From His Home, Attenborough Shows Viewers “A Perfect Planet”

December 21, 2020

LONDON — Sir David Attenborough is a globetrotter, discovering far-flung lands and exotic species for TV audiences since the 1950s. The pandemic may have kept him at home for much of 2020, but it hasn't stopped the legendary host from continuing his work to get the world to act on climate change.

Attenborough recorded one of his trademark voiceovers — warm, calm and full of contagious fascination for the natural world — for the new BBC and Discovery series "A Perfect Planet," which arrives in early January.

Staying home hasn't completely cut Attenborough, 94, off from nature. 

"I've seen the world go by in the natural world in my garden with a continuity and intensity that I haven't been able to give it for, almost forever, really."

He's only left the house twice, to go to the dentist.

Recording "A Perfect Planet" required some redecorating of the dining room at Attenborough's west London home.

Comforters or duvets were hung around the walls to muffle any echo and a technical set up allowed Attenborough to view the footage, while Executive Producer Alastair Fothergill advised him, from over 100 miles away in Bristol.

The microphone cable went out the window so the sound could be recorded by a crew member in the garden.

"He's now got a caboose because the winter came, we got a hut for him. But in the summer he was sitting out in the rain and he was listening to what I was saying and recording it," Attenborough said.

This wasn't the only remote-controlled achievement on the series.

The musical soundtrack — accompanying anything from thousands of flamingos nesting in the hostile salt lakes of Central Africa to Christmas Island's red crabs migrating from the forest to the Indian Ocean — was also recorded at a distance.

"Our amazing composer (Ilan Ishkeri) worked with an orchestra in Iceland because Iceland was not very locked down. They had very little COVID. He actually directed and conducted that orchestra from the U.K.," says Fothergill.

"It's been challenging. But I think that the final product is absolutely up to the really high standards we set ourselves."

The premise of the series is a celebration of why Earth is such the ideal environment for so many different species to live and co-exist. Shot in 31 countries, it took 4 years and six volcanic eruptions to collect up-close footage that includes river turtles laying eggs in the Amazon's sand bars, brown bears fishing for salmon in Russia and the swinging gibbons of South East Asia's tropical forests.

Different episodes look at the essential roles played by the sun, ocean, volcanoes, weather and of course, humans.

Everything Attenborough does addresses the climate crisis and what people can do, and what they should stop doing, to help save this delicate ecosystem.

Initially disappointed the United Nations Climate Change Conference was postponed until next year, the presenter and activist hopes "A Perfect Planet" will give the event a "push."

"It's very important to give people solutions. I think otherwise people stick their head in the sand. You need to tell them what they can do to help turn things around," said Fothergill, who is a long-time Attenborough collaborator.

As for how nature has been healing during the pandemic, Attenborough knows it's at a high cost: "People are dying by the thousands. Let's not minimize it.

"It should cause the rest of us, the survivors as it were, to pull ourselves together and see that we can act together," he said. "We can think of solutions, analysis, and apply them internationally."

It's a message he believes people are listening to.

"If the human race is to survive without major catastrophes, now is the time to do so."

Attenborough said he's grateful that he's still able to tell the planet's story.

"It's nice to actually feel that you're still competent to do it. I'm waiting for them to tell me I'm not. But I mean I am very lucky," Attenborough told The Associated Press. "An awful lot of my friends, no fault of their own, they can't do it and they can't get about."

Asked whether there's a secret to his longevity, Attenborough considers the question and says, "Well…" leaning conspiratorially toward the screen.

"No, there's not," he finishes, laughing.

"A Perfect Planet" launches the new service discovery+ on Jan. 4 and is showing on the U.K.'s BBC One and Canada's BBC Earth on Jan. 3. 


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