When Queen Elizabeth met Sir David Attenborough

During her 70-year reign, Queen Elizabeth II met many remarkable people – but few became such great friends as national treasure Sir David Attenborough. The two were born just weeks apart in 1926 and were friends for decades.

As part of Her Majesty’s four-day Platinum Jubilee celebrations, the legendary broadcaster and biologist made a special guest appearance at the BBC’s Platinum Party at the Palace on Saturday 4th June.

Queen Elizabeth
© Shaun Jeffers / Shutterstock.com

The concert also featured stars including Diana Ross, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Alicia Keys, Andrea Bocelli, Nile Rodgers, Duran Duran and many more. The two-and-a-half-hour spectacular, which took place over three stages at Buckingham Palace, was broadcast live by the BBC.

First meeting

When Queen Elizabeth met David Attenborough, it was ironic that he was advising against broadcasting a documentary about the royal family on the BBC, where he was a controller. According to royal biographer Ingrid Seward, Sir David didn’t want to screen the planned 1969 documentary, The Royal Family.

He voiced his fears to the BBC director that it would “kill the monarchy” in terms of destroying the mystique that surrounded them. However, the documentary went ahead, giving the public a chance to see behind the scenes.

Although it didn’t destroy the monarchy in the way Sir David had forecasted, many believed it paved the way for the press scrutiny of the royals that followed in subsequent decades.

Prior to this, the broadcaster had met Prince Charles and Princess Anne when they had toured the Lime Grove BBC Television Studios in 1958. He had introduced them to his cockatoo, Cocky, during their visit.

Love of nature

Sir David is famous for his love of animals. His efforts to preserve the environment by increasing awareness of the problems faced by planet earth are legendary. He has presented many nature and wildlife programmes, his first being Zoo Quest in 1954.

The presenter, writer and narrator has enjoyed a career spanning eight decades, hosting many iconic programmes such as Wildlife on One, Natural World, the Planet Earth franchise and most recently The Blue Planet. Consequently, he was honoured by the Queen with a knighthood in 1985.

Renowned for her love of horses and dogs, especially the royal corgis; the Queen was born on 21st April 1926. Born soon afterwards, on 8th May; Sir David is best known for his appreciation of the natural world and his desire to share it with everyone.

In 1986, the veteran broadcaster became responsible for producing the Queen’s Christmas address. He always enjoyed an easy rapport with Her Majesty, to the point where he even chose the outfit she should wear for the televised broadcast!

It was reported that the Queen had selected a bright green outfit for her speech, but Sir David asked her to wear a less bold, brown outfit instead. Her Majesty was reportedly not very happy at being overruled! She later joked in an interview, “There’s no pleasing you people from the media!”

She had been advised to “wear something colourful” for the broadcast – but she admonished Sir David, saying, “Then you come along and tell me I have to wear something pale and nondescript!”

Order of Merit

Queen Elizabeth and Sir David remained friends for more than half a century. In 2005, three decades after he received his knighthood, Her Majesty gave him the Order of Merit. It was apparent that he felt extremely honoured by the award. In a BBC interview, he expressed his gratitude to the Queen. Apparently overwhelmed, he said, “How could anyone believe they actually deserved something like this?”

In 2016, Sir David spoke at a service at St Paul’s to celebrate the Queen’s 90th birthday. He read a moving passage by author Michael Bond and reflected on the 1926 “vintage” and the passing of time.

Later that year, the two friends were seen together at a charity event for the Queen’s Commonwealth Canopy, launched in 2015 to protect forests. Sir David gave a speech expressing his admiration for the initiative. He told the Queen how fortunate we were that she was “thinking about the future” and how to make a better world.

The Queen’s Green Planet

In 2017, Sir David appeared alongside Her Majesty in a television documentary called The Queen’s Green Planet. They were seen strolling around Buckingham Palace’s gardens, pausing every now and then to examine their surroundings in more detail.

The two of them enjoyed having a chuckle together, including on one memorable occasion when they spotted a sun dial standing in the shade while filming the TV documentary.

The moment became quite legendary, as they actually had the sundial in the grounds of Buckingham Palace moved to a sunny spot. Originally, it had been erected in the sun, but over the years, the trees had grown tall around it. They moved it so it could fulfil its original purpose of telling the time.

During the same stroll, the Queen spotted a particularly odd-looking plant. Noting that it “did not seem to be doing very well”, Her Majesty joked that “somebody sat on it at a garden party”. Sir David laughed at her quip.

Buckingham Palace banned plastic straws in 2018. It was believed this was inspired by Sir David. The Queen decided to cut down on plastics after filming The Queen’s Green Planet. She said the royal family had “taken a number of practical steps” to be more environmentally friendly. She said they had a “strong desire” to tackle the issue of excess plastic waste.

Prince William

In 2019, Prince William interviewed Sir David at the World Economic Forum, discussing the challenges in store for future generations wishing to preserve the planet. Prince William admits to having been an admirer of Sir David’s work for many years, following in his grandmother’s footsteps.

The prince has credited him as having the “single most important impact in my conservation thinking”. Prince William has called him a “national treasure”. As a youth, he would watch Sir David’s nature programmes on TV, particularly enjoying those filmed in Africa.

In her capacity as patron of the Royal Institute of International Affairs; the Queen presented the 2019 Chatham House Prize to Sir David, then aged 93, and his Blue Planet II team. She told him the award recognised his “many talents”, adding age was “no barrier to being a positive influence”. She praised his ability to “communicate the beauty and vulnerability of our natural environment”, recognising his documentaries had engaged people of all ages in the battle to preserve our world’s oceans.

Prince William has also been inspired to create a documentary entitled Prince William: A Planet For Us All, inspired by Sir David. He described their “shared passion for protecting the natural world” in an Instagram post.

The Queen’s friendship with Sir David influenced four generations of the royal family. After the screening of David Attenborough: A Life On Our Planet, the broadcaster gave a special present to Prince William’s son, young Prince George: a tooth from a giant shark, dating from 23 million years ago.

The sad passing of our Queen ends a friendship which stood the test of time and which, like so many of her associations, had a positive impact not only on her people but also on the planet.

Share this post


Blog Latest