I think I am probably not alone in saying that Sir David Attenborough has been a hugely inspirational figure in my life. Like many people, his Life on Earth series helped spark my love of natural history, something that has stayed with me and grown throughout my life.
On the weekend of his 90th birthday, I wanted to take this chance to share with you the story of when I met David Attenborough during my first visit to Galapagos in May 1997 and confirm what a truly lovely man he is!
I was 23 at the time and had just finished an internship at a development bank in Costa Rica. I was about to head off travelling across South America (on a shoestring budget) when I was offered a job as a mystery shopper on some yachts in the Galapagos (which definitely ranks as my best job of all time!)
I had been making a circuit of the same islands, getting on and off different yachts for around 10 days and was on my 3rd visit to Genovesa, one of the outpost islands for seabirds right in the north of the archipelago (actually my favourite island) when I noticed someone who I recognised to be a fellow Brit (from his clothing). He was doing some sound recording close to some Frigate Birds so I headed over to chat with him whilst the rest of my group went ahead on the trail.
After a few minutes chatting it emerged he was a Sound Recorder filming a new series with David Attenborough about birds; this turned out to be The Life of Birds, which was broadcast in October 1998. Actually by a strange co-incidence that I will explain later, the recordings and footage from there would be used in the episode entitled ‘Finding Partners’ filming the courting Frigate Birds on the island.
After I became all star struck and told the Sound Recorder that David Attenborough was one of my all time life heroes, he suggested I come over to the yacht that afternoon to meet David and the rest of the team. I said that would be wonderful – but never really imagined it would happen and then rushed on to catch up with the rest of my group who had moved ahead on the trail.
That afternoon the yacht David Attenborough was on sent over a dingy to pick me up and take me to their yacht, along with my naturalist guide who came across with me. I have to say, the whole thing was just completely surreal! When I got on board, David Attenborough was there and as I stepped onto the yacht, he asked me what I would like to drink. He then handed me a beer and I sat down with the other members of the film crew and we all started chatting. I can’t really remember much about what we chatted about, I think I was just too stunned that it was all real, but a few moments do stick in my memory of our meeting:
At that time, the only way I could communicate with my parents (in the days before mobile phones and email just in its very early days) was by fax. So I asked David to write a fax for me to send to my Mum and Dad (my Dad being a science teacher and also a big fan!) He very kindly obliged and wrote to them to say he was here in the Galapagos with me and signed it! I sent the fax off to my parents when I returned to Puerto Ayora (along with a phone call to tell them all about it!)
The other crystal clear memory I have is when I was posing for a photograph with Sir David with the cameraman from the series holding up my Olympus Trip camera. This camera had been carelessly left on numerous beaches and the wind on mechanism regularly got stuck. The cameraman kept saying to me – it won’t work – and I repeated – just try banging it on the side and it should release – (whilst stood with David Attenborough posing for the photograph). Which he did, and managed to take a photograph, which is the one on this page!
Last year, I decided to write to David Attenborough, spurred on by his new 3D series on Galapagos. My first ever ‘fan’ letter. I wanted to say how wonderful it had been to meet him and explain how Galapagos had remained such a central part of my life after our meeting. A few weeks later, I received a hand written letter from him (and hand written envelope) in response which was really so touching and so unexpected. He really is the loveliest man.
The week I met David Attenborough on Genovesa Island filming footage for the ‘Finding Partners’ episode of The Life of Birds definitely ranks as one of the best weeks of my life, as a few days later I met Santiago my husband who I now run Think Galapagos with!