There could surely have been no greater figure to open Wakefield’s new museum than broadcasting legend Sir David Attenborough.
And hundreds of people packed into Wakefield One to watch the famous naturalist honour the city last weekend.
Sir David, whose latest series, Africa, has had the nation gripped this year, has often spoken of his admiration for Wakefield explorer and naturalist Charles Waterton.
And he praised Waterton further in a passionate speech to the crowds, which had been gathering from 3am.
Sir David, 86, said: “Charles Waterton was little known not only internationally but, shamefully, in this country too. But he was a great and important figure.
“One of the things that this spectacular building has done is to make a marvellous, beautiful, fascinating museum. And within it there is that wonderful reminder of one of the great men who lived close to this city in the 19th century.”
Charles Waterton is considered to have created one the world’s first nature reserves at Walton Hall.
And Sir David told The Express he first came across Waterton’s work in 1954 after returning from a trip to British Guiana.
He said: “When you begin to read about him you start to realise very quickly that he was a very important figure.
“Even if you are not interested in natural history you can have an interest in Waterton he because he was an eccentric character and quite an extraordinary man.
“He was double-jointed, and if you went to visit him he might well have welcomed you by standing on one leg and putting his other foot on his head.
“But the important thing is that he was a far-seeing conservationist.”
Sir David, who has been the face and voice of natural history over a 60-year career, stayed for nearly an hour to sign books.
Wakefield Council’s chief executive Joanne Roney said the visit was the “jewel” in the short history of the £31m civic building, which opened on Burton Street in November last year.
She said: “To hear Sir David Attenborough enthusing about the museum has absolutely brought it to life and has been the jewel in the opening of this building.”
And council leader Coun Peter Box said: “I’m immensely proud that in tough times we’ve been able to build this building.
“The museum highlights what Wakefield has been in the past, and points people in the right direction to find out things for themselves.”