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Interview with Prince William and David Attenborough

BBC Radio4 TODAY Programme, 8 October 2020 at 08:10.

Interviewer Nick Robinson.

[Transcribed directly from the BBC Sounds recording by listening and typing. Times through the 3-hour recording in square brackets. Also my notes etc. in square brackets. I have tried to transcribe this exactly as it was spoken, including each hestitation etc., because this gives information on what the interviewees were thinking. Andrew Basden.]


Interviewer: It's now ten past eight. If it had not been for Coronavirus, 2020 would, many hoped, be the year that we faced up to another global threat, the threat to our own planet. The year when demands for action to combat climate change, fuelled by the warnings of Greta Thunberg, the protests of Extinction Rebellion, the documentaries of Sir David Attenborough, would move from the streets to the global top table. [Note: Nice to see someone else recognising the nexus of those four things, which I believe were a 'coincidence' of timing in which God might have been involved. See Making Sense of Covid-19.]

World leaders were due to gather together in Glasgow for the COP-20 Summit next month, but that has been postponed. The Duke of Cambridge, Prince William, is determined though that the search for ways to repair our planet should continue. Today launches what he's calling the Earthshot Prize. It aims to inspire people around the to come up with innovative ways to protect and restore nature, clean our air, revive our oceans, build a waste-free world, and fix our climate. One of those who will help award an annual prize of a million pounds for each of those so-called Earthshots, is Sir David Attenborough, who, in his nineties, has transformed himself from the man who only shows us the wonders of the planet in our sitting rooms, to a man campaigning for change - not least in his new documentary, A Life on our Planet. The two met recently, socially distanced and outside in the gardens of Kensington Palace in Central London to watch that film and to discuss the Prize.

I joined them, virtually, and asked Prince William whether his eyes had been opened to the wonders of nature by David's documnetaries.

Prince William: Absolutely. I think it broadened my curiosity and my imagination watching David's films and I think that's helped piqued my interest a little bit more, and allowed me to kind of underastand a bit better what's going on around the world. And David guided many of us on a wonderful journey through different and obscure parts of the world.

David Attenborough: I wasn't really a guide I-mean because I was finding out too, er and I now realise you-know - I've been at it for a long time, 60 or 70 years now - and I realise what a fantastic privilege I had, of seeing the world as it was almost in the 19th century, and then suddenly here we are at a crisis.

Interviewer: A crisis, David, and in recent years you I think have moved from being our guide to being someone who's actually urging us to make important changes. How does this Prize that the Prince has established fit in to what you're doing?

David Attenborough: Well I think we've all become more and more sensitive and more and more aware of the critical stage we've got to. Certainly, when I started in the 1950s, it never occurred to me, and I don't think it occurred to anybody, that humanity was likely to exterminate a species of of animal. I mean, we think of people who long ago who'd killed the Dodo, and that was rather an extreme thing and you realised it could happen, but you didn't think anyone would allow it to happen in this day and age, but it's only too true that it's happening. And its happening, it's going to happening with an accelerating speed over the next decade, which is really frightening.

Interviewer: And Your Royal Highness, it's quite an ambition you've set yourself, isn't it, to repair the earth. How can a prize do something so ambitious that all those speeches and summits have yet failed to do?

Prince William: Yes Nick, it's um it's certainly ambitious haha, the biggest one to date. But, um, we very much felt - and this this has been 18 months in the making - erm we felt that the one piece of the jigsaw that was maybe missing out at the moment was positivity [up-inflection]. There's a lot of um warnings and negativity around - which quite rightly there is; we are at a very serious juncture in time. But I felt very much that there are a lot of people wanting to do many good things in the environment and what they need it a bit of catalyst, a bit of hope, a bit of positivity that we can actually fix what's being presented. And I think that urgency with optimism really creates action. And so the Earthshot Prize is really about harnessing that optimism and that urgency to find some of the world's solutions to some of the greatest environmental problems. [2:14:10]

Interviewer: And it's not one prize in reality, it's five each year with five important goals.

Prince William: Absolutely. So we've got five Earthshots a year for ten years. And we believe that this decade is one of the most crucial decades for the environment that's coming up and by 2030 we really hope to have made huge strides in fixing some of the biggest problems on earth.

David Attenborough: The five are in different different areas. There's sort of land, sea and sky. The land er-er of um areas that need conservation. In the sea there's so much to do, and in the air immediately about cleaning up the atmosphere, and on top of that there's the problem of waste in the sea and of climate change. So those are five prize[s]. [Was the "s" edited off by mistake?] [2:14:58]

Interviewer: I understand the desire for postivity. Is there a risk though that some people may think, "Aha we can just wait for this prize to trigger some clever whizz-bang invention that saves us all from having to make the difficult decisions in our lives"?

Prince William: No. It's a really good question, Nick, and it's something we-we've grappled with a lot. But I do feel that w-you have to have the urgency and the importance of what's going to happen, and the seriousness of what is coming along. And there are plenty of people talking about that. But I-I personally feel - and I think a lot of the council of the Prize feel that we must have some hope, we must have some optimism, because if we don't it is all too much, it is all very apop-apopa I can't even say it - apocalyptic about things and I think you-know these are grave times for the environment. But I do believe that with human ingenuity and I do believe with younger generation speaking up like they are now, that they will not stand for this lack of hope, this lack of idea that we can't fix some of these big solutions. [2:15:59]

Interviewer: David?

David Attenborough: Yes and there are there-are simple things that can be done er which may sound crackpot or have been hole-in-the-corner things, which really need impetus put behind them to get them er done on a world scale. We want to know about those things. The Prize will give them that strength, that financial impetus, to spread and be develop[ed]. [Was the "ed" edited off by mistake?]

Interviewer: It's funny that you used the word "crackpot". Prince Williem, when your father, Prince Charles, appeared on the Today Programme, interviewed as it happens by your brother Prince Harry, he said, "Perhaps now people will realise that my ideas don't seem quite as dotty." Was there a time when even you I wonder thought "What's my father banging on about?"

Prince William: I-I regularly wonder what my father's banging on about - I'm sure every-every son things the same. But um no, publicly, obviously with my father's environmental credentials, he's talked about this for a long time, and long before people um cottoned on to climate change. So I've always listened to him and-and learned and believed in-in what he was saying. But I knew it's a very hard sell you-know forty years ago to kind of predict and see some of the sort-of slow-moving catastrophes that we were headed towards and I feel that you-know, as-as we all live our lives, there's a lot going on and people don't necessarily have access sometimes to seeing the problems. And that's what David's documentaries have done over the years, have really highlighted um and shown people parts of the world and areas that we may not ever visit ourselves, and that is crucial to tying up the dots and joining them so we can understand the impact that we have.

Interviewer: David, do you know Prince Charles well, and you've talked of Prince William picking up the baton from his father. Is that something that is now possible and gives you hope?

David Attenborough: And from his grandfather too. Ah ah I mean, the Duke of Edinburgh, you-know, was one of the founders of the World Wildlife Fund one of the most active organisations in - dealing with conservation - in the world, and that has huge influence. But there are other charitable organisations involved in this Prize. FLora and Fauna International, for example, and several others, who are al - give it that expertise, and that worldwide reach, I think [editor cut it there?] [2:18:14]

Interviewer: And do you, Prince William, as any heir must do, when you think of what role you could and you should play, do you now see this as the centre of the role you wish to play in the nation's life?

Prince William: I think what I see is that, this is a generational bat in hand if you like my grandfather started it, as David said, and my father's picked up and-and really accelerated that, and I feel right now that it's my responsibility. I-I really feel we are at a tipping point and I want to make sure that my grandchildren - y-kn my children and my grandchildren really, because it's going to happen relatively fast - that we hand the planet in a better state than we found it, and I think there is no other pressing issue like the environment right now. And I feel, you-know, collaborating and working with the wonderful people like David, who have done this many more years than I have, and bringing such a global council together, to-to find these brilliant people around the world who are doing fantastic ideas to save the planet. I feel that's my job, I feel that's my responsibility - that is what the Earthshot prize is really trying to achieve.

Interviewer: And you're willing to take the risks that that might involve, because [2:19:19] you'll know only too well that your father was occastionally criticised sometimes for either being dotty as he put it or for lecturing people or for making proposals that others didn't much like?

Prince William: I think the dotty person now would be the person who doesn't believe in climate change.

Interviewer: David?

David Attenborough: I think that sums it up. And-and in my time, you-know, there has been a huge change. When the World Wildlife Fund was founded, for example, I-mean, it is true, that quite a lot of people say, "Oh well, I-mean they're harmless people enough, they like rhinoceruses and elephants and that sort of thing." And that's OK, you-know, but the fact that it was important, the fact that it was er the first signs of-of a catastrophe that was about to overwhelm the world was not there, and indeed it hasn't been there until about ten years ago. Suddenly, we actually see the writing on the wall. Suddenly, we can actually see coral reefs dying. Suddenly, we can see that forests are disappearing. Suddenly, there are real dangers that there may be a tipping point at which the ice caps of the North Pole begin to melt - which it's doing already. People can see it's happening. It's a matter of great urgency now. [2:20:33]

Interviewer: You saw in David's recent documentary, a call, a campaigning call really, to use fossil fuels less, to have a plant-based diet, and so on. I just wonder whether your children are now nagging you to-to change life a little bit to help the planet.

Prince William: Absolutely, Nick, and I think: you-know, we all want to do, and we all should do, our bit to help in this progress. But the key thing about the Earthshot prize is that positivity, is the idea that we need to find solutions to - to be able to live our lives and enjoy our lives, and not feel guilty and bad about some of the things we do. That ultimately has to change, because I also worry from a, from-a, mental health point of view the anxiety and the worry that many of these younger generations are going to have. Hearing about what we're talking about, it's-it's going to weigh on them, and I don't want them to inherit a world that is going to be full of-of-of doom and gloom.

Interviewer: But, so I'm clear, I think you're saying [2:21:27], you don't have to be a scientist in a lab to go for this Prize; there could be people in communities around the country who hear your words and for whom they should see the Earthshot Prize as for them.

Prince William: Absolutely, Nick. We hope this Earthshot Prize reaches everyone round the world. from communities, schools right up to banks, governments, corporations - anyone and everyone is-is-is a part of this. And anyone could find the solutions that we need. [2:21:53]

Interviewer: Now, you've talked about your children. I hear that George, Charlotte and Louis are slightly jealous that you get to spend as long as you do with Sir David.

Prince William: They're very jealous. And actually last night we started watching one of David's ah newest documentaries as well, and I had - And it's amazing: At bedtime when I can corrall the children, I just shout, "We're going to watch one of David's documentaries," and they come herding in. It's the easiest way to catch my children and get them ready for bedtime. H-h-h.

Interviewer: David, it's nice to know that there's a new generation of children - and royal children - watching you, as I did and my children did. Now we all hope that you're going to be here to be presenting each one of these prizes. But we all have to live with the possibility that you can't go on forever. Do you have a sense of how this fight can go on when you're no longer here, when even the Prince is no longer here, to make sure the fight is won?

David Attenborough: There has been a world change. There is no doubt about that. Um, people who thought that conservation was just a sort of cranky, harmless errr interest of a number of lucky people, er-until suddenly we realise that in fact this is a life and death business. I-mean this a really serious thing. This is what we are erm - the disaster that we are facing, which is er on a scale that has not been seen since mankind existed. [2:23:17]

Interviewer: And finally, Your Royal Highness, the worry must be that the world is just too distracted now, too worried about Coronavirus, about the pandemic and its impact, to really think about this.

Prince William: I understand that, Nick, as well, and I-I get that. You-know, there's a lot of things going on around the world that need fixing, and sometimes it can feel completely overwhelming as to what we do next. But I do hope that out of this difficult time of Coronavirus, people have understood through lockdown the importance of nature, the importance of the environment. We've heard the birds singing, we've had clean air, we've had less aeroplanes flying overhead, and I think, for everyone's sanity, to get outside and have that, has been really really important. So I hope that it breathes this new green recovery, this-this idea that we can be more connected and understand how valuable and important our surroundings are to our futures.

Interviewer: Prince William, Sir David Attenborough, thank you so much for talking to us from a chilly Kensington Palace Gardens. It's been nice to hear the birdsong and the occasional plane flying over as well.

Prince William: Thank you, Nick.

David Attenborough: Thank you very much.


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This page is written on behalf of the CCGE Group by Andrew Basden, but the views expressed herein are his and not necessarily those of the other members of the Group. Written on the Amiga with Protext in the style of classic HTML.

Created: 8 October 2020 Last updated: