Sport on TV: Horses, hearses and how to park a carriage in the garage
Sunday 26 July 2009
It was rather confusing at first. ITV were showing the Royal Tattoo. One half-expected to see the Queen making a guest appearance on 'Miami Ink', going under the needle and coming out with a Union Jack emblazoned on her arm above the motto "Mum", or in her case "Ma'am".
But no, All the Queen's Horses (ITV1, Sunday) was a rather different affair. Alan Titchmarsh, no doubt covered with tattoos of spiralling tendrils and sumptuous roses beneath his tweeds and corduroys, was taking a peak behind the scenes of the Royal Windsor Horse Show, the biggest gymkhana in the UK.
And he also happened to be the compere for the "Queen's Night". It's important that you get the apostrophe in the right place there. After all, Her Royal Highness was sitting next to someone called Princess Ludwig and her troopers had spent 11 hours waxing their thigh-length leather boots.
There was a surprising cross-section of society at the show, albeit not generally of the cross-dressing kind. Prince Philip, doyen of the sport of carriage driving, was insistent: "It's the same across all sports. If you've got a common interest, nobody cares a damn who you are. Look at your village cricket team." Indeed, George Bowman and Mickey Flynn, his bronze medal-winning team-mates from the 1984 World Championships in Hungary, seemed to be very down to earth, and not just because of the Prince's driving.
But there's no denying that these carriage drivers are a bit odd. Bowman's son, George Jnr, said: "It's as addictive as heroin and 10 times as expensive." And then there was Karen Bassett, one of only two women competing in the event, who pulls hearses – or her horses do – in her spare time. "I just get a good feeling from funerals," she said. "You go to a funeral every day, you're happy to be alive."
The Queen still rides three times a week at the age of 83, and famously refuses to wear a hat (well who's going to tell her?). But Prince Philip gave up competitive driving three years ago at the age of 85, though this was not because of fears about his safety.
As he astutely pointed out, "If you're playing billiards, you could stick the cue in your eye". In his case, probably at the same time as he stuck his foot in his mouth.
There was some wonderful footage of the 1994 show when he lost control of his horses at the water obstacle. "No, you idiots!" he yelled at the poor beasts, sounding exactly like his puppet once did on 'Spitting Image'.
Titchmarsh said the show represented "everthing that's best about Britain. The Royal Cavalry meets the village fête". It was an enduring image, soldiers riding at full tilt through the skittle alleys and coconut shies, trampling the peasants under hoof as they went. But they would make a terrible mess of Titchmarsh's prize chrysanthemums.
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