How do you solve a problem like Donald Trump? “We could shoot him,” Sir David Attenborough has suggested in an interview revealing a steely political edge behind the cuddly image.
The veteran natural history broadcaster criticised the Republican presidential candidate’s climate change denial and said that the UK’s Brexit “mess” was the result of an unwise referendum.
Sir David, 90, who returns to BBC screens in Planet Earth II this weekend, was quizzed on current affairs by Emily Maitlis, the Newsnight host, for Radio Times.
Asked how he would feel about America electing a President who believed that climate change is a “Chinese hoax”, Sir David buried his head in his hands.
“Well, we lived through that with earlier presidents – they’ve been equally guilty… But what alternative do we have? Do we have any control or influence over the American elections? Of course we don’t,” said Sir David.
Sotto voce, he offered a more drastic solution. “We could shoot him. It’s not a bad idea…” A giggle suggested Sir David, who was invited to the White House by President Obama to discuss the planet’s future, was not being entirely serious.
Trump himself sparked a furore in August after he appeared to suggest that Hillary Clinton could be assassinated by disgruntled gun rights activists.
Sir David also compared the populism exploited by Trump with the Brexit vote. He said: “There’s confusion, isn’t there, between populism and parliamentary democracy. I mean, that’s why we’re in the mess we are with Brexit, is it not?”
Sir David asked: “Do we really want to live by this kind of referendum? What we mean by parliamentary democracy is surely that we find someone we respect who we think is probably wiser than we are, who is prepared to take the responsibility of pondering difficult things and then trust him – or her – to vote on our behalf.”
Leave campaigner Michael Gove’s claim during the campaign that “we’ve had enough of experts” was “catastrophic”, Sir David argued.
Discussing the current immigration debate, he said: “It’s very easy, as we all know, to be very tolerant of minorities until they become majorities and you find yourself a minority.”
Sir David repeated his view that population growth is the most fundamental issue facing the world. He is against “interfering with the basic human right, which is having children… but we should use every argument we have, and every persuasion we can get, to convince people (not to).”
He asked: “Why is there urban violence? Why are there these problems with immigration, why are we running short of food and polluting? Every single one of those comes down to…because there are more people.”
Sir David, a former BBC2 Controller in the 60s, said the corporation should not have fired Jeremy Clarkson because he represents an important anti-establishment voice.
The corporation should have smoothed over the fracas which resulted in Clarkson and the Top Gear presenting team leaving to present a rival show for Amazon. “Yes, I regret letting Clarkson go, because it’s very good to have a voice that’s anti-establishment, or so profoundly anti-establishment,” he said.
The Grand Tour, the new £160m series fronted by Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May, launches on Amazon Prime in a fortnight following the ratings failure of the Chris Evans-fronted Top Gear on BBC2.
However, Sir David said the BBC was right not to have offered to match the £75m, three-year deal, which saw British television’s most popular show, The Great British Bake Off move to Channel 4.
“Oh, absolutely right,” he said. “To say to them, ‘If you want another million, go ahead, we’ve got plenty more ideas where that came from.’”
Reflecting on his early years at the BBC, Sir David said: “When I joined there was this absurd mystique that somehow there’s magic about making programmes and only the BBC knew how… as if we gave it to the nation.”
Planet Earth II, which was three years in the making and shot in 40 countries, utilises new technology to let viewers see snow leopards up close the first time as well as the world’s largest colony of chinstrap penguins.
The series opens with the intrepid Sir David soaring two miles above the Swiss Alps in a hot air balloon.