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5 February 2015

All questions great and small: an unusually ruminative Chris Evans speaks to David Attenborough

Following his on-air announcement of a prostate cancer scare last week, the Radio 2 DJ has been in thoughtful mode.

By Antonia Quirke

The Chris Evans Breakfast Show
BBC Radio 2

In the days running up to the sudden and spirited on-air announcement of his ongoing prostate cancer scare last week, Chris Evans had sounded unusually ruminative on his Radio 2 morning show (listeners circa nine million). On the subject of age: “When you realise the governor of the Bank of England is younger than you, you think . . .” (an unspellable noise conveying not just shock but also transmitting with delicacy more than a millisecond of umbrage). On revisiting old records: “By the way, if you haven’t listened to a Dire Straits album or a couple of years, do bung one on.”

His mid-show interview on Thursday (29 January, 6.30am) with David Attenborough about his new documentary, Attenborough’s Paradise Birds, had the air of someone who was omnivorously preoccupied with questions big and small. “What time do you rise, David?” Attenborough – speaking down the line from somewhere, most likely his kitchen – paused, waiting for the rest of the question, but there wasn’t any. “Well . . . it depends,” he ceded after a moment, “sometimes about five, I guess, if I have something to do.”

There followed a quick chat about the male bird of paradise having more alluring feathers than the female. “And how come it’s different for us humans?” challenged Evans, intensely. “How many what?’ squinted Attenborough, perplexed. “I mean nature sorts it out I guess, in the end,” rolled on Evans, regardless, “but why does nature do this? How does it work?” An image arose that was sweetly irresistible: the presenter with his chin resting on fist on the steps of the Parthenon. One wondered how he was going to wrap it all up.

Ah, radio! The medium that favours the common touch. “Did you watch Wolf Hall last night, David?” “Which?” (Attenborough was once more confused. Was it because the line was bad or because he feared the pre-toast head-storm Evans was whipping up in his cortex?) “Wolf Hall, David. BBC2. Last night. Too dark? But that’s the whole point I guess. Saying that, I was a bit worried. Started with three candles but this housekeeper came along and just snuffed them all out.”

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