Like the Christmas windows at Harrods

Jessamy Caulkin interviewed David Attenborough for the Telegraph Magazine.

At one point, he talks about scuba diving, which has long a favourite hobby of mine, but Attenborough, of course, explains its appeal much better than I can.

‘People say, “What was the most magical moment in your career as a naturalist?” and I always reply, “The first time I put on a mask and went below the surface and moved in three dimensions with just the flick of a fin, and suddenly saw all these amazing multi-coloured things living in communities right there.”‘

His initiation into scuba diving, he tells me, is indelibly printed on his mind. ‘You suddenly realise you can move in any direction. You’re not harnessed by gravity any more. You’re free. It’s bliss. An extraordinary experience, like going into space. There’s no equivalent anywhere else in the natural world of such splendour: all of these things moving through an architecture of coral.’ ‘You never know what you’re going to see when you turn the corner – it’s far more obviously exciting and visually thrilling than, say, the tropical rainforest, which is the nearest biological parallel. In the rainforest they’re all hiding, so you have to be quite a good naturalist to really see what splendours are there. But on the reef they’re all on display. It’s like the Christmas windows at Harrods.’

Some years ago, by a happy coincidence of flight timings, I spent my 40th birthday on the Barrier Reef. I didn’t have quite the same photographic capabilities with me as Sir David, alas!

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© Copyright Quentin Stafford-Fraser