Emma Freud meets Sir David Attenborough – The Interview that made me Think

“Don’t ask the obvious, do your research, get something new, it’s all about the angle!”

The amount of times I have heard at least one of these is actually mad – but it’s true. This is how you ace the art of getting that top-notch interview, especially with someone as impressive as the expert of nature and wildlife, Sir David Attenborough.

Cheltenham Literature Festival had returned and I was minutes away from seeing the man who has been capturing images of wildlife, and making them come alive in the living room for most of his life.

Sat in my seat, I was notebook and pen ready, to scribble down as many quotes as possible because why wouldn’t you? This was going to be one of my university highs, of course, and one I wouldn’t forget. When you’ve only heard his voice on TV, normally talking about some habitat or beautiful creature, seeing him on stage almost felt too good to be real.

As you can imagine, his incredible wisdom and knowledge that was too impressive to put into words, shone through, as Freud said: “everyone goes absolutely silent because it’s like Jesus is here.” Everyone in the room could relate.

Chatting about his early days with the BBC, David broke the silence: “if you’re going to make an opinion on something, you better make sure you’re right” this line just made everything fall into place.

As grateful as I was to see him in person, watching the interview, I noticed myself thinking about what I would have asked instead. I thought about Emma’s technique A LOT. How she was sat, how she knew when to make a joke, learning how to take a step back when he was forming his answer, and making it a bit personal too.

Starting with his childhood, he was at ease, we learnt about his mother as a suffragette and how she cared for and loved refugees like one of her own, bringing them into the family home. He repeated his mothers’ words: “they need us more than you do.” Right then, it was as if she was there with him with that look in his eye. Then, we were taken back to his career leap from a ‘newt salesman’ to the controller of BBC Two, where she brought up the time Attenborough turned down Terry Wogan’s job application to be a television presenter.

This comment along with her relentless commenting on his age throughout, made me, as a spectator, feel unsure and uncomfortable, especially: “You can’t die during this interview.” “I’ll try my best” he responded, and she added: “It’ll be a big scoop, tbh.” I had to physically stop myself from ‘awwww’ing out loud.

As a journalist myself I could appreciate that she wanted a reaction, because, that is what makes an interview interesting. This is David Attenborough, we’re talking about. Nobody is brave enough to say anything like that to him.

Obviously, he knows just about every fact and figure about every species on this planet, including slugs. He mentioned that they are both male and female, and that was another moment where I froze, as Freud joked: “well they were in before transgender was fashionable.” Now, is that a fair comment or an attempt at humour? Does the fact that I could NEVER say anything on that scale make me a bad journalist? Am I too sensitive? Probably. This could be life’s way of saying that to succeed you need to stand out and make people question you.

I can comfortably say that I am definitely not there yet.

It was a shock to the system, and totally unexpected for someone so respected and loved by the whole nation.

Cover Image Courtesy of Cheltenham Literature Festival


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