Sir David Attenborough has met the Queen countless times. In the late 1980s he produced a number of her Christmas broadcasts — once from a stable in the Royal Mews; and (perhaps more notably) on another occasion when he suggested a costume change because her dress of choice clashed with the colour scheme of the room the broadcast was to be filmed in.
“There is no pleasing you people from the media,” the Queen reportedly said to him. “I am told by one lot that I have to wear something colourful so I can be seen in a crowd; and then you come along and tell me that I have to wear something pale and nondescript.”
Judging by the beautifully eye-catching floral dress she wore for their meeting in the Buckingham Palace garden last summer she no longer takes any such advice!
Sir David admits that despite their many previous meetings — including when he was knighted in 1985 and awarded the Order of Merit in 2005 — he approached the garden walk and talk with a degree of nervousness.
“Yes, there was a certain amount of apprehension because all sorts of things could have gone wrong. There were problems in that where the palace is, geographically, there are always police sirens and ambulance sirens that make filming difficult. But she took it all in her stride. It was a privilege of course, a very nice occasion — and she was very gracious.”
It’s evident from the film that they have a confident, at times almost playful, rapport. Sir David, as you’d expect, is diplomatic. “She is very unsolemn, very good at putting people at their ease,” he says.
There’s one delicious moment when she teases him as he has difficulty identifying the nametags on two oak trees planted to celebrate the births of Prince Andrew and Prince Edward. “The truth was I couldn’t find my glasses,” he laughs.
Sir David says that the Queen’s Commonwealth Canopy project is a manifestation of her own close interests. “She certainly cares for the Commonwealth, and she very clearly cares for the natural world. What this project does is to ensure the future. The forests that are dedicated exist already and what this is doing is protecting them. So the benefit will be felt in years to come when other areas that haven’t been protected have been destroyed for one reason or another.”
So, here’s one 91-year-old saluting the efforts of another in helping protect the planet. How do they both do it? “We must be very lucky in our constitutions,” he says. “There are very many virtuous people I can think of who can’t walk at my age, so it’s a matter of luck isn’t it?”
It’s lucky for us, too.
The Queen’s Green Planet is on Monday 16th April at 9pm on ITV