Passed/Failed: 'An education in the life of Clare Balding, BBC sports presenter

'I got suspended for four days for shoplifting'

Clare Balding, 39, was a leading amateur jockey and now covers all live racing for the BBC. Other sports she has presented include swimming, rugby league, golf, bowls and darts. She has reported on four summer Olympic Games and three winter Olympic Games. She presents Ramblings on Radio 4, and her new series Britain By Bike starts soon on BBC Four.

I don't think I got expelled, but they weren't overly keen to hang on to me at the fee-paying school in Inhurst, which is near Basingstoke and the next village to ours. I got into quite a lot of trouble. I was very enthusiastic and inquisitive, and rather questioning of the teachers.

At seven or eight, I went to Kingsclere state primary near Newbury, and I credit them with my high marks in my English in the 11-plus, but I was hopeless at maths – 13 per cent. I got into Downe House, a private girls boarding school near Thatcham, Berkshire.

I got suspended for shoplifting from the local village shop. There was a lot of it going on and I was trying to keep in with the in-crowd and prove my hardness. Luckily, it was just before the end of term and I was only suspended for four days. It was awful at the time but, long-term, had a good effect. I went back into a different house and had a different set of friends. I ended up as head of the house and head girl.

It's so extraordinary that I got into Cambridge. I got an A in my English A-level, but my grades in history and Latin were poor. I applied to Christ's College and was turned down. My father [Ian Balding, the Queen's former racehorse trainer] was very disappointed: he had got in with only O-levels!

I had two years out. I took history again and started riding in races. I rode eight winners in one season and nine in the other. Then I had tuition in interview technique at Radley College, where my brother [the present trainer for the Queen, Andrew Balding] went to school. I felt terribly comfortable at the Newnham interview and got in to read English. During my first week, I asked Jean Gooder, my director of studies, if I could have the following Tuesday off for a race, saying: "If I win the Lady Riders Championship, I would receive my weight in champagne, and bring reflected glory on to the college." She said I could, provided that I explained to her the racing page of her newspaper.

I really did enjoy English. We read a lot of Shakespeare, and, for this, Germaine Greer was one of my supervisors. She could not abide ignorant people, but in your first year you're bound to be ignorant. We got on, after a few occasions when I disagreed with her.

Jean told me that her husband had marked one of my finals papers. The names were not given to the examiners, but he read out to her part of an essay from one of the candidates and was very complimentary about it – and she knew it was me. My degree was a 2:1, but he gave me a first on that paper.

I was president of the Cambridge Union in my second year. There was a good turn-out for the Dalai Lama, who came to speak. He was a funny man, a real giggler and an very engaging orator.

Reading English probably helped me in my job, but so did the Union. Debating is the greatest training for when they tell me: "Stand up and talk: the VT [videotape] machine's broken down." At one Olympics, they mistimed the event and asked me: "Can you talk for seven minutes?" Believe me, that's a long time.

ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Chief Executive

£28, 700: Whiskey Whiskey Tango: Property Management Company is seeking a brig...

COO / Chief Operating Officer

£80 - 100k + Bonus: Guru Careers: A COO / Chief Operating Officer is needed to...

HR Manager - Kent - £45,000

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: HR Manager / Training Manager (L&D /...

HR Manager - Edgware, London - £45,000

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Manager - Edgware, Lon...

Day In a Page

Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

The children orphaned by Ebola...

... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

Are censors pandering to homophobia?

US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
The magic of roundabouts

Lords of the rings

Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
Why do we like making lists?

Notes to self: Why do we like making lists?

Well it was good enough for Ancient Egyptians and Picasso...
Hong Kong protests: A good time to open a new restaurant?

A good time to open a new restaurant in Hong Kong?

As pro-democracy demonstrators hold firm, chef Rowley Leigh, who's in the city to open a new restaurant, says you couldn't hope to meet a nicer bunch
Paris Fashion Week: Karl Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'

Paris Fashion Week

Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'
Bruce Chatwin's Wales: One of the finest one-day walks in Britain

Simon Calder discovers Bruce Chatwin's Wales

One of the finest one-day walks you could hope for - in Britain
10 best children's nightwear

10 best children's nightwear

Make sure the kids stay cosy on cooler autumn nights in this selection of pjs, onesies and nighties
Manchester City vs Roma: Five things we learnt from City’s draw at the Etihad

Manchester City vs Roma

Five things we learnt from City’s Champions League draw at the Etihad
Martin Hardy: Mike Ashley must act now and end the Alan Pardew reign

Trouble on the Tyne

Ashley must act now and end Pardew's reign at Newcastle, says Martin Hardy
Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

Last chance to see...

The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

Truth behind teens' grumpiness

Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

Hacked photos: the third wave

Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?