The legendary voice of BBC documentaries, Sir David Attenborough is the natural historian turned national grandfather figure – that holds a special place in everyone’s hearts. His involvement in nine popular natural history documentaries to come out of the BBC (including Life, Planet Earth, and Blue Planet) has ensured his strong presence.
Now over 90 years old, David is recognized for his impactful contributions. He is a well established national treasure in the United Kingdom and was named among a list of “100 Greatest Britons” in a 2002 UK-wide poll. But how much do you know about the man behind the voice? We’re diving into these little-known facts about the real Attenborough.
The Apple of His Eye
Not too much is known about David’s personal life, but we do know he was married. He wed Jane Oriel in 1950 at 24 years of age, and their marriage lasted half a century. She was his first love, who ended up passing away in 1997 from a brain hemorrhage. Still, they had two children together: Robert and Susan, the former of which is a senior lecturer in bioanthropology for the School of Archaeology and Anthropology, at the Australian National University in Canberra.
The natural wildlife presenter has spoken out about the grief he felt after her death, and how he coped with his loss. “The focus of my life, the anchor had gone… now I was lost,” he recalls. “I did cope by working,” he admits, adding “it was just the most fantastic luck that I was able to. If my life had gone in a different way – say I had gone into the oil business, which I once considered doing – I would have been out at 60.”
An Unusual Upbringing
His father, Frederick Attenborough, was a scholar and principal at University College, Leicester. This meant that David spent his formative years growing up, essentially, on a campus. In Septemeber of 1939 during the Second World War, his family had acquired two new members in their household. His father had taken in two Jewish refugee girls, Helga and Irene Bejach.
Only 9 and 11 years of age, they had lost their parents and were adopted into the family, growing up alongside David and his siblings in College House. It is one of these adopted sisters that encouraged David’s interest and fascination with the natural world by giving him some amber tree resin. Here, he is pictured laughing with his late brother, actor and politician Richard Attenborough.
Not Without Eccentricities
David isn’t without his quirks. Despite the hefty mileage, he’s racked up as a documentarian, he never passed his driving test and never owned a car. And, perhaps expectedly, he’s living in the past in some ways. He is known to avoid emailing as a form of communication, opting for fax or post instead when possible.
Something which his family had to learn to deal with was his tireless work ethic. His job took him all over the world for extended periods and led to running inside jokes about his absence. “There used to be family jokes,” he has revealed. “You know, ‘You were never there. You don’t remember that, Father, do you, because you weren’t there!'” Our entertainment came at a price for his loved ones.
Today and Tomorrow
Now in his ninth decade, the public is naturally concerned about keeping him in good health. He had a pacemaker fitted in 2013, and a double knee replacement in 2015. Still, he stays positive and grateful: “If I was earning my money by hewing coal I would be very glad indeed to stop. But I’m not. I’m swanning around the world looking at the most fabulously interesting things. Such good fortune.”
And what does the future have in store for our adopted grandfather? He continues to narrate natural world documentaries with the BBC and campaigns constantly for climate change awareness, calling to action higher-ups to take people’s environmental impact seriously. “We need to move beyond guilt or blame and get on with the practical tasks at hand,” he asserts. “Our planet hangs in the balance. The only way to operate is to believe we can do something about it, and I truly believe we can.”