Clare Balding webchat

Clare BaldingLeading sports journalist and London 2012 presenter Clare Balding joined us in July 2012 to discuss her career, women in sport and her memoir, My Animals and Other Family.

Clare has been a presenter, writer and broadcaster for over 15 years. Since becoming the face of BBC horse racing in 1998, she's covered four summer Olympic Games, hosted a string of major live events including Crufts, the Lord Mayor's Show and Trooping the Colour, and turned her hand to everything from swimming to golf.

Personal life | Tackling prejudice | Women in sport | London 2012 | Other



Letter QGrumpyOldHorsewoman: You do a superb job on the BBC, but now the party's over, do you intend to continue a role within racing or are you a BBC devotee?

Letter A

ClareBalding: I'm freelance so, in theory, anything is possible but it's all up in the air at the moment. Luckily, it seems that quite a lot of projects are in the pipeline for next year and I'm going to be doing more Countryfile filming, which hopefully might include some racing stories. 

Letter Qcountingto10: Do you have any unfulfilled ambitions or "bucket list" things to do?

Letter A

ClareBalding: Top of the bucket list is to present at the London Olympic and Paralympic Games, so, barring accidents, that should happen very soon. I would love to have a major impact on the coverage and popularity of women's sport, so that's the next big mission. I'd also like to work on more factual programmes and write another book. That should all keep me pretty busy for a while!

Letter Qaristocat: Aside from racing, which is your favourite sport?


"I've worked at Wimbledon for Radio 5 Live for the past 17 years and I do really enjoy the gladiatorial nature of tennis. Love the way it ebbs and flows, and how the key people stay around for long enough for you to really get to know them."

Letter A

ClareBalding: I've worked at Wimbledon for Radio 5 Live for the past 17 years and I do really enjoy the gladiatorial nature of tennis. Love the way it ebbs and flows, and how the key people stay around for long enough for you to really get to know them.

Letter Qlilibet: When you started presenting Rugby League my husband rolled his eyes and was generally very dismissive, now he thinks that you are wonderful and do really seem to love the game and to know your stuff. Do you think that the RFL should take some of the blame for the Bradford Bulls situation seeing that they granted them a licence 12 months ago?

Letter A

ClareBalding: Yes, you can tell your husband and anyone else that I do genuinely love Rugby League. I try not to get involved in the politics of the sport as, like so many other sports, it's a bloody minefield!

Letter QJustfeckingdoit: How do refrain from beating Willie Carson over the head when he keeps interrupting you? And is Frankel the best horse you have ever seen?

Letter A

ClareBalding: I love Willie but it is like working with a small child sometimes... We only have two more days together on television and I will miss him when it's all over. I think he has an incredible ability to switch from deep insight to the jocular and he's a great communicator.

And yes, Frankel is the best I've ever seen.

Letter Qrecall: I think you have a way of interviewing and discussing people that is really intimate, like they are all old family friends, you bring a real personal touch to it.

Letter A

ClareBalding: Thank you. I think doing Ramblings on Radio 4 for so long (started in '99) has helped my interview technique. I walk with people for four hours or more, we record for two hours and the programme is 28 mins so you get the best of the chat but it has helped me be patient, to let people reveal what they want to reveal over time and not to interrupt or rush.

Letter Qthreeolivemartini: I love Ramblings, I like feeling like I'm having a bracing walk even when I'm lying in bed. What has been your favourite walk on that programme?

Letter A

ClareBalding: I love, love, love doing Ramblings and I'm so pleased that it now has an extensive library of programmes via iPlayer so that people who don't hear it live can 'go for a walk' any time they like.

I have discovered walking in Northumberland because of it and I'd say a coastal walk up there is very high on my list of favourites. 

Personal life

Letter QChoccyJules: I'm a fellow thyroid cancer survivor. Do you find energy etc generally well-balanced these days, or is it an ongoing day-to-day moveable feast?

Letter A

ClareBalding: It's funny but I don't think my energy levels have been affected that badly but it's hard to tell as I was so like Tigger before I had thyroid cancer that my parents thought I was on something (you know how parents are). I do feel tired some days but then, given the hours I work, I would with or without the thyroid. I'm pretty good at remembering to take the tablets and am on 200mg a day, which is meant to do the trick. So far, so good.

Letter QGetOrfMoiiLand: I was deeply impressed at how you dealt with that ghastly little AA Gill. You were brilliant.

"I take most insults on the chin but when it's an attack that affects other people as well I think it's important to stand up and say: "that's enough." I tried to do so without losing too much dignity."

Letter A

ClareBalding: Thank you. I take most insults on the chin (it's big enough!) but when it's an attack that affects other people as well as me, I think it's important to stand up and say 'that's enough'. I tried to do so without losing too much dignity - also important.

Letter Qiceandsliceplease: Did you make any progress on getting Kim Clijsters to be your new best friend as you said you would during Wimbledon? Were you satisfied with the end result of that AA Gill nastiness, or would you like more done to combat lazy homophobia in the media?

Letter A

ClareBalding: I didn't make much progress on forcing Kim to be my best friend, mainly because she got beaten and went home.

I would have liked to have had an apology from the Sunday Times, but hey ho...

Letter Qstealthsquiggle: Your partner is a Radio 4 newsreader. How did you meet - clearly both in the media, but pretty far removed from each other in what you do - is there a romantic BBC canteen story in there somewhere [nosy]?

Letter A

ClareBalding: Alice and I met when I was on a BBC panel show and she was there. We were friends for two years (I waited!) before we became a couple. 

Letter Qrachel5073: While you were studying at Newnham College, Cambridge, did you really get up every morning to go to Newmarket? Secondly, I'm a secondary school teacher and feel adolescent girls often don't think they're good enough. How do you think we can change this?

Letter A

ClareBalding: Yes, I did get up every morning of my first two terms at Newnham to ride out in Newmarket and consequently struggled to stay awake in lectures. I won't say more but you will read more in My Animals and Other Family....

And yes, I think girls and women are judged and judge themselves too strongly on their body shape and size. That's why I think the Olympics and Paralympics are so important for women to see that it's not what their body looks like but what it can do that is important.

Tackling prejudice 

Letter QEdam: What do you think about the double standard in TV where older women are under-represented? What can be done to widen the pool of female talent beyond Barbie look-alikes?

"I think we need more women on TV and if there were more out there we'd have more of a cross-section of looks. I think it's a fault of our society that we judge women so heavily on looks at the expense of talent, intelligence and wit. We should all take it upon ourselves to change that view and one by one, we can change the world."

Letter A

ClareBalding: I just think we need more women on TV and if there were more out there we'd have more of a cross-section of looks. I think it's a fault of our society that we judge women so heavily on looks at the expense of talent, intelligence and wit. We should all take it upon ourselves to change that view and one by one, we can change the world.

Letter QAbigailAdams: How do you cope with the casual sexism and homophobia in sport in general and especially sport in the media?

Letter A

ClareBalding: You've probably seen from my timeline on Twitter that sometimes I confront the sexist/homophobic abusers and sometimes I just ignore. I've taken to copying in @stonewalluk so that they have a record of the abuse and if they want to take it further, they can. It also helps them collate evidence of homophobic bullying.

With the casual sexism, I try not to get uptight about it and just prove that as long as I do my homework well, I'm good enough to do any job and, hopefully, I am selected on the basis of that, not on the basis of my gender.

Letter QNomenOmen: Do you feel under pressure to fulfil certain expectations and to meet certain standards as a woman and a lesbian, which your male peers - straight or not - don't have to? I think you are, deliberately or not, an excellent role model, but I imagine that could become a tiresome burden at times.

Letter A

ClareBalding: I never feel it's a burden and sometimes I wonder if it helps. I have never been a flirt so it's not as if I would get giggly in an interview but I guess I benefit from not having anyone think that I'm commenting about a male tennis player or rugby player for any other reason than their talent on the field of play.

I fear there is always a bit more excitement when Alice and I go out than when Hazel Irvine or Sue Barker step out with their husbands, but such is life. I genuinely think it's changed over the last few years as people have just got used to the idea.

Letter QMrsKwazii: The emphasis on male teams is so pervasive in society - the disregard for women's football and cricket when we have excellent teams is very disheartening, for instance. Do you think that broadcasters have a role to play in this?

Letter A

ClareBalding: Yes, I do. And I hope to play a very major role in promoting women's sport in the years to come. More to come on this subject after the Olympics and Paralympics.

Women in sport  

Letter Qrhetorician: Do you have any views on how to get girls into sport? For so many teenage girls it seems resolutely uncool and unfeminine to get sweaty and hot.

Letter A

ClareBalding: This is going to be my big mission for the next 10 years. I want to make sure that more girls have access to regular sport in schools and that more women keep doing it in later life. I think we are paying the price of taking sport out of the school curriculum and it affects girls for the rest of their lives. Of course boys suffer too, but my challenge will be to get a higher profile for women's sport, which I will then work towards feeding down to school sports. 

Letter Qstealthsquiggle: Do you think women's sport would be better served by children playing mixed sport for longer at school, rather than often playing the same sports, but separately?

Letter A

ClareBalding: Yes, I think mixed sport to a later age is a very good idea. Football is the sport that could benefit most, in my opinion, as it has the biggest participation level and it would seem to me that girls and boys would both enjoy it.

London 2012

Letter Qfieldyfield: What do you think the legacy from London Olympics will be, and who are your personal heroes, sporting or otherwise?

Letter A

"The Olympic Park and the sports facilities therein will be a lasting legacy but I think there will be a huge legacy of attitude, which will reach right around the country."

ClareBalding: Of course the Olympic Park and the sports facilities will be a lasting legacy, but I think there will be a huge legacy of attitude, which will reach right around the country. I hope this will lead to pressure from parents and from teachers to increase the sporting opportunities for kids in schools, knowing that it will improve their capacity to learn as well as helping them live a healthier lifestyle.

I also think the Paralympics will have a huge impact and I know from working on three previous Paralympic Games that they will touch the public in a very profound way.

Letter Qthestringcheesemassacre: What Olympic event are you most looking forward to watching? Do you think Team GB will win eventing gold?

Letter A

ClareBalding: I'm going to be presenting the swimming for the first week, which sadly clashes with the eventing so I won't get up to Greenwich until the dressage and show-jumping starts (good chances of medals in both). I will be keeping a keen eye on the Eventing as they're all my friends and really hope they can win gold.

I'm looking forward to the whole thing getting started because there's a genuine highlight every day from Mark Cavendish in the road race on day one through to the modern pentathlon on the final weekend. I should be lucky enough to see a British gold medal - Becky Adlington, Fran Halsall, Keri-Anne Payne, are a few with real chances.


Letter Qsanguinechompa: I'm horse-mad, pro-eventing and national hunt racing, but the sad deaths of horses at the Grand National this year gave me pause for thought. What was your reaction?

Letter A

ClareBalding: I was very upset by it this year and last. I wonder if lowering the fences was a mistake. The false starts in the last few years have been embarrassing and they add to the tension building up before the race and the pace at which they then set off.

Speed seems to be the issue, so I would consider moving the start to the Melling Road, putting the tape on the far side but not letting the field cross the near side of the road until the starter says, 'Go'. Anyone who does is penalised and put to the back of the pack - as they would be on the grid in Formula One. It's worth trying... 

Letter Qrecall: Did you want to cry when you heard Andrew Murray's speech after his Wimbledon final?

Letter A

ClareBalding: I did cry. Luckily, my microphone wasn't faded up at the time but I was a blubbering wreck.

Letter QTigerFeet: What did you think of Sue Barker's interview with Roger Federer after the Wimbledon final? Should she have acknowledged his enormous achievement more?

Letter A

ClareBalding: It's always hard with live PA interviews because you're so aware of the sound coming out of the speakers and given that she probably had an editor screaming in her ear about Andy's tears, I think she did well to remember his name was Roger!

Letter Qtribpot: What are your favourite biscuits?


Letter A

ClareBalding: You know the biscuits you get in a collection tin that are like a rolled up funnel? They're crunchy and really yummy. I could eat about 100 of them. <30 minutes later> It's the Ciggarrillos biscuits I like (just googled them).

Letter QPopilol: Do you find it strange referring to / interviewing your brother? Do you have a stylist / adviser? Is your new book an autobiography? My husband and I have a standing joke that Clare Balding, Aled Jones and Steve Rider are the same person and you never see them together at the same time. The Sue Barker sketch with Miranda for Comic Relief was brilliant - any others planned?

Letter A

ClareBalding: There are a lot of questions here, so I'll try to take them on:
1. It's fun but also a little strange interviewing Andrew.
2. I have a great designer called Claire Thorogood who has helped me blitz my wardrobe and has made some great things for me.
3. The book coming out in September is called My Animals and Other Family. It's a memoir about my childhood with every chapter being loosely based on a different animal.
4. Aled and I joke a lot about being one and the same, but I didn't realise Steve was our big brother!
5. I hope so...

Letter QMirandaLadyA: What is your favourite cheese?


Letter A

ClareBalding: Brie.


Last updated: 9 months ago