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When David Attenborough met Lonesome George and Piers Morgan played cricket with Freddie Flintoff: Celebrities tell us their best moment of 2012
11:48 GMT, 1 January 2013
There is no doubt it’s been a momentous year for Britain with the Diamond Jubilee, the Olympics and finally, a royal baby. But what would the stars pick as their favourite event of 2012 We asked a host of celebrities to tell us about the special moment that made their year.
SIR DAVID ATTENBOROUGH, 86, NATURALIST AND BROADCASTER
Nice to meet you: David Attenborough enjoyed meeting Lonesome George, the last giant tortoise, in the Galapagos Islands. Ten days after this picture was taken, George died
As you can see, I had the privilege of meeting Lonesome George in the final days of his life: he’s the one on the left.
This very old giant tortoise – just how old is anybody’s guess – from the Galapagos Islands, was arguably the rarest animal in the world, as he was the last one of his kind. But ten days after this picture was taken in June, he died.
Meeting George was quite tricky. The staff in the research centre who were looking after him were strict about people going near him – quite rightly, they didn’t want him bothered in his old age – so we had very limited time.
Lonesome George wasn’t at all frightened of human beings, which should have made him the perfect subject for the Sky 3D documentary Galapagos we were filming for New Year’s Day. But he chose to be asleep when we arrived. He had no inclination to do anything whatsoever, even stick his head out.
And you can’t knock on his shell and say, ‘hey, wake up; I’ve got 10 minutes to do an interview’. There’s nothing we could do but just sit there and see if he was going to do something. Eventually he did, I said my piece to camera and he walked away.
He did look somewhat geriatric, but then even young tortoises look antique with that skinny throat. Even so, I was saddened, if not surprised, to hear that George died so soon after my visit.
JILLY COOPER, 75, AUTHOR
Delight: Jilly Cooper was thrilled to find out this 'ravishing' filly had been named Jillywinks in her honour
For the past year, I’ve done little else but research a novel on flat horse-racing, a completely new world for me. Imagine my delight when new friends, owners and breeders Paul and Yvette Dixon invited me up to their glorious yard in Retford, Nottinghamshire, two months ago, and introduced me to a ravishing two-year-old dark bay filly with a white star on her forehead, only to discover she had been named Jillywinks in my honour!
Jillywinks is as beautiful as she is friendly. She’s terribly sweet, like a teenager whose body is slightly too big for her. She’s not skittish like a lot of race horses, and is happy for me to give her a hug – or a kiss, as you can see.
Paul and Yvette have also paid me the supreme compliment of giving me a share in her and allotting a proportion of any prize money she wins to my favourite charities: research into Parkinson’s, because my brave husband Leo suffers from the vile disease, and Greyhound Rescue, because my lovely racing greyhound Feather was appallingly treated before he came to live with us.
Thrillingly, they’ve given me my own choice of racing colours: I chose forget-me-not blue decorated with yellow stars, which will brighten up the greyest day.
ARLENE PHILLIPS, 69, CHOREOGRAPHER AND TV JUDGE
A special treat: Arlene Phillips took some time out to visit Niagara Falls with her daughters who had flown over to Canada to see her
This picture, taken at Niagara Falls with my daughters Abi, 22 (left) and Alana, 33 (right) in October, represents a welcome and wonderful day off.
I’ve spent much of the last year crazily commuting back and forth from London to Toronto: I’m the head judge on the Canadian version of the BBC show Over the Rainbow, the search to find Dorothy for the upcoming production of The Wizard of Oz, which I’m also choreographing.
Although it’s been hugely rewarding, I’ve had little to no time for anything outside work – even my daughters, who I have missed more than words can say.
So, as a special treat for me, the girls flew out together for a week to help me with work – I hadn’t seen either of them for three weeks, which felt like an eternity. Thankfully, we found time to make it out to Niagara Falls – I’d managed to visit on my own earlier in the year, and was desperate for my daughters to see them.
That day, the sun was casting breathtaking rainbows across the Falls and we visited Niagara-on-the-Lake, the most beautiful and picturesque storybook town just an hour away: we took a horse and cart ride, ate homemade fudge and candy apples and stayed in the most beautiful hotel. It was so perfect and hugely emotional, as days like that are so rare and precious in our busy lives.
SHEILA HANCOCK, 79, ACTRESS AND AUTHOR
Discovery: Sheila Hancock spent five years as Chancellor of Portsmouth University during which she presided over 70 graduation ceremonies
This year also saw Ms Hancock learn the foxtrot for the Strictly Christmas Special
As a working-class girl who never had the opportunity to go to university, I’ve discovered worlds I wouldn’t have touched upon in my everyday life during the five wonderful years I’ve just spent as the Chancellor of Portsmouth University.
I held acting workshops for the drama students, got to go hunting for fossils with the geology department and was a constant source of fascination for the students of the maths department as I could never get my head around the subject.
This year saw my five-year term come to an end. I’m proud to say that I presided over 70 graduation ceremonies, using my holiday when I was starring in Sister Act in the West End to ensure I could be at every one. One of my greatest joys was watching young people walk across the stage at graduation totally transformed from inadequate freshmen into bright young adults.
At my very last ceremony in July, as I was about to walk off the stage at the end, the Vice-Chancellor stood up, presented me with a beautiful bunch of flowers, and made an adorable speech. I was so shocked, I managed to knock my hat off.
I did feel very sad to be leaving the post, but I was handing it over to my dear friend Sandi Toksvig and, after five years, it was time for the university to welcome new ideas.
So what with learning the foxtrot for the Strictly Christmas Special, it’s been quite a year.
JOANNA ROWSELL, 24, OLYMPIC GOLD MEDAL CYCLIST
Flood of relief: Joanna Rowsell was happy to received a big hug from her boyfriend Dad after winning an Olympic Gold
The night I won Olympic Gold was a whirlwind. It’s hard to describe what it’s like to win the event you’ve been working towards for years. As soon as we crossed the finish line, I felt a pure wave of happiness but it didn’t even start to sink in.
Everything happened so quickly: we went from the podium straight into interviews, so it was about five hours before we got to see our loved ones who’d been waiting patiently at Team GB house in the Olympic park.
As I walked in with my teammate Dani King, we were confronted with crowds of staff, family and friends standing cheering and taking photographs, which was a little bit daunting.
Suddenly, I picked out my boyfriend Dan’s face and, feeling a big flood of relief, headed straight towards him for this big hug. We’ve been together for more than three years and he’s stuck by me through the tough bits, driving me to training, cooking me carb-filled meals and being at the end of a phone after a bad day of training. So giving him this hug was a way to thank him for all his help when I’d needed it most.
I only had a few minutes with Dan and my family before I was plunged into more interviews, so it was short but sweet. I’m just glad his twin sister Natalie took this photo, so I’ll always have this memory.
PIERS MORGAN, 47, BROADCASTER
What a line up! Piers Morgan managed to persuade (from left to right) Kevin Pietersen, Lennox Lewis, Devon Malcolm and Freddie Flintoff to play cricket with him in his village in East Sussex
Each year for the last decade, I’ve captained a family cricket team against my village, Newick in East Sussex. And I always try to include a few ringers.
This July, I excelled myself by tempting down Kevin Pietersen, Freddie Flintoff (who actually gave me his England sweater as a gift), Devon Malcolm and boxing legend, Lennox Lewis. We had a terrific couple of matches (we won one, the village the other – and trust me, these are NOT friendlies!), then partied late into the night with the villagers at my house.
It’s always my favourite day of the year. Especially now I work for CNN and live in America, where they think cricket is a noisy insect. It gives me a wonderful taste of all the things I miss most about Britain – cricket, tea and cucumber sandwiches, Harvey’s best bitter, fish and chips, and hanging out with my family and oldest friends.
DAME JENNI MURRAY, 62, RADIO PRESENTER
Number One Fan: Dame Jenni Murray interviewed Meryl Streep who has been top of her list of women to meet for a long time
The brilliant thing about my job on Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour is that, eventually, I tend to meet every woman I’ve ever wanted to see in the flesh (although Tammy Wynette slipped through my fingers – she died just before she was due to appear on the show). Top of my list for a very long time was Meryl Streep.
I’ve been her Number One Fan since 1978 when she appeared in The Deer Hunter, and I followed her through Kramer v Kramer, The French Lieutenant’s Woman, Sophie’s Choice and numerous other roles, always astonished at her ability to take on any character and any accent.
It was The Iron Lady that finally led to our meeting in January at the home of the film’s director, Phyllida Lloyd. Meryl cooked apple pie for dessert at our supper (to Julia Child’s recipe – she clearly learns from the women whose lives she portrays) and was every bit as charming and unpretentious as I’d hoped. And whilst the portrayal of an ageing Lady Thatcher was controversial, no-one could fault Streep’s acting performance.
People often ask me why I’m such a successful interviewer. They ask Meryl how she copes with so many different accents. The response from both of us is, ‘I listen’. Lots in common and I’m still her number one fan.
ALEX JONES, 35, BBC'S THE ONE SHOW PRESENTER
'One of the most amazing nights of my life': Alex Jones loved presenting The One Show's hour-long TV special just before the Jubilee concert
This photograph really captures what was one of the most amazing nights of my life. I was lucky enough to be presenting The One Show’s hour-long TV special just before the Jubilee concert, so we were the warm-up for viewers before the real show started.
Our set was a double-decker bus parked backstage, so all these incredible musicians flooded in to be interviewed just before they were due to perform live on the main stage. Matt Baker and I got the chance to sing along to ‘Happy Birthday’ with the legendary Stevie Wonder – we sounded absolutely awful, though he was as great as you would expect – and talk to all the Sirs: Sir Elton John, Sir Cliff Richard and Sir Paul McCartney, who gave me a massive hug. I had to phone my mum straight afterwards, as my parents were huge Beatles fans.
Matt and I kept looking at each other all the way through as if to say, ‘Is this really happening’
Growing up in Wales, where we had amazing street parties to celebrate Royal events, I never imagined that one day I’d be involved in the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. It was an absolute honour.
As soon as filming ended, we were all let into the concert itself. It was lovely just to blend into the excited crowd to watch the show unfold. This picture represents a brilliant summer. I don’t think I’ll ever have a night like that again.
RACHEL STEVENS, 34, SINGER AND PRESENTER
Heart-warming: Rachel Stevens still thinks about when she met Ajame and her two-year-old twin daughters in Ethiopia
Looking at this picture takes me straight back to Ethiopia, to Ajame and her two-year-old twin daughters whom I met in October. I still think about them most days.
They lived in a tiny, dark, mud house: Ajame was very house-proud and kept it spotless. The twins were the youngest of eight children, who slept five to a bed. They had no windows, no electricity and there was no local GP to visit if one of the children got poorly. Until their new well is built next year, they have to drink dirty water.
Although I’ve seen stories like hers on TV so many times, I wasn’t prepared for the effect meeting her would have on me. Being the same age as Ajame and a mother myself – my daughter Amelie also turned two this year – it made the comparison even more jarring.
I have the support of my husband Alex, while Ajame’s husband died from drinking dirty water two weeks before their twins were born. The children seemed so scared and serious, so different to the giggling children I see when I take Amelie to nursery.
Ajame came across as quite guarded initially, but when I showed her a photo of Amelie, she beamed a big smile, kissed the photo and stroked it. Later, I watched her ruffle her son’s hair affectionately, it was amazing how normal it seemed, even in the surroundings. I felt embarrassed to cry in front of her, but I found the whole experience quite overwhelming and couldn’t help but well up.
During my trip as ambassador for the charity WaterAid, it was this incredibly strong woman and her children who have stayed with me the most. They made me realise just how lucky me and my family are. This year, I feel more appreciative than ever of everything I have.