Clare Balding On Why She Loves Chiswick
Sports presenter talks about the Olympics, her new book and life in W4
Clare Balding’s feet have hardly touched the ground since the start of the summer. First there was her universally acclaimed presenting of the Olympics on BBC, followed by the Paralympics on Channel Four, and then straight into a punishing schedule of appearances to promote her childhood memoir, “My Animals and Other Family".
But while the Chiswick-based sports presenter thrives on being busy, she places a high priority on her personal life. This weekend she and her partner, Radio Four newsreader Alice Arnold celebrated the sixth anniversary of their civil partnership.
The couple found time to have dinner at popular local Michelin-star restaurant La Trompette and have a quiet few hours away from the public glare.
And then it was back to weekend of work for Clare with a sell-out appearance at the Chiswick Book Festival, recordings of the popular Radio Four show‘ Loose Ends’ and a guest appearance on the Jonathan Ross Show.
“I couldn’t have done what I’ve done over the past few months without Alice. The book wouldn’t be here without her. It’s dedicated to her and this summer couldn't have been this way without her support. You need someone who believes in what you’re doing”, says Clare who is looking forward to a few days off this week.
The memoir tells of her childhood growing up in Hampshire surrounded by thoroughbred horses and several dogs and each chapter is devoted to a favourite animal. As daughter of well-known trainer Ian Balding, Clare and her brother Andrew felt they were well down the pecking order with the animals.
But the stories of her escapades and adventures, from being bullied at posh school Downe House to her foray into the world of racing as amateur jockey, are told in a humorous and pacey style. The book ends when she is aged nineteen about to enter Cambridge.
Away from the buzz of the media world, Clare and Alice live in a quiet street off the High Road, where they are familiar faces to dog walkers in Chiswick House and along the Thames. But she reveals she would not have chosen to live in W4 without being presented with a gentle ultimatum from Alice. The actress-turned newsreader was catapulted onto the front pages last year when she tackled a litter lout.
“ I used lived in Putney and when we decided to move in together, Alice said: ‘we can live anywhere you want, as long as its Chiswick.' So that was it really.”
There was an obvious attraction living so close to BBC Television Centre, and being a 13-minute drive from from Heathrow Airport but she says she really appreciates the benefits of living in a friendly community.
“I love walking along the High Road and chatting with the fruit and veg stall holders. They always ask me for racing tips."
"I love the variety of the shops and the fact that Chiswick is so close to everywhere I need to go – whether it’s by bus or Tube. And its convenient enough for me to be able to get out to see my parents who live near Newbury."
“And of course Chiswick House is very special, it’s where we had our civil partnership ceremony and where we walk our dog, Archie. We either go there or down by the river twice a day. We’ve made loads of dog-owning friends in Chiswick through Archie”.
Clare also gets her local news from ChiswickW4.com. She is also a prodigious tweeter and has over 290,000 followers.
“I get all the tweets from the website, which tells me what’s happening. It’s great!” she commented.
These last few weeks she is the one being interviewed, and says talking about herself is "exhausting" but how did she find the time in her punishing work schedule to write?
“I wrote the first three chapters and then finished it between last September and Christmas. The idea had been in my head for a long time, and then it was just down to finding the discipline to write. I wrote on my laptop whenever I had time, whether I was travelling, or at home in Chiswick.
" I loved writing it and finding events from my life that were dramatic and make for a good read. My mum helped a lot. She had all the photos and she jogged my memory but it is my story and told from my perspective. It’s a memoir as opposed to an autobiography.”
Clare’s sports presenting career started on Radio Five in 1994, which paved the way for her to take over from Julian Wilson as BBC television's Chief Racing Correspondent in 1998. She is a former Sports Presenter of the Year and has won numerous awards.
But it is her presenting of the Olympics on BBC, followed by the Paralympics on Channel Four, which has garnered her the greatest praise. During the Olympics she presented swimming in the mornings, analysis of equestrian events in the afternoon and returned to presenting swimming news until 10pm. For the Paralympics, she joined Ade Adepitan on Channel Four to report across a range of sports.
Since then, television viewers have been writing and tweeting that Clare bested heavyweights like Gary Lineker in the Games coverage. Many have called for her to be included in the next Honour's List.
And of course she is credited with a central role in the creation of the famous Mo Farah ‘Mobot ’- suggesting he form an ‘M’ based on the Village People’s ‘YMCA’ dance.
The pressure on her as a presenter throughout the 2012 Games was enormous.
"Being on the home channels I was anxious to show the rest of the world and all the foreign networks just what we could do here in the UK."
In the wake of the Games, she is hoping that the success of the Paralympics should be built on and the sports world support the games Legacy. And she is also a champion of women in sport.
"The England womens' team are playing against Croatia this week- I must go and tweet about that," and with that, she's off into another studio for another busy day.
(My Animals and Other Family, by Clare Balding, Viking, RPP £20)
September 12, 2012