Sir David Attenborough OM and his nephew, Michael Attenborough CBE, were the guests of honour at the University of Leicester Alumni Association’s Black Tie Dinner event in London, where they were announced as the patrons of the university’s upcoming centenary celebrations.
The university will commemorate its centenary from 2018 to 2021, celebrating a landmark 100 years in which it has made world-changing discoveries, including the invention of DNA fingerprinting and the discovery of King Richard III.
Envisaged as a living memorial to the local people who lost their lives in the First World War, the University College for Leicestershire and Rutland – later to become the University of Leicester – traces its beginnings to Armistice Day, 11 November, 1918. On that day the university’s founders opened an endowment fund, thanks to gifts from the people of Leicestershire and Rutland made in honour of loved ones who died in the war. Students were first admitted to the University College in 1921.
Sir David Attenborough said: “It is wonderful to see how the University College of my father’s time has grown into one of the most distinguished of the UK’s universities. I am proud to be a patron of this new step in its development.”
A renowned naturalist and broadcaster, Sir David has always had a special connection with the university. At the age of five, David moved onto the campus when his father, Frederick Attenborough, was appointed Principal of the University College. David grew up on the campus alongside his brothers, Richard and John, and is today a Distinguished Honorary Fellow – the highest honour the University can bestow upon an individual.
The University of Leicester connection now extends to a third generation of Attenboroughs as well, represented by Michael Attenborough. An honorary graduate of the University and celebrated theatre director, Michael is patron of the University’s Attenborough Arts Centre. The Centre is named after Michael’s late father, Richard Attenborough, who championed the Centre and was the original patron.
The Attenborough family tree is well and truly entwined with the University’s roots and so we are delighted that they will be joining us to celebrate such a significant achievement in our history.
Following the announcement of Sir David and Michael as patrons of the centenary, Sir David, who was also the guest speaker at the event, gave an address to the room about his memories of the University’s early history.
Professor Paul Boyle CBE, President and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Leicester, said: “As we approach our centenary at the University of Leicester, we are starting to discuss how we should commemorate this major milestone and it is fantastic to have the support of Sir David and Michael Attenborough to help us to do this. The Attenborough family tree is well and truly entwined with the University’s roots and so we are delighted that they will be joining us to celebrate such a significant achievement in our history.
“Between 2018 and 2021, we will be remembering our roots and the ideals on which our University was founded. We will be reflecting back, but also looking forward to prepare for the next hundred years, and the kind of university we want to see continuing to grow from these living roots.”
Nearly 500 alumni and guests attended the dinner, which was held in the Grand Connaught Rooms in London’s Covent Garden. Another highlight of the evening was the announcement of Shelia B. Keetharuth as the winner of the University’s Outstanding Alumni Achievement Award 2017, in recognition of her human rights work and her determination to provide a voice to the powerless.
Shelia graduated from the university with a degree in Civil Liberties and Human Rights LLM in 1994. Since 2014, she has been an expert member of the Working Group on Extractive Industries, Environment and Human Rights Violations of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights.
William Friar, Director of Development and Alumni Relations, added: “It was great to see so many alumni and friends of the university together under one roof. There is a real buzz building as we begin to plan our centenary, and the dinner with the Attenboroughs was the perfect place to discuss what kind of university we want to be in the next 100 years.”