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Sir David Attenborough: ‘People thought we were cranks’

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Ahead of the launch of his most ambitious series yet, broadcaster Sir David Attenborough talks to the BBC about his cult status, a lifetime protecting the planet and finally finding its most elusive animal.

This year’s Glastonbury Festival was headlined by Stormzy, The Killers, Kylie and The Cure, but the highlight for many was the surprise appearance of a 93-year-old knight of the realm.

Sir David Attenborough, who was there to promote his new series Seven Worlds, One Planet, walked out on to the Pyramid Stage to rapturous applause, thanked everybody on Worthy Farm for not drinking out of plastic bottles and urged them to keep looking out for all creatures great and small.

Several months on, he admits he finds his growing influence on the environmentally woke youth of today a bit bizarre.

“It’s very odd,” he laughs. “But the fact remains I’ve been at it 60 years. You can say nobody under the age of 75 can have been without my voice coming from the corner of the room at various times and that must have an effect.

  • Glastonbury: Sir David Attenborough hails plastic ban

“It’s a huge advantage for me because you go there with some sort of reputation and people are aware of you, and in a sense you’ve been part of the family for quite a long time, which is an extraordinary obligation really and a privilege.

“I’m sure there’s a hell of a lot of young people saying ‘for God’s sake why don’t they move over, give the others a chance,'” he modestly adds.

In truth, no-one is saying that.

David AttenboroughImage copyright
BBC/Alex Board

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Show-stopper: Sir David Attenborough addresses tens of thousands of festival-goers on the Glastonbury’s Pyramid Stage

The broadcaster, who recently had a boat named in his honour, was listed as one of the 100 Greatest Britons in a BBC poll in 2002.

Since then, his stock has risen exponentially due to natural history shows like Planet Earth, Dynasties and Blue Planet II – which brought the issue of plastic waste to the public’s attention and bumped climate change up the government’s agenda.

Last week, more than 80,000 people applied for just 300 tickets for an early screening of his new documentary, which arrives at what Sir David calls “the most critical moment on earth since the continents formed”.

‘Tragic, desperate mess’

The series, narrated by the “rock star” – as BBC boss Tony Hall introduced him earlier in the day – focuses on the human impact on climate change, animal diversity, poaching and deforestation across all seven continents.

The latest scientific research revealed the effects of climate change are speeding up, as world leaders met to discuss it in New York last month.

“At last nations are coming together and recognising we all live on the same planet,” Sir David acknowledges. “All these seven worlds are actually one and we are dependent on it for every mouthful of food we eat and every breath of air we take.

“We have it in our hands and we’ve made a tragic, desperate mess of it so far.”

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By sheer coincidence, the press launch for the show occurs on the same day environmental pressure group Extinction Rebellion begin their two-week global protest.

And while the presenter won’t really be drawn on their methods, or that of political activists like Greta Thunberg (“they are young people and their voices will be heard”), he does admit his shows may have helped viewers the world over to open their eyes to “the facts”.

“I don’t think I’ve made a series in the last 40 years where I haven’t made the end an appeal about caring for the natural world,” he says.

“Its an extraordinary thing. At the time I daresay people thought we were sort of cranks or something.

“But as it’s gone on and on and on and we’ve repeated it on and on and on – ‘not wasting things, not polluting things’ and so on – suddenly you hit the right note.”

A colony of young penguin chicks wait for their parents to return with food in Andrews Bay, South GeorgiaImage copyright
BBC Studios/Fredi Devas

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A colony of young penguin chicks wait for their parents to return with food in Andrews Bay, South Georgia

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Sir David Attenborough and director Jonny Keeling discuss the script while filming in IcelandImage copyright
BBC NHU/Alex Board

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Sir David Attenborough (left) and director Jonny Keeling discuss the script while filming in Iceland

“With Blue Planet II,” he goes on, “suddenly the world was electrified about the crime of chucking plastic into the ocean that can throttle and poison creatures, including ourselves.

“Quite what it is that makes the messages we all care for ring the bell, is very difficult to say. I dare say if we knew exactly how to do it we’d do it more frequently.”

Hope is important

The BBC Natural History unit’s biggest project to date, which features music by Sia and Hans Zimmer, involved more than 1,500 people globe-trotting to 41 countries, over several years.

Cutting edge technology – including portable drones capable of shooting in 4K – enabled them to delve inside caves, volcanoes, forests, swamps, jungles and blizzards, to capture animals that are new to science and new patterns of behaviour.

For director/executive producer Jonny Keeling, it was vitally important to place conservation stories at the heart of the series, so viewers can understand why certain animals are in decline. Such as the tale of the grey-headed albatross and its increasing struggle to recognise its own chicks once they are blown off the nest.

There are positive stories in there too though, notably how whales have come back from the brink of extinction since whaling was banned in 1986. His team were relieved to capture them on camera on just the final day of a seven-week shoot.

“That’s really important as you need to show people the hope and actually when we do something we can make a massive difference,” says Keeling.

“In a matter of two decades we can turn things around – we can stop the whales disappearing or we can save sharks.”

Southern Right whalesImage copyright
BBC NHU/Stephen Bradley

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The population of southern right whales was reduced from 35,000 to having only 35 females. Since their protection it has grown back to 2,000

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Grey headed albatross chicks.Image copyright
BBC NHU/Abigail Lees

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Grey-headed albatross chicks sit above the wet ground, in an attempt to stay warm and not freeze to death in storms

“I think there’s some key species,” he adds, “If they’re looked after you can bring back a whole eco-system and its richness.

“The best solution to climate change is preserving the natural world, preserving forests and oceans and looking after the animals.

“It’s a huge cliché but there are seven billion people on earth and if seven billion all start doing the right thing…”

‘Don’t waste’

Such is the global interest in any show connected to Sir David that schools in India and South Africa are dialled into the Q&A session following its London world premiere.

A boy in Mumbai enthusiastically asks the man himself what he can do to help the planet.

“The best motto to think about is to not waste things,” replies TV’s favourite teacher (sorry Walter White fans).

“Don’t waste electricity, paper, food. Live the way you want to live but just don’t waste. Look after the natural world and the animals in it and the plants in it too, this is their planet as well as ours.”

David AttenboroughImage copyright
BBC NHU/Alex Board

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Sir David Attenborough on windy Stokksnes beach in Iceland

Finally, after more than 50 years of searching, Seven Worlds also sees Sir David catch up with his most evasive animal yet – “a wonderful creature” called the golden haired blue-faced snub-nosed snow monkey.

“I read about them in a scientific paper in the 60s,” he recalls. “I always had it in the back of my mind, and blow me, if this lot found it!

“In the Asia programme I think it’s one of the stars.”

And another name fit to grace the Pyramid Stage.

Golden haired blue-faced snub-nosed snow monkey.Image copyright
BBC Studios/Nick Green

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Please welcome to the stage… the golden haired blue-faced snub-nosed snow monkeys

Seven Worlds, One Planet begins on BBC One at 18:15 GMT on Sunday 27 October.



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From Brexit to Britten – John Humphrys gets weekly Classic FM show

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John Humphrys in the Today studio

John Humphrys will go from grilling politicians to toasting composers after landing a weekly Classic FM show.

The presenter will “share his own stories and reflections on his favourite composers and their music” in a Sunday afternoon slot from 5 January.

Humphrys was known for interrogating political figures on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme until his departure in September after 32 years on the show.

“It’s proof positive that there really is a life after politics,” he said.

“And a rather more inspiring one at that.”

The 76-year-old was given the Classic FM job after sitting in as a guest host on the station’s breakfast show for a week in October.

Classic FM senior managing editor Sam Jackson said there had been a “hugely positive reaction” to Humphrys’ stint.

The move comes despite the fact Humphrys told BBC News two weeks after leaving Today that he had no plans to go back to broadcasting.

“I don’t feel any need to get back in front of a microphone or indeed a camera,” he said. “Perhaps I will, but at the moment no I don’t.”

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Media captionJohn Humphrys: “I don’t feel any need to get back in front of a microphone or indeed a camera”

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Nicky Campbell pays tribute to ‘wonderful mum’

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Nicky Campbell and his mother Sheila

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Nicky Campbell, pictured with his mother Sheila: “She was my adoptive mum. She was my real mum”

BBC Radio 5 Live’s Nicky Campbell has written a heartfelt tribute to his “wonderful” mother Sheila, who has died at the age of 96.

Along with her husband, Frank Campbell, she adopted Nicky as a four-day-old baby in 1961.

Sheila Campbell, a World War Two radar operator who became a social worker, was part of Nicky’s 2007 episode of BBC One’s Who Do You Think You Are?

She also spoke about being a radar operator on BBC Radio 5 Live in June.

“The day she and Dad adopted me was the day I won the lottery,” he tweeted.

Campbell, who missed presenting Thursday’s edition of 5 Live Breakfast, added that Sheila “doted on her grandchildren and my girls completely adored her. Everyone did.”

His co-host Rachel Burden choked up as she prepared to read out the statement before handing over to her co-host Geoff Lloyd.

Burden then added: “I knew her in the course of my friendship with Nicky developing over the years. She was an incredible woman and I feel really, really privileged to have known her.

“Nicky will be back at work tomorrow because, as he says, his mum would have said, ‘Of course you should be working, it’s the general election results day.’

“So he will be here tomorrow. And we just all want to send all our thoughts on to Nicky and the girls and Tina and all his family today. You’re very, very much in our thoughts.”

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Media captionThis clip is originally from 5 Live Breakfast on Tuesday 5 June 2019.

Earlier this year, Sheila spoke to Campbell on 5 Live Breakfast to talk about her role in the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force during World War Two. She was presented with a medal of service for her work in 2017.

Stationed at Beachy Head, she helped to guide RAF planes to their targets during the D-Day campaign.

She was proud to have played a part in the invasion, but said she would spend the 75th anniversary “thinking a lot about the lives that were lost on the beaches, and at that time”.

‘So proud’ of his family

Who Do You Think You Are? saw Campbell investigate the roots of his Scottish family, especially his adoptive father Frank, who died in 1996.

He discovered more about his father’s time serving with the Indian army during World War Two – fighting Japanese troops in what has come to be known as “the forgotten war” – and had some shocking revelations about his grandfather’s childhood.

Summing up the experience, he said: “I’m so proud of this extraordinary family I was adopted into. All the stories I’ve heard somehow all contributed to making my dad the most wonderful dad that I could have had.

“It couldn’t have been for me more fascinating, revealing and enlightening. A family of which I am so proud and a dad of which I’m so proud. I just wish he were here to share it.”

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BBC Sound of 2020: Who’s on the longlist?

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Media captionWatch clips of all 10 nominees on the longlist

A selection of bedroom musicians, indie bands and retro-futuristic soul singers are being tipped for success on BBC Music’s Sound of 2020 list.

The longlist features 10 rising acts, from punk-pop firebrand Yungblud to soul-baring songwriter Celeste.

Other nominees include DIY musician Beabadoobee, who is signed to the same management company as The 1975; and Dublin rock band Inhaler, fronted by Bono’s son Elijah Hewson.

The winner will be revealed in January.

Now in its 18th year, the Sound of… list showcases the hottest new artists for the coming year. Past winners includes Adele, Sam Smith, Years & Years, 50 Cent, Sigrid and, earlier this year, Octavian.

It is voted for by 170 music critics, broadcasters and DJs, as well as former nominees such as Billie Eilish, Lewis Capaldi and Chvrches.

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Celeste has been hotly tipped following the success of her heart-rending single Strange

The 2020 selection sees a retreat from grime and UK rap, which had established a strong presence on the list over the last five years.

In their place are a clutch of female artists who represent the rise of British R&B – from the sweet-but-gritty sounds of Joy Crookes to the soulful poetry of Arlo Parks.

But the one to beat is Celeste, a “shy singer with a star’s voice”, who has already won the Brits’ Rising Star award and been named BBC Music Introducing’s artist of the year.

BBC Music Sound of 2020
Artist Who are they? Key track
Arlo Parks Soulful poet unpicking the anxieties of a generation Cola
Beabadoobee Dreamy, lo-fi bedroom pop If You Want To
Celeste Timeless soul to tug at your heartstrings Strange
Easy Life Genre-bending indie-funk quintet Nightmares
Georgia One-woman dance machine About Work The Dancefloor
Inhaler Shimmering, atmospheric rock anthems My Honest Face
Joesef Self-confessed “emotional sad boy” from Glasgow Play Me Something Nice
Joy Crookes South London stories filled with wit and romance Don’t Let Me Down
Squid Multi-tentacled art-rock polymaths Houseplants
Yungblud Hypersonic emo-pop for the “underrated youth” Original Me

Hailing from Dublin, Inhaler have built an impressive live following since forming at school over a shared love of bands like Joy Division, The Strokes, The Stone Roses and The Cure.

Once you know the U2 connection, it’s hard not to the similarities between Eli Hewson’s soaring vocals and those of his father – but the band have worked hard to stand on their own two feet.

“For me and for us as a band, we’ve known that there’s going to be doors open,” Hewson told the NME. “But those doors will shut just as fast as they open if we’re not good.”

They’re not the only act on the longlist with famous connections. Georgia, who scored a major club hit this year with About Work The Dancefloor, is the daughter of Leftfield’s Neil Barnes, while Yungblud is the grandson of Rick Harrison, who played with T Rex in the 1970s.

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Yungblud has built up a huge following with singles like Original Me and 11 Minutes

The Doncaster-born singer is the most high-profile name on the 2020 longlist, with 11 million monthly listeners on Spotify – more than all the other artists combined.

Born Dominic Harrison, the 22-year-old has positioned himself as the voice of a generation, singing about topics like sexual assault, corporate greed, anxiety and “the underrated youth”.

“I never want to be predictable,” he told the BBC earlier this year. “If people know what I’m going to do next, then I’m completely shafted.”

Sensitive singer-songwriter Joesef, meanwhile, has been branded one to watch in Scotland – where he became the second artist to sell out Glasgow’s legendary King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut before releasing any music online (the first was Lewis Capaldi).

The longlist is completed by two bands who defy categorisation – Leicester quintet Easy Life, who started out as jazz musicians before exploring the outer reaches of hip-hop, funk and pop; and Brighton’s Squid, who describe their music as “the Coronation Street theme tune played on flutes by angry children”.

The annual Sound of list celebrates musicians who have not been the lead artist on a UK top 10 single or album by 21 October 2019. Artists who have appeared on TV talent shows within the last three years are also ineligible.

The top five will be revealed in the New Year on BBC Radio 1 and BBC News, with one artist announced each day from Sunday 5 January until the winner is unveiled on Thursday 9 January.

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