Exclusive Centenary insight into Attenborough Family’s time in Leicester

Michael Attenborough CBE has shared an exclusive insight into his family’s long-standing association with the University of Leicester for a city art trail, and to mark the University’s Centenary celebrations.

Theatre director Michael, son of actor-director Richard, Lord Attenborough, has recounted stories of his father’s childhood on the Leicester campus alongside brothers Sir David and John as part of the Rocket Round Leicester charity display, which will raise funds for local hospice LOROS.

In 2021 the University of Leicester will also mark its Centenary following its formation as a publicly-funded living memorial for all local people who made sacrifices during the First World War.

Michael’s spoken-word installation, which features revealing anecdotes about the young Attenboroughs’ childhood, will be made available to visitors to the University’s giant rocket sculpture on Centenary Square, mere metres away from College House where the boys lived as children.

The University’s rocket sculpture, dubbed the ‘Relaxing Rocket’, is designed by artist Betti Moretti and is inspired by the work and passions of Sir David and his brother Richard, as well as Leicester’s long-standing heritage of space research and exploration.

Setting the scene of his family’s shared history with the University, Michael says: “We’ve always been very proud as a family of our association with Leicester, and I remember well coming to the University for the opening of the 18-storey Arts Tower, which is named for my grandfather Fred.

“Many, many, many years later I was asked to deliver a lecture on Shakespeare and walking through the door to that building was, as I am sure you can imagine, an emotional moment.”

Michael’s grandfather Frederick was the second Principal of University College – later renamed the University of Leicester – and moved into College House with wife Mary and his three sons in 1932.

In the audio installation, Michael recounts tales of his ‘Grandpa Fred’ and ‘Granny Mary’ and their commitment to education and the realisation of the full potential of every Leicester student – a commitment which continues into the University’s second Century.

He also remembers how his father Richard once locked a young David in one of the padded cells of the former Leicestershire and Rutland County Lunatic Asylum, now the Fielding Johnson Building.

He continues: “Standing amongst 100 years of history, I am reminded that this University was founded within years of the end of the First World War, and I am much moved by the motto that was attached to the University College at that point, [Ut vitam habeant] which is translated as ‘so that they may have life’.

“100 years of teaching, of research, of community, of social and environmental concern and a celebration of the promise of youth – all in those 100 years, and at least another 100 years to come.”

Professor Nishan Canagarajah, President and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Leicester, said: “We are very grateful to Michael for sharing such touching – and sometimes amusing – tales of his family’s association with our University. It goes without saying that we are incredibly proud of the indelible contribution which the Attenboroughs have made to our heritage in the University’s first 100 years.

“I hope that, through listening to Michael’s words and through seeing the world-changing work which continues on our campus, visitors will be inspired to follow the Attenboroughs’ lead as true Citizens of Change.”

Rocket Round Leicester is set to become the biggest art event the city has ever seen, which will see 40 giant rocket sculptures land in Leicester between Monday 19 July and Sunday 26 September 2021.

The University of Leicester is proud to be an official sponsor of the Farewell Event, to be held at the National Space Centre on the weekend of 9 to 10 October 2021. At the conclusion of the project, each sculpture will be auctioned to raise money for LOROS Hospice, allowing them to continue to care for more than 2,500 terminally ill people every year.

Michael Attenborough CBE is patron of the Attenborough Arts Centre, the University of Leicester’s public arts programme, and regularly meets with University Professor and Vice-Chancellor Professor Canagarajah.