Talking Point: Clare Balding

Round & About

Liz Nicholls asks Clare Balding about life, sport and pets as she launches her new Dogcast podcast

Q. How do you feel about where we’re all at as feminists as we approach another International Women’s Day? “I think we’ve achieved a lot but there’s still a lot to do. We all need to realise many companies are not valuing the work of women in the same way they value that of men. We have to protect and support those who have been denied opportunity and financial reward and we have to consistently and insistently point out to employers where they need to shape up.”

Q. We’re real dog-lovers here, and even have an office dog (Booster the black lab)! Can you tell us more about Dogcast and your love of dogs? “I grew up with dogs and the first face I remember seeing and feeling a connection with was my mum’s Boxer, Candy. To be honest, I think Candy felt more protective towards me than either of my parents. I spent most of my childhood dreaming of being a dog. There are so many benefits to dogs being a part of our lives and Dogcast is all about exploring that joy, as well as offering practical advice on veterinary and behavioural issues. I’m fascinated by the positive impact dogs can have at work, in schools and in hospitals and care homes. Maybe I should come and visit your office to see what Booster has done for the team… “

Q. Do you play golf and are you looking forward to the Ryder Cup? “I do play golf and I thought Europe’s victory in last year’s Solheim Cup was one of the sporting highlights of the year. I love team golf and will watch the Ryder Cup as much as I can and hope we’ll see a reigniting of the successful bromance between Francesco Molinari and Tommy Fleetwood. They were amazing together in France in 2018.”

Q. 2020 is a huge year for sport – which aspects of the Tokyo games are you most looking forward to? “I can’t wait to see the new sports in action – especially skateboarding and rock climbing. We’ll have the youngest ever British Olympian representing Team GB in skateboarding (Sky Brown) and I hope she can win a medal. I’m also hugely looking forward to the Paralympics and I’m sure Tokyo will do a great job of hosting.”

Q. Did you enjoy your school days? “I had a mixed time. I started off very unhappy and got into a lot of trouble. I was suspended for shoplifting and de-housed. Then I rebuilt myself a bit, with the help of a very good set of friends and by throwing myself into sport. It all worked out in the end. I had a very good English teacher and she helped me get into a decent university to read English, which I loved.”

Q. Can you tell us about your love of horses? “My dad was a racehorse trainer and I was put on a pony before I could walk. It seemed easier to learn how to ride than stand on my own two feet and fairly soon I was falling off at regular intervals and rolling around on the ground laughing. I wanted to be an Eventer and my dream was to compete at the Olympics for GB. Then I started riding racehorses at the age of 16 and I discovered that winning races was a lot of fun. I won my first car by riding in races and I won my weight in champagne – which is the only time I’ve been delighted to be on the heavy side!”

Q. Is there anything you love to eat & drink? “I don’t mind champagne (luckily) but I really enjoy a rhubarb & ginger flavoured gin with tonic. I like most food apart from tomatoes, which I really hate. I don’t mind tomato sauce or sundried tomatoes but I really dislike them raw. It’s something to do with the squishy texture and the way the pips get everywhere.”

Q. What was it like growing up In Hampshire and any favourite places to visit? “It’s a beautiful part of the country and I was lucky enough to grow up next to Watership Down. I love the rolling hills and the clear chalk streams. I’ve done a lot of walking in Hampshire and the Home Counties but there is still so much more to explore. The other week I walked from Winchester Cathedral, past the college and through the water meadows, before climbing up to St Catherine’s Hill to explore the ancient labyrinth on the top. It was absolutely beautiful and I couldn’t believe that it had taken me until then to discover it.”

Q. What’s your favourite book, film and artist? “I’m always reading so I can’t say I have one book that I would choose above all others… But if I had to recommend something that summed up the British countryside, I’d go The Wild Places or The Old Ways (both by Robert Macfarlane) or Rising Ground by Philip Marsden. I also love Caitlin Moran’s books and anything written by Nora Ephron. I watch a lot of films and have really enjoyed the development of storylines in which women can be leading characters, rather than just victims or support players. I would hold up Hidden Figures as a great example of a film about women who made a real difference to the development of the world as we know it and had previously been ignored by history. As for a piece of music, If I Had A Million Dollars by Barenaked Ladies makes me laugh every time I hear it. My go-to album on repeat is For All Our Sins by Sound of the Sirens. I love every song on it.  If you meant artist as in painter, I would say Davy Brown – a Scottish landscape artist who paints beautiful water colours.”

Q. Who would be your dream dinner party guests? “Dawn French, Jennifer Saunders, Julie Walters, Emma Thompson, Phoebe Waller-Bridge and Olivia Colman. Someone would have to be in charge of cooking as I get stressed by cooking for more than one person.”

Q. What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received? And what advice would you give your younger self? “Best advice is that ‘whether you think you can’t or you think you can, you’re probably right’. The power of the mind is an amazing thing and can influence the way we perform almost any task. I like to say ‘yes’ to things at work that scare me a bit – like working on the last General Election – because I think it’s good to be out of my comfort zone and it means I always feel challenged and am learning more about how to do the job. I’d tell my younger self to read more books and to stop worrying so much about clothes and hairstyles or trying to fit in.”

Q. What else is on your horizon this year and beyond? “It’s a big year because of the Olympics and Paralympics in Tokyo. Before all that, I’m launching the new podcast, Dogcast With Clare Balding and I’m working on a new book for kids. It’s in the non-fiction space and it’s all about resilience, patience, confidence and concentration.”

Q. If you had a magic wand, what one wish would you make for a better world? “I’d try to reverse climate change, clear up the oceans of plastic, stop the fires in Australia (and elsewhere in the world) from destroying so much wildlife and natural habitation, stop the floods that cause so much damage and basically create a world in which we are living in harmony with nature.”

* Download the Dogcast with Clare Balding podcast at