David Attenborough and Living Coelho’s Personal Legend

David Attenborough - New Life Stories
This week I was lucky enough to meet (Sir) David Attenborough at a signing for his latest book, New Life Stories.

The book is a collection of stories collected over the past 50 years making iconic Natural History Programmes.

Even those who are unfamiliar with David Attenborough’s name will probably have seen his programs at some point. Life on Earth, first broadcast in 1979, defined the genre of wildlife documentary and influenced everything we see today in places like the Discovery Channel.

Using ground-breaking technology and gaining the respect of the scientific community, Attenborough was able to bring to the public events that had never been filmed before, such as the close interaction with Mountain Gorillas in Rwanda (The project led by Dian Fossey, the naturalist who was murdered in 1985 and was played by Sigourney Weaver in the film Gorillas in the Mist).

David Attenborough with Mountain Gorillas in Rwanda

Over the next decades, he continued to pioneer the use of technology – from time-lapse photography and infrared cameras to HD – to bring the wonders of the natural world to audiences all over the world.

His passionate and humble attitude made us look at nature in an entirely different way, as did the sometimes shocking sequences that showed us animals in an new light, such as the famous scenes in Trials of Life that showed Killer Whales in Patagonia hunting sea lions or Chimpanzees violently killing and then eating a monkey.

At the age of 85 he is still working, not only narrating and collaborating with documentary makers, but writing books like the one I waited 45 minutes in line to have him sign.

After signing and dedicating hundreds of books, he was still charming, polite, and in good spirits, and his voice has that magical soothing quality that just makes you want to listen. I’m officially a fan.

But I’m not just a fan of what he has accomplished over one of the most distinguished careers you could imagine, but also of the way he has chosen to follow what one of my favourite writers, the Brazilian Paulo Coelho, calls a “Personal Legend”.

David Attenborough with Giant Tortoise

According to Coelho, “Whenever a man does that which gives him enthusiasm, he is following his Legend. However, not everyone has the courage to face up to his own dreams.”

In 1965, Attenborough had a high-powered job as controller of BBC2, where he was responsible for great advances in broadcasting.

He was promoted to Director of Programmes for both BBC channels in 1969, and in 1972 his name was being suggested for the top job as Director General of the BBC. This was his crossroads, where he had to choose whether or not to abandon his dreams.

Not many people would hesitate to accept probably the highest and most well-respected job in broadcasting, but David recounts that he phoned his brother Richard Attenborough (The Oscar-winning actor, director and producer who played the creator of Jurassic Park) to tell him he had no appetite for the job.

He left his job to dedicate himself to full-time programme making, and has never looked back.

The universe seems to have rewarded Sir David with a lifetime of wonderful experiences, where he has had the opportunity to travel all over the world and interact directly with the most astounding wonders of nature.

Yet his decision also meant that he has produced an invaluable treasure trove of images, sounds and experiences that we can all take part in.

This is why I feel so privileged and inspired to have met him briefly, as it is not every day that you get to be in the same room with a truly remarkable person who has had the courage to follow their dreams.

David Attenborough with Giant Moth

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Alice Bonasio is a Brazilian/American/Italian writer specializing in Digital Cultures. She has been published in Gamestm, Edge, The Escapist and 360. She is currently finishing an MA in Creative and Media Enterprises at the University of Warwick. She lives in England and is a PR Executive for one of the UK’s hottest tech start-ups, The Filter. Contact her on LinkedIN and follow her on Twitter.

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