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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
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

Ashdown Group: Human Resources Manager

£28000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: A successful organisation...

Recruitment Genius: Internal Recruiter - Manufacturing

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Internal Recruiter (manufact...

Ashdown Group: HR Manager (CIPD) - Barking / East Ham - £50-55K

£50000 - £55000 per annum + 25 days holidays & benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Man...

Recruitment Genius: Operations / Project Manager

£40000 - £48000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This software company specialis...

Day In a Page

Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent