ShortList is now ad free and supported by you, the users. When you buy through the links on our site we may earn a commission. Learn more

21 little-known facts about the legendary Sir David Attenborough

UPDATED: Everything Facty McFact Face you need to know...

21 little-known facts about the legendary Sir David Attenborough
Marc Chacksfield
27 September 2019

We love him. You love him. Animals love him. We are of course talking about Sir David Attenborough.

UPDATE: It's finally happened, Sir David Attenborough has officially got himself a boat named after him. This is despite the boat originally, after a public vote, being named Boaty McBoatface. That was deemed too ridiculous, so instead the UK's latest polar research ship has been given the name of perhaps the greatest living Englishman right now.

Sir David Attenborough frequents our hearts as much as he has blown our minds, so we’ve taken it upon ourselves to compile a list of lesser-known facts about our greatest living icon.

He has 32 degrees

By January 2013, Attenborough had collected 32 honorary degrees, more than anyone else. Speaking to The Telegraph, he revealed he keeps them in a drawer and said: "It’s a compliment from the academic world. It’s a real compliment – it would be churlish not to accept one." Which is nice and all but we'd love to see the great man going hell for leather during freshers' week.

He brought the world televised snooker

In 1966, as controller of BBC Two, Sir David oversaw the introduction of colour TV before anywhere else in Europe, and three years later he made full use of it by introducing televised the snooker. The sport has remained a mainstay on the channel ever since, and without it, we may never have been gifted this.

He spent two years in the Navy

In 1947, after graduating from Cambridge with a degree in Natural Sciences, Attenborough chose to spend his two years of national service in the Navy, as his first venture in world exploration. But of course the military just wasn't where his heart was; during a BBC One Twitter Q&A, Attenborough once revealed that nature had first taken his breath away when he became "aware of a great crested newt displaying in a pond in Leicestershire when I was 8."

He is the only winner of a BAFTA in black and white, colour & 3D broadcasting

Sir David Attenborough is the only person to ever win BAFTAs in black and white, colour and 3D TV. Black and white: Special Award (1962), Colour: spanning: (1971-2014, 2016) notables: Fellowship (1980), Specialist Factual: Frozen Planet (2012), 3D: David Attenborough’s Conquest of The Skies (2015). Whatever the format: he's your man.

He is believed to be one of the most travelled men in history

Besides astronauts, Attenborough is thought to be one of the most travelled human beings in history. For the 1998 series Life of Birds alone, he travelled 256,000 miles by air. He's hit every continent in the world, culminating in 2009 when he reached the North Pole at the marvellous age of 83. Considering he's been trotting the globe for our viewing pleasure since 1979, it's perhaps not so surprising.

In the darkest times he shared with us his deepest thoughts

In 1997, Sir David’s late wife, Jane Elizabeth Ebsworth Oriel, collapsed with a brain haemorrhage. He flew home from filming in New Zealand immediately to fortunately find her alive but in a coma. He spoke to her, and held her hand at the hospital. He spent that evening with her, but unfortunately she passed away the next day. He then wrote: “The focus of my life, the anchor had gone … Now I was lost”.

He birthed a classic British comedy

Another of his acts as BBC Two controller saw Sir David approve Monty Python’s Flying Circus in 1969, the comedy group's first ever major production series. Of course, they went on to create life-long classics such as Monty Python and the Holy Grail and The Life of Brian (1979) establishing themselves as probably the greatest British comedy ensemble of all-time. No biggie.

He once helped solve a murder

Sir David's home helped to solve a case from the 19th century due to an excavation of land he wished to extend onto. In 1879, a widow who was killed by her housekeeper was decapitated and body parts were fed to nearby children. The housekeeper was arrested and executed for the murders and in 2011, a human head was found during the excavation of his land.

Animals just can't help themselves to a bit of Attenborough, either

It isn’t just humans that Attenborough sends wild, and we for one cannot blame this bird for going off on one in the man's presence.

Calm down, everyone. He is human and has a regret

The broadcaster counts his biggest regret as dropping Alan Bennett's Dross while a controller at the Beeb, telling The Guardian: “One of the scars on my conscience is that the Alan Bennett programmes, which were wonderful, are not recorded and were lost." Don't be so hard on yourself, Sir Dave, we all make mistakes.

He was once told by bosses that his teeth were too big

In perhaps one of the greatest examples of hindsight making people seem utterly stupid, Attenborough's first boss at the BBC said this of the then-fledging broadcaster: "He could be a perfectly pleasant chap, might be a perfectly good producer, but he shouldn’t be used again as an interviewer on camera because his teeth are too big.”

Speaking of the slight many years later, the veteran broadcaster found it funny, remarking "My teeth have worn down since then."

He won a stare-off with a Rwandan Mountain Gorilla

During the pioneering 1979 series, Life On Earth, Attenborough said: "There is more meaning and mutual understanding in exchanging a glance with a gorilla than any other animal I know."

There are at least 11 plants and animals named after this demi-God

Hieracium Attenboroughianum - discovered in 2004, the Attenborough Hawkweed is a part of the daisy family, ergo, it is possible to cavort in a field of Attenborough.

Attenborosaurus Conybeari – discovered in 1993, translation: Attenborough’s Lizard. This was a prehistoric marine reptile which lived during the early Jurassic period. The remains were destroyed during a bombing raid in WW2, but a plaster cast of them was made before this, allowing the original skin impressions to be studied.

Masterpiscis Attenboroughi – discovered in 2007, translation: Motherfish, found in a 380 million year old fossil in Western Australia. According to National Geographic, much of the soft tissue was preserved in a three-dimensional state which is “basically an exact replica of the living animal,” according to study co-author Kate Trinajstic.

Trigonopterus Attenboroughii - discovered in 2015, it was a wingless specie of 98 species of Bumper Beetle found in Indonesia

Sirdavidia - discovered in 2013, the Annonaceae plant was discovered by French & Gabonese botanists in the jungle of Gabon.

Ctenocheloides Attenboroughi - discovered in 2010, it is the only species of ghost shrimp found in Madagascar.

Electrotettix Attenboroughi - discovered over 50 years ago, it is an 18-20 million year old locust preserved in amber, which was found in the Dominican Republic.

Prethopalpus Attenboroughi - discovered in 2012, this spider is only just over a millimetre in length and has only been found on Horn Island just off North Queensland.

Nepenthes Attenboroughii - discovered in 2009, this carnivorous pitcher plant has been nicknamed the 'rat-eater' as it lures in animals with its sweet nectar.

Euptychia Attenboroughi – discovered in 2015, it is a black-eyed satyr butterfly residing in the Amazon.

Blakea Attenboroughii - discovered in 2007, the tree is only found in Ecuador in the Cerro Candelaria reserve.

He isn't much of a George W. Bush fan...

As if the former US President didn't have enough enemies, as part of his own war on terror Attenborough named George W. Bush as the era’s top “environmental villain” in an interview with BBC Wildlife Magazine in 2005.

He and his family have been at the forefront of global tragedy

Sir David lost his niece and grandniece in 2004 to the Thailand tsunami.

His late brother Richard [pictured], who spoke to The Guardian about losing his daughter and granddaughter, said this of the family's immense loss: "I miss Jane and Lucy desperately … I long for her [Jane] to walk through the door now. There are so many things I’d love to talk about."

He is NOT an animal lover

Yep, technically speaking, David isn't an animal lover, and is on record as saying the term 'Animal lover' means, "sentiment, a cloying, anthropomorphising sentiment. I don’t love earth worms or spiders. They’re rivetingly interesting and they give me huge intellectual pleasure. And aesthetic pleasure, I suppose. But that’s a different thing all together.” …. “The phrase ‘animal lover’ – well, it just grates on me!"

He also dislikes being called a national treasure, telling ShortList that the title is "just flummery and doesn’t really mean much".

He loves a blue shirt and a pair of chinos

Sir David always packs with him “the same clothes: a blue shirt and chinos.” A look we’ve titled: 'Classic Attenborough'. He once forgot this and, by luck, he found one in a small town in the Jura Mountains, Switzerland. He threw it on and realised the buttons weren’t on the usual side. How we imagine he gets dressed: [gravely, whispered tones] "Here we have a rare and awe-inspiring Attenborough, sporting a lady's shirt.”

He had other careers in mind

If he wasn't the great broadcaster and explorer he turned out to be, he may have tried teaching.

He too has a hero

His hero is a Candian man named Ernest Thompson Seton, a ranger on the prairies of California and a man who Attenborough has told us “wrote brilliant books!” during a Twitter Q&A for BBC One.

He struggled to watch his brother act

Attenborough told The Independent “couldn’t bear to watch” 10 Rillington Place in which his late brother, Richard, played a sexual murderer. He added: “He [Richard] was very, very funny and could be – and was – in domestic circumstances. We just spent all our time roaring with laughter – and that didn’t get much of an outlet in his feature films.”

If he could, he would be a sloth

If he could come back as anything, it would be the laziest creature on earth. During a live online Q&A, he seemed pretty certain on this, and this isn’t the first time he’s encountered his beloved soul animal. Perhaps with all that globe-trotting he's deserved a nice rest.

Disney+ 7 day free trial, and our BEST SELLING DEALS

1. Disney+ 7 day free trial
1. Disney+ 7 day free trial
£5.99 p/m after trail
2. Nintendo Switch Console - Neon
2. Nintendo Switch Console - Neon
3. Nespresso Vertuo Plus Coffee Machine
3. Nespresso Vertuo Plus Coffee Machine
4. Unlimited Fibre on Plusnet
4. Unlimited Fibre on Plusnet
5. Frozen II available to order
5. Frozen II available to order
6. Kinetik Wellbeing Thermometer
6. Kinetik Wellbeing Thermometer
7. Express Delivery Freezer Protein
7. Express Delivery Freezer Protein
8. Sony PS4 500GB Console & Fortnite Neo
8. Sony PS4 500GB Console & Fortnite Neo
9. Xbox One X 1TB Console & Forza Horizon 4
9. Xbox One X 1TB Console & Forza Horizon 4
10. £100 cashback on TVs with BT Broadband
10. £100 cashback on TVs with BT Broadband
From £199.00