecdote from Dr Aled Roberts, the ECS chair, was my que to ask my first question; one of my own which you’ll have to listen to the podcast (released soon) to hear!

Apart from being in the presence of Sir David Attenborough, one of my favourite things about the question panel session was how animated he was with his answers! I don’t know anyone who could enthrall as many people with life stories as he did, but we were all gripped; laughing with him and listening to his messages with serious intentions to act on what we heard.

When I and the other panel members asked him questions, he replied directly to us before turning to share with the rest of the audience, a wonderful trait that made me feel incredibly special that he was responding to something I said!

Another thing I loved about the time on stage with him was his ability to be funny without trying too hard, often his funniest moments were when he was his quietest; making fun of himself for going off on a tangent or not being able to think of an answer straight away.

Something that we can all learn from Sir David Attenborough is to speak slower. The speed at which he addressed the crowd indicated he was thinking carefully about every word he said so there was barely any need for fillers such as ‘um’ and ‘erm’ which frequented my speech (and will be cut out for the podcast).

All good things come to an end and the Chief Executive of SfAM, Lucy Harper, had the undesirable job of announcing the end of the panel session and Sir David’s departure. It was all over too quickly and as we followed him off stage, I was too slow to get a photograph with him, but my friend Alli, a fellow committee member, was lucky enough to get her book signed before he disappeared into the night!

As soon as he had left, the room became animated again and everyone blinked out of their stunned silences. I was able to talk to more people about how Sir Attenborough had influenced people in their lives in between jumping up and down in excitement and disbelief!

In a perfect world, everyone would be able to meet Attenborough and be personally inspired by his presence. I think it’s safe to say that I will never forget this and even though I didn’t get a personal photograph with him, there are photos of Temi, Alli, Aled and I sat on stage with him as evidence. The pictures also help me to remember what an incredible experience it was for everyone and not just for me; it was something that I was lucky enough to share with my friends so that we could squeal about it together when it was all over.

Thank you to SfAM for organising such an incredible event to award Sir David Attenborough an honorary fellowship to the society and giving the ECS members the chance to experience something truly unforgettable!

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