I’m very lucky that, despite my poor financial situation, I am still finding ways to enjoy myself, ably assisted by my family. One of the things I’ve done recently was attend a recording of The Clare Balding Show with my Mum. As with all TV audience things, the tickets were free, and unlike most other shows, these ones were guaranteed (with UK shows, production companies tend to over-book ticketed events which are free, because the audience aren’t financially invested so they get a percentage of no-shows, but need a full studio) – usually you have to queue up fairly early in order to ensure that you get in. The very big down side to this particular show is that the audience have to stand – more on that later.
I adore Clare Balding, and have for years. Since 2012, her star has risen to unimaginable heights, leading to some people thinking that they’re actually a bit sick of her but, in my eyes, Clare can do no wrong. For the uninitiated – because, incredibly, it has come to my attention recently that there are even people in the UK who haven’t heard of her – Clare was born to do something sporty. Her father is a retired racehorse trainer. He, in fact, trained the Queen’s racehorses. It wasn’t unusual for the Queen to have breakfast at Clare’s family home when she was growing up, as the Queen popped in a couple of times each year to see her horses. Clare had a brief stint as a jockey before going to university, and her younger brother has ultimately taken over the racehorse training business.
Clare, meanwhile, went into broadcasting. Racing being her specialist subject is where she started in sporting terms, but she’s also fronted televised rugby, equestrian and Olympic and Paralympic sport. Oh and she has two radio shows, which aren’t related to sport. In recent years, she’s developed a reputation for being a champion of the people (approximately one in every four sentences she delivered on air during the London Games was about how great the Games Makers were) and for being impeccably prepared, no matter what the subject (she’s become something of an expert in swimming and winter sports, as well as racing). She’s brilliant at just getting hold of people: Olympian Chad Le Clos’s Dad is famous because of her, and if she’s at the races, she’s whizzing around the paddock with a microphone picking out the most random trainers, owners and jockeys in order to get their thoughts on forthcoming events.
Her current TV show is kind of a sporting chat show – she has three sporting guests on and interviews them, taking questions from the audience and from Twitter (Clare’s a massive tweeter, running her own account and engaging enthusiastically with her followers). I was expecting to be impressed when we went to the show, because I’m such a fan, but I didn’t think I’d be blown away. The show is recorded in a back-alley hangar on the Olympic Park – it’s far less impressive than it sounds, sadly, but I guess you’re not really meant to be impressed by the building and set.
The recording we went to was quite uniquely horsey – the guests were former-cyclist Victoria Pendleton, now-retired jockey AP McCoy and fresh-from-Vegas dressage rider Charlotte DuJardin. I can’t think of the last time I saw so many horsey faces on one show. It may actually never have happened. That is the Power of Clare. When she came out to start the show, you could tell she was more excited than she usually is – and her standard excitement level is roughly ten out of ten – and that she was looking forward to the show, and pleased at the amount of clearly-horsey people in the audience. She was friendly, polite and well-prepared. We were in for a treat.
AP McCoy was first onto the sofa. The interview was filmed five days prior to his retirement. Five days before he would be crowned champion jockey for the twenty-first season in a row (this was already a done deal, he is the Roger Federer of National Hunt racing). But McCoy is famously… coy. Withdrawn. Private. Dedicated and probably a little bit mad (what I didn’t know prior to the interview is that, like me, he has a spinal fusion… and that, like me, he was back on a horse two months later. Difference between me and him is that he was racing competitively, I was cantering a riding school horse around an arena. His fusion is also three vertebrae shorter than mine… but let’s not split hairs). We had a feeling the interview would be good… because Clare. She knows AP well, and she’s good at getting things out of even the quietest subject. But she barely had to. He came out with some brilliant anecdotes all by himself, as well as responding fantastically to her questions. It was a bit emotional, as his impending retirement was addressed, but it was fantastic.
After almost an hour, Victoria and Charlotte were brought out to join AP, and some of my favourite horsey topics were covered: Charlotte is a huge champion for helmets in dressage, and this was discussed along with the accident which is the reason behind her stance. Pendleton is currently training to gain a jockey’s licence, switching from cycling to horse racing, and noted that she hadn’t considered how much your relationship with the horse can impact what you’re doing, with this not having been a factor in her previous sport. Part of me would urge her to switch out of racing as soon as possible (she’s contracted to her current challenged as it’s being funded by a sponsor), as she seemed to really like building this relationship, and I know that she’d get more of it in probably any equestrian sport other than racing or maybe polo. That said, even AP spoke about having a relationship with his mounts – jockeys are famed for leaping from one horse to another without truly getting involved, but McCoy openly stated that he cried when one of his most famous rides died a few years ago (unfortunately, the horse sustained an injury during a race, which I’d certainly be crying about had I been on it).
We were stood for about three hours in total – not great for an audience who participate in sports which involve sitting down! – but we both agreed we’d go again. The engaging guests helped no end, and I wouldn’t go for just anyone, but it’s always fun to watch these things from the inside. Clare led her guests in a brief photo op at the end, where they sat together and slowly shifted to face each section of the audience, so that we could get our phones out and take pictures of them on the stage. I wasn’t at the best angle, but my greatest shot is below.
On top of this, I got a tap on my shoulder during one of the breaks and Mr EquineHour himself introduced himself. I found out later that other Twitter pals were in attendance – it’s a small horsey world!
It’s great to watch first-hand as people do what they’re best at, and I’d encourage anyone to get there if they can.
The Clare Balding Show is broadcast in the UK on BT Sport on Thursday nights, with a shortened version on BBC2 on Friday nights. The show is currently filmed on Tuesdays, and tickets can be applied for here. Let me know if you end up going!