Sir David Attenborough examines Our Planet for Netflix

Sir David Attenborough has inspired millions with his landmark documentaries and his latest project, the Netflix series Our Planet, is set to do the same. As for what he's doing after that? He tells Gemma Dunn why he's taking it one contract at a time...

Sir David Attenborough's new series Our Planet is his first with Netflix
Gemma Dunn

IF THERE'S one person equipped to tackle US President Donald Trump's cynicism towards climate change, it's surely Sir David Attenborough – and it seems the much-loved naturalist would indeed be up for the challenge, should the occasion arise.

"I have no idea as to whether I could convince him, but it would be cowardly not to take up the challenge, would it not?" reasons the 92-year-old.

"But I would think carefully about what I actually said," he vows.

"There's so many bits of evidence I would use, [from] the increase in the human population to where we're all going to get fed. How do you make the arithmetic work?

"And what are you going to do if the oceans are beginning to be depleted, instead of being the great resource for food that we think we're going to have to rely on?" he asks.

"But, I mean, what you say to him in the face of what is visibly happening with the climate of the United States of America..." he muses. "It's perfectly clear, [but] there are none so blind as those who will not see."

Attenborough is talking ahead of the landmark launch of Our Planet – his latest narration project and the anticipated follow-up to the seminal natural history series Planet Earth.

With Alastair Fothergill and Keith Scholey of Silverback Films at the helm once again, the eight-part documentary series will combine stunning photography and technology with an unprecedented look at some of the world's rarest animals and most precious natural habitats.

Using the latest in 4K camera technology, the surefire hit – in partnership with the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) – will transport viewers to a total of 50 countries, from the remote ice caps of the Arctic wilderness and mysterious deep ocean to the desert landscapes of Africa and diverse jungles of South America.

The eight-part documentary series will combine stunning photography and technology with an unprecedented look at some of the world's rarest animals

It also marks the first time BBC veteran Attenborough has directly collaborated with Netflix.

"The BBC, powerful though it is and pervasive though it is, can't reach 200 million people overnight, simultaneously," he says of his decision to join forces with the streaming service, which now has in excess of 139 million subscribers spanning 190 countries.

"And nor can it continue showing those programmes, continuously, for the next six months – or forever."

"Also the Netflix audience skews to the under 30s," Fothergill reasons. "That's the heart of the audience and those are the people, more than anyone, that care about the state of the planet.

"They know what they've inherited," he elaborates. "And so it was very important to us that we communicated, not exclusively to the younger audience, but principally the younger audience as well."

"We've all worked for the BBC and we've all worked together, all three of us, over the years," Attenborough adds, gesturing to Fothergill and Scholey, with whom he worked on Frozen Planet and Blue Planet.

"I'm already on Netflix – the BBC shows which Netflix has taken," reiterates the broadcaster, whose professional career has spanned a huge six decades.

"And for this particular project, and this particular ambition, to be able to reach the vast majority with television sets in the world, overnight, is very important."

He follows: "The message we have is urgent. It's not, 'OK, well, we'll leave it. And in a few months' time, maybe we'll sell it here or move it there'.

"The natural world is in crisis – it's not a joke, it's not a fashionable easy choice of words!" he cries.

"We really are in trouble and it's no good just mincing about and saying, 'Well, we'll do this' or 'We'll pass that' or 'We'll have another meeting'.

"We want people to know what's happening!" he says passionately, thumping his fist on the table. "So that's why we're here."

"For all of us this is a very different and special project," agrees Scholey of the ambitious four-year undertaking.

"Telly is the means to the end. The issue is about raising the awareness as quickly as possible, to as many people as possible, about the natural world, the consequences of what is happening and the solutions to it."

The planet is recoverable, Attenborough insists.

"We can put things right tomorrow if we had the will," the Isleworth-born star says vehemently. "We could impose marine sanctuaries tomorrow and solve the problem of feeding the world for the next few decades – but that's easier said than done.

"And the only way it's going to be done is by actually getting the world thinking along the same lines."

"We hope it's not wagging a finger, with our environmental messaging," Fothergill says of the show's education-entertainment balance.

"We have to get that just right because on a Sunday evening after a hard week's work, you want to sit down and watch a fantastic David Attenborough show - you don't necessarily want to be told off.

"This project is about a continuing message which we hope, and WWF hopes, will last all the way to Beijing 2020," he reveals.

"Beijing is the next big UN meeting about biodiversity," he explains. "So this series, the website around it, and the continuing communication is about moving the dial globally towards [that event]."

Producer Alastair Fothergill and Sir David Attenborough and friends in Our Planet

But Attenborough isn't decamping to Netflix entirely.

It was recently announced that he will work on One Planet: Seven Worlds - the first of five major wildlife series that will debut on the BBC in the next three years.

"I am involved with that one, but whether I will be involved [with the others]...' he tails off, before adding: "When you're 92, you're given a contract for three months ahead!"

Would he take them on, given the opportunity?

"With a big advance, if you don't mind. While I'm still alive," he quips, with a laugh. "I couldn't guarantee it because I don't know what the contracts are, but I am a BBC man.

"I joined the BBC in 1952, you know, and I have worked for them constantly. I went to Sky when Sky was actually doing 3D, which the BBC wasn't doing; I am working with Netflix, when we're having a world release, which the BBC can't do; but the BBC has been my life,' he finishes, having most recently paired with the broadcaster for Dynasties.

"And I actually think the BBC is one of the things that this country ought to be extremely proud of – I am very proud to be part of it."

:: Our Planet launches on on Friday April 5

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