Sir David Attenborough regularly battles it out with the Queen for the title of the county’s “most trusted person” – a fact he always puts down to a single cause.
“I have never done a commercial. Never. Ever,” he said in a newspaper interview in 2006. “If I have any quality on the screen, it’s that people believe that what I say is true. Or at least, they certainly believe that I believe it’s true. Once it’s known that you’ll say anything, you’re as dead as doorknob. You’ve lost everything.”
Something for, say, Liz Truss, Johnny Mercer, Matt Hancock, Rishi Sunak, Kit Malthouse and various others to consider, next time the phone rings and it’s Boris Campaign HQ offering a sensational opportunity to stand in for the great man on the Today programme or The Emma Barnett Show. Although it’s very much too late now.
It was almost troubling to see David Attenborough walking through the security doors and into one of the meeting rooms in the Palace of Westminster on Tuesday morning, to give evidence to the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee. For someone who’s spent several decades turning down opportunity after opportunity to go on air and not tell the truth, well, let’s just say the House of Commons isn’t his natural habitat.
As he peered over the table, out in to the usual horseshoe of backbench MPs, it was like watching one of those hatchling turtles that cannot differentiate between the light of the moon and the light of the nearby petrol station, and so scampers not towards the ocean but directly into oncoming traffic.
Which is very much not to say he was in any way at risk. It was not a day for hostility. It was surely the youngest crowd that’s ever been drawn to a select committee hearing – whole rows of early twenty-something parliamentary researchers gazing upon his back in such dazzled wonderment.
The MPs too could hardly have been more accommodating. To spend a full hour, in this place, with someone who has never knowingly uttered an untrue word is a vanishingly rare if not unique delight. The Labour MP Peter Kyle gazed upon him as if he actually was, himself, an endangered mountain gorilla.
At one point he even got up and poured him water but was, alas, too enraptured to notice that at the very moment he filled Sir David’s plastic cup, Sir David was midway through an answer about the devastating impact of plastic in the oceans.
At times, Sir David’s honesty was perhaps too much to bear. Asked if flights would have to become more expensive, to the point that normal families could no longer afford an annual holiday in France or Spain, he replied: “I don’t know how you would restrict air travel other than economically, so I am afraid that is the case, yes.”
And as the world continues to come up short of an answer to the question of just how democratic countries go about reducing people’s quality of life in order to save the planet, these are words worth clinging on to.
Not for the words themselves, but the simple fact that it’s fine for Sir David Attenborough to say them. But no politician ever could, not if they want to win an election.
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