Clare Balding: ‘Girl’s and women’s football is the biggest growth area in sport’
The very busy BBC presenter sportingly answers a mixed-bag of questions
Clare Balding in Dublin last month: Sea the Stars was the best Irish racehorse of all time, she believes. “I think he just had a brilliant talent and attitude and he also had a bit of pzazz about him.” Photograph Nick Bradshaw
Clare Balding is in Dublin for the day, and unsurprisingly, the venue for the interview is a sports one; the Aviva Stadium. Balding has made her considerable reputation as a knowledgable, likeable sport presenter and commentator over decades working for British television. She has covered six Olympics, and that’s only a tiny bit of her extensive CV.
She’s in Dublin to talk at an “inspirational speakers” event later in the day, called “The Difference is You”. We’re in one of the Aviva’s corporate rooms, high up above the stadium, where lots of young children are milling; out on a school sports visit. Her schedule is busy, so we have about 20 minutes, and gamely, Balding multitasks, eating breakfast (coffee and a Danish pastry) with answering my questions.
What’s the big growth area in sport? “Girls and women’s football. Men’s football has almost reached saturation point [in Britain]. There wouldn’t be a boy who hasn’t got a chance to play football, whereas there are lots and lots of girls who don’t even think about it.”
Who is the sports person you most admire? “Andy Murray. I admire him because he didn’t come from a priviledged background. To be the number one in the world of such a competitive sport as tennis, to have won Wimbledon twice, to have won two Olympic gold medals... I don’t think he has an awful lot of ego either.”
One word on Brexit? Balding laughs, then gives a long, expressive sigh. “That’s my one word.”
Theresa May or Jeremy Corbyn? “I can’t do that. I’m BBC.” It seems employees of the BBC cannot publicly state their political views, even when not in their home country.
Dream dinner party guests? “Dawn French, Jennifer Saunders, Mary Berry – not just to do the cooking, for her company as well – Lisa Tarbuck, Julie Waters, Shirley Williams, Miranda Hart and Sally Phillips.”
Most money she’s ever spent on something that wasn’t a house or a car? “Probably a racehorse. But actually the brood mare I’ve got right now was bargain basement. But I did once spend £10,000 on a racehorse, on my brother’s advice.”
Which Irish racehorse does she think is the best of all time? “Sea the Stars. I think he just had a brilliant talent and attitude and he also had a bit of pzazz about him.”
What are the qualities that make a great TV presenter? “God, I don’t know. I look at people I admire and have admired, somebody like Terry Wogan or Graham Norton, Ellen DeGeneres in America. They don’t take it too seriously... I think it probably does us all the world of good to realise it is not the most serious job in the world. And although if I am presenting a major sporting event, I have got to have some sort of authority on the subject – I have to make you want to trust me. I do think as well that when things go wrong, you have got to laugh at it.”
If the tabloids hadn’t outed you as gay, would you have chosen to share that information publicly? “Who do you share your personal information with? Or who does anyone else share their personal information with? I wasn’t outed [she explains that she had already told her closest friends and family members]. I didn’t feel the need to give a press statement... I hope there is some benefit to being as comfortable and as happy and as openly content and sort of – I don’t know what the word is. If I was to use a phrase, and I’ve used it before, it would be ‘proud to be happy, and happy to be proud’ is not a bad place to be.”
Are you aware of the Repeal campaign in Ireland? “No.”
Are you aware that abortion is illegal here? “I did know that.”
What are your views on the fact that abortion is illegal in Ireland? “I’m not sure if that’s an area that I’d be necessarily qualified to speak on, to be honest. It’s just not something, you know, I have had an awful lot of cause to think about.”
What do you for down time? “I play golf. I walk a lot. I spend time with my nephews and my niece. I go out a fair amount. We live in London, so luckily, there is a lot going on.”