Clare Balding

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The BBC Sports Presenter says she's the bad kid at the back of the class!

Colin Jackson: How did you get into sport journalism?

Clare Balding: I was an amateur jockey, went off to university, did a lot of public speaking there and I thought about going into politics.

I did a lot of debating at the Cambridge Union, and met a few politicians which put me off going into politics!

I started on BBC Radio 5 Live as a trainee doing racing as it was my specialist knowledge. My father and both my grandfathers were trainers and because I'd ridden in races I knew a little.

They paid me very little, but they trained me, sending me on an interview course and a writing course.

I did the big meetings - Cheltenham, Royal Ascot and the Derby, but was sent off to cover cricket and football.

Profile

Name: Clare Balding

Born: Kingsclere, Hampshire, UK

Education: English Degree, Cambridge

Achievements:

  • 1989-1990 leading amateur flat jockey
  • 1990 Champion Lady Rider
  • Royal Television Society's Sports Presenter of the Year 2003
  • Racing Broadcaster of the Year
  • Racing Journalist of the Year 2003

CJ: Is working in sport a man's world?

CB: It was, but my generation have been brought up and educated to believe that women are capable of doing anything that men can do.

I looked to Sue Barker, Anna Walker, Eleanor Oldroyd and Helen Rollason as role models.

Eleanor Oldroyd said to me very early on "You'll have to prove yourself over and beyond what any man will have to do" and that's the first time I thought this might be tougher than I imagined.

But I've never come up against anyone saying "You can't do that because you are a woman".

It's not a competition. It's not a filly-only race or a colt-only race, it's life and you get on with it, and like any business you're in, you've got to be good, and you work hard and bring something to the party that is a bit different.

CJ: How do you get to be so confident? Your preparation must be enormous?

CB: I do a fair amount of background work, but everyone does it. Hazel Irvine is the star pupil in the class when it comes to homework!

That girl isn't going to get beaten by anybody, and I think 'good on her', because she's fantastic. She'll never get done for lack of knowledge, which I will.

I'm the bad kid at the back of the class who's always asking stupid questions!

We have a really good team of sub-editors who do a lot of work. I have a good short-term memory so I'll mug up on an event like the Commonwealth Games and know it for two weeks. It's like revising for your exams in school.

CJ: You've interviewed people at the highest level of sport, what do you draw from them?

CB: I really do admire people like Tony McCoy, Steve Backley, Steve Redgrave, the ones who were at the top of their game (sparing your blushes, you too Mr Jackson!), and stayed there the whole way through.

It takes unbelievable hard work, a lot of luck, and a lot of good health as well. It's not just physical strength. There's something in their heads that is different.

CJ: Do you think these sporting stars take their expertise into other areas of their lives like future careers?

CB: Absolutely - dealing with nerves and handling pressure, it's a very, very good training ground.

I don't know what you were like before a race, but I would get myself really wound up that morning, and on the way to the races, my palms would be sweaty and I'd get myself into quite a state, but enjoying it.

Then, as soon as I got a leg up, as soon as I was on that horse, I went into automatic. Everything happened in slow motion and I didn't hear anything, I didn't see anything else.

I knew exactly who the people were in the race I wanted to be following, also the ones I didn't want to be behind. I took decisions quickly, I took risks. I could judge pace, and then the race would be over you'd get off and you'd be ordinary again.

It's like when you were about to sit exams. I still get nervous when I hear the opening music to a programme, but as soon as the red light goes on I'm fine!

CJ: You use a lot of technology, your laptop is right next to you in studio always. Why?

CB: I'm working the script up for the rest of the programme. When I'm doing racing, I just do bullet points, but, because at the Winter Olympics they needed to know a bit more of what I was likely to say I would put it in the laptop.

I am a techie, the more information I can get the better.

CJ: Do you see yourself moving out of sport?

CB: Where else could you be in the Italian Alps for three and a half weeks and two weeks later be in Melbourne? Sport!

I also work for BBC Events - The Lord Mayor's show, Trooping the Colour and New Year's Eve. I love big live events and I like talking to people and sport gives me all of that.

CJ: There are so many things we learn from sport, and we constantly have to do homework to keep up.

We have books to go through packed with all kinds of information for the big events. We have great fun testing each other as presenters.

I want to know more about all the countries involved and also all the World Records - times and stats. It's not just sport, it's intellectually interesting and challenging.


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