Fulfilling a Childhood Dream: Meeting Sir David Attenborough

Before meeting Sir David Attenborough: Kew's Herbarium was our HQ for the day. Here we're
being shown how specimens are collected in the wild
A few weeks ago I received an email out of the blue inviting me to Kew to meet Sir David Attenborough and to preview his new series Kingdom of Plants 3D, which starts tonight on Sky 3D (with a simulcast on Sky Atlantic HD).

I sat there for 10 minutes emitting feeble cries of Wow!, until NAH asked me what on earth was the matter. Naturally he thought I was joking until I showed him the email. After all, the chance to meet a childhood hero, someone who's shaped the key choices I've made in my life doesn't happen everyday.

The result of my day at Kew was published yesterday over on the Guardian Gardening Blog (welcome if you've come over from there), but of course I have a lot more to tell you about the day itself.

One of the plants featured in the programme. Darwin predicted the orchid was pollinated by a
moth, but it wasn't proved until after his death. The moth has a tongue at least one foot long.

I had to suppress lots of giggles because we were referred by the names of the organisations we were representing, so I was called The Guardian for the day. About 12 journalists attended including the BBC, The Sun, TV Choice, and a couple of geeky gadget types. That was another source of quiet amusement because the questions we asked definitely reflected who we were representing. I just concentrated on sating my overactive curiosity ;)

The 3D Camera set up: 2 cameras at right angles to get the stereoscopic effect with a rig that's
about 4 times heavier than usual and it took around half an hour to change a lens. Extra lighting
was needed so the film is bright and clear. This lead to some problems with overheated foliage.
There was a lot of pre-filming testing to see what could and couldn't be achieved and everything
 was storyboarded to ensure the right shots were achieved with the minimum of filming. 
The PR company who arranged the day put on an impressive itinerary: including a tour around the Herbarium and a demonstration of how filming in 3D works, as well as watching a whole episode, plus extracts from the other two programmes.

I also chatted over lunch to one of the scientists featured in the programme, Carlos Magdalena, who has saved the world's smallest water lily from extinction. We also talked about how DNA testing is re-writing the plant kingdom's classification and its latin names. I was moaning about it from a gardener's viewpoint, but it affects him so much more in his everyday work. Sometimes the re-classification result is a complete surprise, but Carlos admitted that when they looked more closely, the taxonomic clues were often there to be seen.

Sir David Attenborough with the series producer, Anthony Geffen. They've collaborated on
quite  a few series previously and both care deeply about the quality of the programmes
they put together. For me this was a moment when dreams come true :)

Then it was time to meet the great man himself. Some of the journalists - like the BBC - got him to themselves, I was in a group with 4 others for a round table style interview. I felt most unprofessional when everyone else whipped out their mini recorders to hoover up everything that was said. I concentrated on the conversation, my notebook and pulling out key quotes. I like to think it made the writing process afterwards much quicker - it's much easier to look though notes than going backwards and forwards through a recording.

We talked about whether 3D is the future of TV. David Attenborough thinks the way it's watched (with those dark glasses) means it will only ever be a family event. I was also concerned at how limited the audience for the series will be because it's on a Sky channel with a relatively small subscription base. I learnt it's being shown on HD as well as 3D there - using the results of just one of the two cameras which filmed the series for the 2D version. However, availability across many media platforms IS the future with this kind of series: there will be an IMAX version (60 cinemas worldwide), there's the book, a DVD and an app of course, and 10 million people will see an extract on their Nintendo games machines.

I was pleased Sir David became most animated with my questions and I also made him laugh a couple of times. Filming starts on his next 3D series soon, in the Galapagos Islands (lucky man). He described how unwieldy the cameras are in the field - taking up to 4 people to hold them - which means a lot of the wildlife simply won't perform in front of them. I quipped that most of the programme will be about the giant tortoises. "You're absolutely right" he said "and believe me you have to be most careful if you're camping in a brightly coloured tent, because they can get very frisky!"

It was such an amazing day and one I'll cherish for a very long time. I also had time to gallop around Kew Gardens afterwards, but that's a story for another time.


  1. I love Sir David and all the programs he does. What a wonderful experience..he seemed to be impressed with you and rightly so! Pinch me if I ever get to hear him speak in person :)

  2. WOW! Thats awesome! This goes right along with my post today!


  3. Lucky you, as you know I considered it a real privilege to have met him once, albeit it briefly and a long time ago.
    Me blogging about frisky ladybirds this week seems rather inconsequential when it comes to giant tortoises!
    Flighty xx

  4. Been reading this blog for awhile but i have been lazy to drop a comment and say thanks. That ends today: Thanks mate!

  5. Donna - I'm still pinching myself :)

    Clint - hurray!

    Flighty - but ladybirds are wonderful! Like, you I foud it a real privilege :)

    Elizabeth - it was wonderful, but then seeing you in a few weeks time will be wonderful too :)

    Anon - welcome - whoever you are!

  6. My gosh, what an honor of a lifetime. Giddy would not even touch on how I would view a meeting with this man. I like the comment about the frisky tortoises. He has a very cool sense of humor, you really must have been pleased he was so cordial and interested in your questions too.

  7. Donna - welcome! I was so concerned that I'd be so overcome by the occasion I'd forget to ask my questions! It was a marvellous day :)

  8. I don't know how I missed this! I'm still trying to catch up on everything post Chelsea. You saw David Attenborough and I had to make do with Cliff Richards ...

  9. Arabella - I'm a very lucky girl :)


Your essential reads

Jack Go To Bed At Noon

That blue flower: A spring spotter's guide

Salad Days: Mastering Lettuce

Testing Times: Tomatoes

Salad Days: Salads for Damp Places

Chelsea Fringe 2014: Shows of Hands - Episode I

The Resilient Garden

VPs VIPs: Derry Watkins of Special Plants

#mygardenrightnow: heading into summer with the Chelsea Fringe

Things in unusual places #26: Rubber Ducks