Sport on TV: Even the Queen is saddled with ubiquitous Clare Balding
Sunday 02 June 2013
She's an asset to the nation: happy and glorious, long to reign over us, God save Clare Balding. Turn on any TV channel and the odds are you will see her mischievous eyes beneath that Diana mop. The bookies should call off all bets, for she can wear the silks of whichever stable wants her and she makes changing horses in mid-sentence seem easy.
First there was her investigation into the life and death of Emily Davison in Clare Balding's Secrets of a Suffragette (Channel 4, Sunday), in which she forensically studied the incident where the feminist activist threw herself in front of the king's horse in the 1913 Derby. After hearing of the "firebuilding and bombing" activities of Davison, she came to the rather uncomfortable conclusion that she was more of a terrorist than a heroine.
Unabashed, Balding then deftly jumped over the fence and was to be found in royal company in a different way in The Queen: A Passion for Horses (BBC1, Monday). "There is a private side, a side most of us never see," she gushed, recounting how the first thing our monarch does every morning is read the Racing Post. "We've been allowed inside the private world."
Clare herself comes from an exclusive line of breeding, with three generations of Baldings having trained the Queen's horses – although frankly she's got so many of them that you might have even trained one yourself without realising it. Yet the Queen seemed to be ignoring her to start with, something along the lines of, "Oh no, not another bloody Baldwin".
The access was remarkable. We watched the octogenarian visit her yearlings at the Polhampton stud, and the skittish youngsters kicking up their heels alarmingly. But the Queen just potters up to them and scratches their noses, murmurs a few soft words (probably not "And what do you do?") and they are utterly becalmed. To think, one kick and all those record-breaking 60 years in charge would be over in a flash. It's lucky Prince Philip wasn't around, he would have been bound to upset one of them.
Initially the Queen employed the services of a Harley Street doctor to apply a "laying on of hands" to the excitable Aureole after he came second in the Derby 60 years ago. It didn't work. In 1989, she invited the Californian "horse whisperer" Monty Roberts to Windsor Castle to try his own calming techniques, and the unlikely alliance continues to this day.
Perhaps she might have used Monty to sort out some of the more troublesome elements of her royal family. Given the Queen's massive equine breeding programme, it comes as a surprise that she didn't find more suitable inseminators for her own offspring.
Watching a foal being born, the Sandringham stud manager, Joe Grimwade, and Balding marvel at the foal struggling to find its feet. "It's like it's on stilts…" "…on a ship…" "…after a few drinks." It sounded like a member of the upper classes stumbling around the grounds after a hard night of hob-nobbing.
At Castle Balding her own family say Davison was not trying to make a martyr of herself because, as Clare's father, Ian, says: "It was the suffragettes' ball that night." Brother Andrew chimes in: "That would have been a blast!" "This is the world I grew up in," groans Clare. "Women ain't people!"
The Queen has probably acted as a huge figure of empowerment for British women, albeit in a quiet way, far more than any suffragette ever managed. But she would probably give all that up for a single Derby winner like Ian Balding has, the one racing prize she has never grasped.
Then again, as Balding seemed to be presiding over the presentations at Epsom too, maybe she won't mind missing out again this year.
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