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a legend

Here, amongst the ferns and orchids of Kew Gardens, is one very rare species indeed. One that has wowed nature lovers for decades. It goes by the name of . . . Sir David Attenborough.

While I’m here to meet the man himself, I’m surprised when he tells me there is actually a rare plant named after him. “I’m not sure I ought to admit this really, it’s rather vain, but I’ve had a pitcher plant named after me - Nepenthes attenboroughii - and I have one of the few plants in captivity. It’s in my front room and I say good morning to it every day and ask how it’s getting on, would it like a fly or something, because they’re carnivorous, you see,” he says, in that rich, engaging voice which is so commanding of attention. “Fortunately it’s only a little baby at the moment, so all it will take is little fruit flies.”

A native of nearby Richmond, Attenborough looks very much at home at Kew, where he’s spent the past year working on his latest collaboration with Sky, Kingdom Of Plants 3D. At first glance, the Royal Botanical Gardens may seem a little tame a location for someone who has criss-crossed the globe in search of exotic wildlife, but there is far more to Kew than meets the eye, he assures.

“It’s not just a pleasure garden - Kew is at the cutting edge of botany and things are being discovered that weren’t known last year,” he says. “There’s a tiny little water lily which was extinct in the wild, which Kew has persuaded to flower and has now cultivated.”

The three-part Kingdom Of Plants series which he’s recently been working on employs the latest in cutting edge 3D and time lapse camera technology to show “plants as you’ve never seen them before”. It’s breathtaking to watch as sped-up footage reveals a creeper literally lasso itself onto a nearby leaf, while the 3D effects allow you to almost sit inside a pitcher plant and fearfully look on as it devours an insect.

“It’s revelatory,” says Attenborough, simply. “Until you’ve actually seen in 3D a flower opening, you can’t imagine how wonderful, transcendental and hypnotic, thrilling and enlightening the whole thing is. It’s just stunning.” There were practical reasons too, for turning his gaze away from animals. “Plants don’t run away,” he says, smiling. “3D cameras are so big and unwieldy and have a team of people working on them, so it’s very difficult to take that into the wild to film some shy little creature.” It was an added bonus filming so near his own home. “Home is a nice place and I’m very lucky mine is within a couple of miles of Kew, so I was able to nip back for lunch.”

As he celebrates 60 years in broadcasting this year, it’s fitting that Attenborough himself had the idea for a series which so embraces the latest technology. Just two years after he became controller of BBC Two in 1965, the channel was the first in Britain to broadcast in colour. At the grand age of 86, Attenborough seems every bit as passionate about his job now, as you imagine he would have been as a young BBC trainee in the Fifties.

He fizzes with excitement about the Galapagos Islands, where the next Sky 3D nature project is being filmed.”An extraordinary place, it has animals which are nowhere else. There are giant tortoises, penguins, flightless cormorants, marine iguanas and albatross”, he says. “The thing that unites them is they live on these islands, where until about 300 years ago, human beings had never been, so the animals are absolutely unafraid. So when 14 men come over the lava field humping these great cameras, they will take not a blind bit of notice, which is wonderful.”

He’s regarded as a national treasure for a huge body of award- winning work, but if a certain BBC boss had had more sway, we’d never have seen Attenborough on camera. “My teeth were too big,” he explains, smiling. “A very obvious defect, which unfortunately I’ve had to struggle against over life, but I’ve managed to get over it,” he adds, with a touch of irony, before clenching his teeth and adding: “I don’t open my mouth too widely, that’s part of my trick. When I was a trainee in ‘52, I was asked to do an interview with

 Life Begins 25


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