Inside The Royal Family's Relationship With David Attenborough

When it comes to living British icons, you'd be hard-pressed to find someone more renowned than broadcaster and wildlife expert Sir David Attenborough — well, unless you were looking at the royal family, that is. For decades, Attenborough has been famously entwined with the monarchy, supporting their environmental causes and working with them on various media projects. But Attenborough's relationship with the monarchy isn't just professional: it's also personal. The nature enthusiast met Queen Elizabeth II during his early days in the broadcasting industry, and a beautiful friendship soon unfolded.

Attenborough made his broadcasting debut in 1954, when the naturalist hosted a BBC docuseries called "Zoo Quest." With his legendary voice and unabashed zeal for the natural world, he became a global sensation. Nowadays, Attenborough is known for his groundbreaking work on television series like "The Blue Planet," "The Life of Mammals," and "Planet Earth."

Through the decades, Attenborough's relationship with the royal family has continued to grow — some might even say they go together like tea and crumpets. And although Attenborough is internationally beloved, the royals remain his biggest fans. At the 2016 Tusk Conservation Awards, Prince William lauded Attenborough and championed the impact of his filmography. As reported by The Telegraph, the prince told the audience, "There is one person here tonight who has done more than almost anyone else to 'play his part' — someone who has literally gone to the ends of the earth to showcase the beauty of our planet's wildlife and the critical need for us to preserve it."

David Attenborough helped Queen Elizabeth carve out her legacy

Throughout her 70-year reign, Queen Elizabeth II underwent a stunning transformation, devoting her entire life to public service and upholding a favorable image of the monarchy. All the while, she leaned on allies like David Attenborough who helped make decisions regarding her public image.

Prior to Elizabeth's time on the throne, the royal family had always been enigmatic — but the sovereign hoped to change that. In 1969, she commissioned a documentary called "Royal Family," which aired on the BBC and offered a glimpse into the royals' private lives. By most accounts, the monarch's inner circle approved of the project — however, there was one glaring exception: David Attenborough. In her book "The Queen and Di: The Untold Story," biographer Ingrid Seward revealed that Attenborough felt the documentary would spoil the "mystique" of the royal family. According to Seward, Attenborough told a BBC executive, "You're killing the monarchy, you know, with this film you're making."

Despite their disagreement over "Royal Family," Attenborough always looked out for Elizabeth's best interests. In the late '80s, the monarch needed help selecting an outfit for her annual Christmas broadcast, so she called upon Attenborough. "It was a room with green wallpaper so I dismissed all the green stuff. I picked out something that was mushroom," the naturalist revealed during a 2015 speech at the Radio Times Festival, as reported by The Telegraph. He added, "[T]he Queen came out of this rackety old lift and she said: 'I hope you approve of my costume.'"

David Attenborough introduced his pet bird to Queen Elizabeth's children

Given his penchant for spending time with animals, you'd almost expect David Attenborough to travel with an entourage of exotic creatures — and that's essentially what happened in 1959 when the filmmaker brought a unique guest with him to meet Queen Elizabeth II's eldest children. In a 2023 interview, Attenborough recalled walking into BBC studios with his pet cockatoo, Cocky, in tow. When he arrived, the naturalist was greeted by then-9-year-old King Charles III (who, of course, went by Prince Charles at the time) and his younger sister, Princess Anne.

The youngsters were mesmerized by the giant parrot, and Attenborough was equally excited to teach them some facts about his feathered friend. To the children's delight, they even got to hold Cocky. The youngsters seemed totally at ease while interacting with the bird; however, Attenborough was admittedly anxious that Cocky might bite the future king. "The cockatoo, little Cocky, is sitting on his hand. But in fact, of course, they have a very powerful beak and a very powerful bite," the nature expert told the BBC's Kirsty Young. "And although I was fairly confident about Cocky, he could actually have removed his little finger, but all was well and it was a very happy occasion, actually." Attenborough also noted that Charles' love for the planet was evident at an early age. "He saw very clearly the relationship and the importance of the natural world, right from being a small child," he said. 

David Attenborough was knighted by two members of the royal family

David Attenborough has received, not one, but two, of Britain's highest honors: he is a knight twice-over. In 1985, the naturalist joined the likes of Winston Churchill, Alfred Hitchcock, and author Agatha Christie when he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II. Henceforth, he was known by the esteemed title of Sir David Attenborough. Of course, the details of knighthood have changed considerably since medieval days. Upon being knighted, Attenborough didn't pick up a jousting stick and ride off into the sunset — however, he did receive a medal along with being recognized for his influence on British society.

Attenborough was knighted again in 2022 at age 96. This time around, the ceremony was spearheaded by King Charles III, and Attenborough was made a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of St Michael And St George. According to the royal family's website, only 125 individuals hold this illustrious (and rather wordy) title. The filmmaker was selected for this high honor due to his impeccable work in broadcasting and environmentalism. 

Throughout his lengthy career, Attenborough has racked up a staggering amount of accolades from the royal family, including the Chatham House Prize and the Order of Merit.

David Attenborough and Queen Elizabeth created several TV programs

For decades, David Attenborough has used television as a platform to spread his message about conservation. Not only has his work inspired the masses, but it also galvanized one of the most influential people on the planet: Queen Elizabeth II. By the early 2000s, the queen had become a crusader for the environment, championing causes like reforestation and renewable energy. And thanks to her camaraderie with Attenborough, the royal had plenty of expert guidance.

In 2018, the queen and the naturalist took their activism to the airwaves when they released a documentary called "The Queen's Green Planet." The film was narrated by Attenborough and highlighted various conservation efforts throughout the Commonwealth. In its opening scene, we witness Attenborough and Elizabeth strolling the gardens of Buckingham Palace while exchanging the most charming banter imaginable.

"The Queen's Green Planet" wasn't the first time Attenborough collaborated with the monarch. The duo also worked together on Elizabeth's annual Christmas Day address, with Attenborough serving as a producer. Through this partnership, the pair spread untold amounts of holiday cheer. Reflecting on their professional relationship, Attenborough revealed that the queen was anything but a passive observer during the creative process. "If there was a technical hitch, she wanted to know what it was," the naturalist told the Press Association (via the Independent). "And if it had a funny side, she was quick to see the joke."

David Attenborough spoke during Queen Elizabeth's 90th birthday celebration

In 2016, Queen Elizabeth II rang in her 90th birthday. To celebrate the occasion, Buckingham Palace hosted three days of festivities. The queen's birthday bash included a parade, a street party, and lots of public appearances. Outside the palace, massive crowds lined the streets toting celebratory balloons, banners, and flags. Peers and family members traveled from faraway places to join in on the celebration. In honor of the queen's iconic reign, guests attended a service of thanksgiving at St Paul's Cathedral. Inside the church, luminaries paid tribute to the monarch with speeches and prayers. Elizabeth's old pal, David Attenborough, took the stage to deliver a special salute.

In his ode to the queen, Attenborough read part of an essay by children's book author Michael Bond, who shared his own reflections on turning 90. Attenborough's presence at the celebration was a testament to his deep friendship with the royal. Plus, it highlighted another commonality between them: both were born in 1926. During the BBC program "Attenborough at 90," Prince William raved about his admiration for both legendary figures. "[Attenborough is] a national treasure and it is very fitting that he is having his 90th birthday only a few weeks after the Queen. They are two incredible national treasures who have done so much over the years," he said (via the Independent).

David Attenborough made a heartfelt statement about Queen Elizabeth following her death

Following the heartbreaking death of Queen Elizabeth II in 2022, a national mourning period commenced. Citizens took to the streets, leaving colorful heaps of flowers and mementos throughout London. Visitors packed the halls of Westminster Abbey, where the beloved sovereign lay in state. For many Britons, Elizabeth's lengthy reign was an inextricable part of Britain's national identity. But while the masses mourned the loss of a pop culture icon, those closest to the queen grieved on a deeply personal level. As tributes rolled in from family and friends, David Attenborough chimed in to share some thoughts about the dearly departed royal.

In a heartfelt statement to IGTV, Attenborough reflected on what a "great privilege" it was to have known the queen. "She was an expert at getting people to relax," the broadcaster shared (via the Mirror). "When you met her you were well-aware that you were in the presence of someone who was extremely important to our society and yet she made it seem that you were meeting another human being with exactly the same conditions that all human beings have." He also noted that if she was amused by something, she let it be known. "If there was something funny she laughed in a genuine way... she wasn't putting it on and that made it very easy," he said, describing her laugh as "precious."

David Attenborough is reportedly close friends with King Charles

A lot has transpired in King Charles III's life since the royal first met David Attenborough at age 9. Over the decades, Charles survived a flurry of public scandals, took on numerous official duties, and became the king of England. Despite the whirlwind of his life, one thing remains consistent about the monarch: Charles has always been a champion of environmental causes. The king became a staunch environmentalist in the '70s — and as the climate crisis escalated, he doubled down on his commitment to protecting the planet. Given Charles' lengthy history with Attenborough, it's no surprise that the pair have reportedly formed a friendship around their shared love for the environment. 

While chatting with the BBC's Kirsty Young ahead of the coronation, Attenborough showered the king with praise for his leadership in the conservation space. The naturalist noted that, during Charles' early years as a public figure, environmentalism was considered a fringe political topic. But due to his forward thinking, the monarch added valuable momentum to environmentalist discourse — and now, conservation has become a national priority. "The fact is 20 or 30 years ago, it really was sort of oddball to a lot of people," the TV personality remarked. "But now everybody realizes that the future of humanity is dependent upon a healthy natural world."

David Attenborough teamed up with Prince William to promote conservation

David Attenborough's relationship with the royal family is a multi-generational thing. Not only did he count Queen Elizabeth II as a personal friend, but the broadcasting legend has also formed a connection with her grandson, Prince William. The pair have embarked on several projects together. One of their earliest encounters occurred in 2012, when they teamed up at the opening of a new research center at the Natural History Museum in London. Since then, their working relationship has blossomed — and so has their mutual respect.

In 2019, William paid tribute to the environmentalist during the commissioning of a new arctic research vessel: the aptly named RRS Sir David Attenborough. The ship was originally dubbed "Boaty McBoatface" by a public poll, but the name was later nixed by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC). As reported by Reuters, the prince told Attenborough, "You have shown us how awe-inspiring the natural world is, and also how fragile and endangered it is, and you have inspired us all to do as much as we possibly can to protect it. It is my immense privilege and relief to welcome Sir David Attenborough, rather than Boaty McBoatface, to speak."

In 2021, the pair released a 5-part docuseries called "The Earthshot Prize: Repairing Our Planet," which explored the goals and challenges of building a healthier, more sustainable planet. Attenborough co-hosted the series and shared his expert commentary on the matter.

Prince William's kids have learned a lot from David Attenborough

Prince William and Princess Catherine's children — Prince George, Princess Charlotte, and Prince Louis — have been in the spotlight since birth. And despite their youth, the royal children are already masters at stealing the show. In 2020, the tots captured hearts when they teamed up with David Attenborough for an informative chat about wildlife. In the video, the environmentalist answered the royal brood's questions about biology and the environment — and the results were informative and ridiculously adorable. George kicked things off by asking Attenborough which animal would go extinct next. Attenborough came back with an optimistic response, telling the youngster that extinction can be avoided when conservation efforts are made. The naturalist explained in kid-friendly terms that the conservation process requires help from donors and government officials. Next, Attenborough chatted with Charlotte about spiders and revealed to Louis that monkeys are his favorite animals.

In 2020, the eldest royal child, George, received a special gift from Attenborough: a 23-million-year-old megalodon tooth. On their Instagram account, the royals explained, "Sir David found the tooth on a family holiday to Malta in the late 1960s, embedded in the island's soft yellow limestone." Considering that the removal of fossils from Malta was declared illegal in 2002, some critics were enraged by Attenborough's gift to George. However, given that Attenborough found the fossil decades before the law was passed, the controversy eventually fizzled out.

David Attenborough is Princess Catherine's favorite celebrity

Since marrying Prince William in 2011, Princess Catherine has transformed into an international superstar. But despite being the subject of endless fanfare, the princess was star-struck when she met David Attenborough. The pair were first photographed together in 2013 during a screening of Attenborough's film "Natural History Museum Alive 3D."Throughout the evening, they chatted and shared some laughs. 

In 2017, the naturalist and the princess were seen hobnobbing at another Natural History Museum event. Two years later, Catherine joined Attenborough and Prince William at the commissioning of the RRS Sir David Attenborough. The princess spoke at the event, sending her blessings to the ship and crew. During Attenborough's speech, he reminded the audience about the importance of addressing environmental issues. "Great problems require great research and facts in order to solve them," said the wildlife expert, as reported by the LBC. "That's what this astonishing ship will be here to do; to find out the facts and find the science with which to deal with problems that are facing the world today and will increasingly do so tomorrow."

In early 2020, Catherine met with a group of elementary schoolers via video chat. One inquisitive youngster wanted to know who the princess's favorite celebrity was — and according to a mom who witnessed the conversation, Catherine confirmed that David Attenborough was her top choice.