David Attenborough: My Strangest Christmas

The veteran natural history broadcaster will be celebrating with new knees!

Have you spent Christmas in strange places?

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Only once have I not spent it in my own home or my parents’ home, and that was in 1980, when I was stuck in the Falklands while making The Living Planet. Luckily, we received an invitation from the governor, Rex Hunt, to join him on Christmas night. Most of Port Stanley seemed to be there. He proved to be a fanatical games player. One of the games was something he called “billiards hockey”, in which the participants hurled billiard balls at one another across the baize of the table! The climax of the evening came when he produced a wind-up gramophone with a pile of 78rpm records and we all sat drinking rum, gin and whisky, listening to Louis Armstrong and Bessie Smith.

What did the young David Attenborough make of Christmas?

It was a big family occasion. I remember waking up and looking out of the window and thinking, “This is extraordinary – it’s Christmas Day and there are people on the other side of the road who haven’t even got their lights on! Don’t they realise the excitement has started?”

And what about presents? Were animals ever on your wish list?

I had enough pets of my own without being given them for Christmas! I had grass snakes and frogs, and stuff from the countryside. I had tropical fish and so on. We also had dogs, but that was a family thing; they weren’t mine. But I was very interested in the natural world, so I would have got books to satisfy my curiosity.

Did you go to church?

No – we weren’t a religious family.

What about a favourite carol?

Hearing the first treble in the King’s College Chapel choir sing the first verse of Once in Royal David’s City – that spells Christmas for me.

Did you and your two brothers play party games?

No, not particularly. But Dick was very, very funny, and at Christmas time I remember we just sat around, roaring with laughter.

And this year?

I am certainly at home for Christmas. My sister-in-law – my wife had two sisters – and their families have always spent Christmas with us, and my children and grandchildren will be there, too.

Have they ever persuaded you to dress up as Father Christmas?

[He groans] No.

So what’s on the present list for this year? A TV box set?

I don’t have any material needs. It would be things that make me laugh – discovering three episodes of Porridge that no one has ever seen before. That would be the best Christmas present.

Christmas pudding or Stilton?

Oh, Christmas pudding is essential! With brandy butter.

And perhaps an after-lunch constitutional?

Well, I’ve got two new knees! This is the first Christmas for perhaps a decade or so that I can go back to walking a long way, a reasonable way, so I might.

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David Attenborough also presents Tweet of the Day (from Monday 22 December, 5.58am Radio 4)