British Icon of the Week: Sir David Attenborough, the Godfather of Nature Documentaries
The great Sir David Attenborough turns 95 tomorrow (May 8), so we're marking his milestone birthday by making him our British Icon of the Week. If you fancy celebrating his big day by watching some of his landmark nature documentaries such as Planet Earth and Blue Planet, BBC America is showing a whole host of them Saturday, plus a program about his life and career, Attenborough's Journey, which airs at 8pm EST. Check out the full schedule here.
And in the meantime, here's a guide to just 10 highlights from his remarkable career.
1. He served as Controller of BBC Two from 1965 to 1969, at which point he was promoted to Director of Programmes, which made him responsible for content on both BBC channels.
During this era of his career, Attenborough was mooted as a potential Director-General of the BBC, which would have given him overall editorial control of the corporation. However, he has said he had no appetite for the top job, and stepped down from his Director of Programmes role in 1973 so he could focus on making programs with the Natural History Unit.
2. He is the only person to have won BAFTAs for programs made in black and white, color, HD, 3K, and 4K.
He received BAFTA's top accolade, the Fellowship award, way back in 1980.
3. He has also won three Emmys, most recently in 2020 for narrating BBC America's Seven Worlds, One Planet.
It's really no wonder Attenborough has been voted the U.K.'s favorite voice.
4. He is the one of the few people to have a made a program with Queen Elizabeth II.
The Queen's Green Planet, which featured a relaxed conversation between the monarch and Attenborough as they walked in the garden at Buckingham Palace, aired on ITV in 2018. You can watch a clip below.
5. He has also worked with teenage climate change activist Greta Thunberg, illustrating his cross-generational appeal.
Attenborough appears in Thunberg's upcoming BBC documentary series on climate change, A Year to Change the World. During a recent interview on BBC Radio 1, she recalled her meeting with Attenborough being "indescribable" and said: "Whatever he says, you agree with it, basically. I have so much respect for him. He's done so much in his life, he has so many stories to share."
6. He also interviewed President Barack Obama during his time in office.
President Barack Obama Meets Sir David Attenborough, in which the two men discussed the issues facing the planet in the coming decades, aired on BBC America in 2015.
7. In a 2002 BBC poll, he was named the 63rd Greatest Briton in history.
Four years later, he was voted the most trusted person in the U.K. in a Readers' Digest poll, The Guardian reports.
8. His career began in 1951 after he left the Royal Navy... and is still going strong.
When asked about retirement in 2013, Attenborough told The Guardian: "If I was earning my money by hewing coal I would be very glad indeed to stop. But I'm not. I'm swanning round the world looking at the most fabulously interesting things. Such good fortune."
Until 2001, when he turned 75, he always flew coach when traveling for his BBC programs, and would refuse upgrades unless his camera crew could be upgraded too. At 75, the BBC decided he should be allowed to travel in business class. "Not first, mind you!" Attenborough specified in a 2007 interview.
9. He continues to advocate for greater global action to combat climate change.
Speaking to world leaders at the United Nations' Security Council session on climate in February, Attenborough said: "Please make no mistake - climate change is the biggest threat to security that modern humans have ever faced."
He added, according to Sky News: "We have left the stable and secure climatic period that gave birth to our civilizations. There is no going back - no matter what we do now, it's too late to avoid climate change and the poorest, the most vulnerable, those with the least security, are now certain to suffer."
10. His career is so illustrious and influential that he's been awarded not one, but two Knighthoods.
Attenborough first became a "Sir" in 1985 after being awarded a Knighthood by Queen Elizabeth II. Last year he received a second Knighthood when he was appointed a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of St Michael And St George for services to television broadcasting and conservation. This second honor reflects his contribution to life outside of the U.K., whereas the first is for work in his homeland.
Many happy returns, Sir David!