The Week in Radio: Why no-nonsense Clare Balding knows what women want


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The Independent Culture

On Sunday morning, I awoke to the sound of Clare Balding, she of horse-racing, memoir-writing, Olympics-presenting, Crufts-championing, quiz-show hosting, moorland-yomping and general switch-on-the-box-and-there-she-is-again fame. Actually, to be more accurate, I awoke to breakfast in bed, because nothing says "I love you" more than a six-year-old smearing jam across your bed sheets and hiding unwanted crusts under your pillow on Mother's Day.

But then came Balding, who recently started hosting Radio 2's Good Morning Sunday though, at this stage, if she started pulling pints in my local, or leaning out of taxis and saying "Where to, love?' my eyelids would remain steadfastly unbatted.

I love Balding. She is warm-hearted, no-nonsense and, to my mind, her refusal to break down weeping while clutching a microphone in a daffy hat at Ascot as tictack men appear to make lewd gestures over her shoulder puts her firmly in the premier league of TV presenters. She can do no wrong in my eyes, even when hosting a radio show that is so backwards in coming forwards with its religious intentions that God is mentioned roughly every half an hour, and only then in an apologetic whisper.

Granted, after my convent education, which involved mass every morning and five Hail Marys for every knee sock spotted around the ankle, such spiritual subtlety is lost on me.

Anyway, Balding's theme was, of course, mothers. There were lullabies from folk singer Jackie Oates, through which we were urged to recall childhood memories of bedtime. There were soppy messages from husbands to wives and children to mothers, all doubtless hoping that a mention on a national radio station would make up for the petrol station flowers and Beefeater roast earmarked for later.

There was a brief chat with Canon Ann Easter, chaplain to the Queen, who was hilarious, harrumphing, "There's no way I'm going to be a bishop no matter how much purple suits me." And, finally, Balding interviewed Doreen Lawrence, who, as the country's most famous mother, was called upon to yet again to reflect on the murder of her son Stephen. She was thoughtful, stoical and – this was lovely to hear – a grandmother. Talking of her own mother, who left her infant children behind in the Caribbean so she could work in the UK, she remarked: "I wouldn't say I disliked her but she wasn't there when I was growing up... The closeness I had with my own children, I never had that with my mother." Balding had an easy ride here – Lawrence is a well-practised interviewee – but, even so, she was strong and sympathetic she didn't shrink from the grim questions about what Stephen might be doing now had he lived.

The maternal theme continued later in a new wheeze from the Real Radio and Smooth Radio networks in the first of eight shows directed exclusively at women and – hark! Are those alarm bells I can hear? –sponsored by the high-street chemist Boots. Hosted by ex-Loose Woman Kate Thornton, the series was called the Boots Feel Good Forum and this week featured guests Jo "Supernanny" Frost and the TV GP Ellie Cannon, both dispensing cloying advice to mothers threatening to commit hari-kari at their offspring's resistance to fruit.

I'm guessing that this was the product of an hour-long pow-wow at Boots head office and some copiously pierced chumps from a Soho production agency all asking "What do women want?" before unveiling a mood board showing a picture of an overweight mother of four with a stress-related skin condition threatening her kids with a kitchen knife. I'm a woman, I'm a mother and my skin's seen better days but I know what I want and it sure as hell isn't this.