Through my father, Kenneth Oakley, a palaeontologist most famous for helping expose the Piltdown skull hoax, I met all manner of distinguished scientists and other significant figures, but none made as much impression as Richard Leakey, and that was when he was just a kid.
Leakey’s parents, Louis and Mary, had been invited to lunch at our home in Amersham, Buckinghamshire, and a somewhat resistant Richard had been brought along in tow. A couple of years older than me, he ignored me completely, but I could see even then that he had charisma and would go far.
But what really impressed me was his snake. At first no one noticed the slithery creature adorning his neck until it suddenly reared up alarmingly, flicking out its forked little tongue. It was mesmerising as it peered round, before disappearing back inside Richard’s shirt, much to everyone’s entertainment, ours being an animal-loving household.