Sir David Attenborough meeting the Principal
Dr Attenborough - I presume?
David Attenborough visits Bell-Pettigrew Museum
by Iain Matthews
On the morning of 22nd June, during a brief gap in his busy schedule, Sir David Attenborough took the opportunity to visit the Bell-Pettigrew Museum of Natural History. The night before, I had been to the Younger Hall to see his excellent lecture on Alfred Russell Wallace but I hadn't dreamed that I would have the chance to meet him or that he would have time to visit the Bell-Pettigrew. So, I was delighted when I was phoned at 7.30 that morning with the news that he had a spare hour before the ceremony and would I be able to show him round our collection.
I rushed into work for 8.30am and met Professor David Paterson and Sir David Attenborough as they arrived in the car park. Having said morning to Dave (Paterson), I introduced myself to David Attenborough:
Sir David Attenborough in the Bell Pettigrew Museum
Me (shaking hands): Hi - Iain Matthews.
David Attenborough (smiling): Oh hello - David Attenborough.
Me: Really it's OK - I know who you are.
David Attenborough: Yes, but I find it's always best to say...
Amazing! One of the best known people in the country, if not the world, still thought it best to introduce himself by name.
Anyway, we spent the next hour touring the museum. He was fantastically enthusiastic, interested in everything he saw and took great delight in recounting enthralling tales of his time trying to film some of the species. He particularly liked the giant spider crab, and remembered taking a film crew out to where they are found in the deep waters around Japan. He had hoped that when they brought one up onto the deck of their boat, they could film it as it crawled around waving it's enormous claws, but as he was disappointed to discover, they are much to big and heavy to move at all once they are out of the water.
A favourite specimen - Euplectella aspergillum
Given the topic of his lecture, he was very excited to see the museum's wonderful collection of birds of paradise and also to learn that the Bell-Pettigrew features several specimens that were originally collected by one of his heroes, Alfred Russell Wallace. He loved the Dura Den fossil fish, the St Kilda house mouse and the case devoted to D'Arcy Wentworth Thompson, but for the record his favourite specimen was the marvellous glass dome of the glass sponge, Euplectella aspergillum.
The hour rushed by and, all too soon, it was time for Sir David to sign the visitors' book and head off to the Younger Hall for graduation. There were two honorary graduates during the ceremony for Biology: Sir Attenborough and Professor Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard, the Director at the Max Planck Institute of Developmental Biology and winner of the Nobel Prize for Medicine or Physiology in 1995.
Sir David was first to be presented with his D.Sc. and gave an excellent reply to Prof. Paterson's lauration. The second honorary graduate, Prof. Nüsslein-Volhard, was introduced by Prof. Gary Taylor and touchingly during her reply, she thanked the University of St Andrews for bestowing her with this honour, but as she said the highlight of her day "had been to share the stage with Sir David, this man of whom I am in awe".
Given that even Nobel-prize winners are in awe of Sir David Attenborough, I feel truly honored to have had the chance to pass a most wonderful hour with him, exchanging stories, enjoying the Bell-Pettigrew and delighting in our mutual love of the living world.