During the World Economic Forum at Davos, Prince William has interviewed Sir David Attenborough and spoke about his experience as an air ambulance pilot and mental health.
The Duke of Cambridge chatted to famed-naturalist Sir David Attenborough on stage for a special session, which recognised the work of the 92-year-old broadcaster. The second-in-line to the throne tried out the role he is usually observing: “Normally I have to endure people asking me questions, so it’s quite nice to turn the tables for once.”
Each year, the WEF asks its members to rank the most pressing problems in the world ahead of the gathering, and climate change came out on top for 2019.
Prince William asked Attenborough for advice on saving the planet. William asked how he and his peers can “build on what you have started”, as Sir David warned about the “extermination” of species.
“People of my generation now are beginning to step into positions of leadership around the world. The work to save the planet is probably largely going to happen on our watch. What advice do you have for my generation and what can we build on that you have started?”
Sir David replied: “There has never been a time when more people have been out of touch with the natural world, than there is now.
“We can wreck it with ease, we can wreck it without even noticing”, he warned.
“We have to recognise that every breath of air we take, every mouthful of food we take, comes from the natural world. And if we damage the natural world, we damage ourselves. We are one coherent ecosystem.
“It’s not just a question of beauty, or interest, or wonder: it’s the essential part of human life is a healthy planet.”
He urged people “not to waste the riches of the natural world on which we depend” and to respect the planet by not throwing away food or power.
Sir David added: “Just care for the natural world, of which we are an essential part.”
Attenborough spoke of being impressed at the reach TV now has, especially through streaming services like Netflix, which is showing his new show, Our Planet. “This picture of the world will be coming worldwide simultaneously on one particular date and remain there.”
“Now we can go everywhere, we can go into the bottom of the sea, we can go into space, we can use drones, we can use helicopters, we can use macroworlds, we can speed things up, we can slow things down, we can film in the darkness – and so the natural world has never been exposed to this degree before.”
The session saw Sir David speak of his hope that world leaders were paying attention to such critical environmental issues. Sir David said: “When I started 60 years ago in the mid-50s, to be truthful, I don’t think there was anybody who thought that there was a danger that we might annihilate part of the natural world.”
Of course, the Duke of Cambridge has long been a campaigner on conservation issues, and is patron of organisations like Tusk Trust and United For Wildlife. He has previously spoken publicly about endangered species and has warned of the tipping point humanity is approaching in terms of climate change, an issue Prince Charles has battled.
The Duke of Cambridge has described the Blue Planet and Dynasties narrator as having ‘the single most important impact in my conservation thinking’. William met Sir David at the Blue Planet premiere last year, and Attenborough is a household name in the UK.
During the interview, delegates were shown a clip from Our Planet that shows an iceberg the size of a skyscraper cleaving away and falling into the sea. Sir David spoke of the huge respect for the helicopter pilots who use their technical skills to be able to film things so closely.
William, as a former air ambulance helicopter pilot, wryly said: “All helicopter pilots are skilful, David,” also quipping that icebergs are ‘a bit like children, David – unpredictable.’
The broadcaster laughed and replied: “Quite so.”
The Royal also took time to meet Al Gore, who has campaigned tirelessly on climate change for a number of years.
Speaking in a panel session yesterday, the Duke revealed that some aspects of his piloting roles have been traumatic. There was one traumatic incident that he didn’t think he would ‘ever get over’, William said.
“I was dealing with a lot of trauma on a day in, day out basis, stuff that your body is not programmed to deal with.
“I get very emotional about it because it relates very closely to my children and so it is very hard to talk about it.”
The team had to debrief about the event because it had been so traumatic for them.
“I just felt that the most important thing was understanding and realising it was there and I think that if I hadn’t been doing what I was doing, I might have gone into my shell a bit and gone ‘I can deal with this myself’.”
William said if he hadn’t opened up to colleagues about the situation, he would have “gone down a slippery slope” mentally.
“And then potentially, down the line it manifests itself in a much worse situation.”
The Duke of Cambridge also discussed the ‘stiff upper lip’ of the Brits. “For some reason, people are embarrassed about their emotions – British people particularly.”
Referring to the Second World War, he said: “It was very very difficult for everybody, losing so many loved ones and dealing with such horrendous circumstances that no matter how much you can talk you were never going to fix the issue.’
“Completely by accident they passed that on to the next generation, we all learn from our parents we all learn from how they deal with things. A whole generation inherited [this way of coping]. This was the way you deal with your problems: you don’t talk about it.”
Noting how things had changed, however, the Prince continued: “‘I think that now there’s a generation here that’s realising this is not normal and we should talk about them. We should get over it.”
Surprisingly, William spoke of the founding of Heads Together, and that every celebrity he asked to back the mental health initiative refused.
The Duke of Cambridge told the crowd at Davos that ‘a lot’ of stars were approached three years ago, but none wanted to be associated with mental illness.
Since then, a number of well-known figures have been associated with the movement, including Stephen Fry, Rio Ferdinand and Lady Gaga.