Clare Balding

Clare Balding

Clare Balding is one of the most familiar faces when it comes to sport broadcasting and she was part of the hugely successful teams that brought us the Olympics and the Paralympics this summer.

In 2012 she has also turned her hand to being a writer as she released her debut novel My Animals and Other Family, which has been a huge success.

I caught up with her to chat about her novel, the Olympics and Paralympics as well as the new npower campaign that she is fronting.

- You are fronting a new campaign with npower and history pin called 'Remember How We Used To' so can you tell me a little bit about it?

It is a website, or part of a website, that is collating people’s photographs and it gives you a really clear social history record and it is essentially remembering how we used to live before all of the domestic appliances and energy saving devices were introduced.

I love it because I love the map on it and I like that you can go into your village and see who has posted what. I think that it is informative and it is fun and that is a combination that is always good in my book.

- And the campaign is inviting the general public to get involved so how can they do that?

You can go to the website and upload you pictures to it so it is n-Power have financed the research done by Warwick University and they have found out some fascinating facts; for example back in the 1950’s woman would do on average fifty hours of housework a week - today that is the number of hours that you would work.

We know do an average of eighteen hours a week, which includes cooking time, and I think that it is more shared now and men will do some of that. That gives you a lot more time a week to use your own energy in different ways.

So the dishwasher, the washing machine, the kettle, the cooker have probably attributed more to female emancipation that anything else - they don’t get a lot of credit for it because everyone goes on about the sexy gadget like the iPhone but actually the things that have changed our lives are our domestic appliances.

- The site allows them to share their memories and stories about how the use of energy has changed…

I have had lot of conversations with people about mangles and about… obviously you could never wash and dry in the same machine but also people would go one about washing in one machine and them putting them in another to rinse it and it was called a twin tub.

So people us to use these twin tubs and it was all a bit of a faff. And of course before that people use to wash their clothes in the bath before putting them through the mangle and putting them out on the line. That takes hours.

- Well I was wondering how you have personally seen the use of energy change from being a child to now?

There is no way that I would be able to live the life that I lead if I didn’t have those devices. I can’t imagine being as busy as I am and as mobile as I am in an era when I would have needed to contribute a hell of a lot more hours to keeping the house running.

But I think where I have benefited is the change in attitudes as my grandmother wouldn’t let my mother go to university because she didn’t want a blue-stocking for a daughter - and said that to her.

My experience was completely different as I went to university and I loved it and I would love to go back and to a PHD or a Masters some day. The attitudes towards women and education is very different now.

But I think that you have to give yourself creative thinking time and you can’t do that if you are doing fifty hours of housework a week, you just can’t.

- The campaign is also looking at how women's roles have changed over the years with many women leaving the home to work - you have a very successful career so how do you find balancing that with home life?

At the moment I am probably working a bit too much. But into 2013 and beyond I am starting from the point of where is our time off? So I will make those decisions next year that will mean that I have more time at home.

It can get very very draining - I was working in Salford and going up and down to Salford and that can be very disruptive and draining.

You have just got to try and give yourself recovery time - it is not just about time at home with your partner or your family it is time when your mind can be still.

That is why I do Ramblings for Radio 4 as it keeps me sane. As far as I am concerned it is not work those are days in the diary when I know that I am going to be outside all day and actually going to have thinking time, as well as recording a programme which is important, but there is quite a lot of space within that. Plus I walk with interesting people and I see great parts of the country which is great.

- Speaking of your career you have had a very busy 2012 the highlight covering the Olympics and the Paralympics so how was that whole experience?

It was amazing and I think I will take another ten or twenty years to really be able to analyse the impact of it on me and on other people.

I have just done a book signing in Oxford and every other person in the queue talked about London 2012 and where they were when they were watching and what it meant to them and they say ‘thank you’ for making it such fun. It is really lovely because it touched a lot of people.

I was lucky because I was at ‘the big event’ and I think it will take a while to register what it has done for me because it was just huge and it was too big to take all at once (laughs).

- You have covered these events before all over the world but what was it like with it being at home? And what was it like being in the middle of that hysteria as the medals started to roll in?

It was hugely exciting because it is my home city and I had been quite involved with people working on the bid all the way up to it; Seb Coe I know very well and one of my good friends was running the media side of things.

So I had been to the Olympic Park site very early as it was being built and I felt very personally attached to it. Being at home was great because I didn’t have to fly to Beijing a week before and get over jetlag so that made it much easier.

What I tried to do was maintain a bit of distance from the hysteria so I didn’t read any of the newspaper coverage or the TV reviews, I still haven’t actually.

It was much easier to access the homework side of things because you can get the newspapers with all the profile pieces and there was much more interest from the papers for our athletes and foreign athletes. So in many ways it did make it easier.

With the Paralympics I went home after the show every night so I was able to walk Archie in the mornings and then went back to Olympic Park - as long as my day starts with walking the dog I am really happy.

I loved the way Channel 4 approached the Paralympics and I loved the way the profiled the athletes and their comedy show The Last Leg was outstanding as they stamped their mark on and did it incredibly well.

- The Paralympics were the best supported in history so how did they compare to the Olympic Games? In the past they have perhaps been a little forgotten but they were very much the equal this time around.

Paralympics means parallel to the Olympics and I think for the first time in my experience, and therefore for the first time ever as the Paralympics have got progressively better, it lived up to its name and the attendance was great.

I think that the standard of sport is improving because the net is being cast wider and more people are aware of the Paralympic Games and therefore are keen to train for them.

That is also what I think about the Olympics and women at the Olympics and that will have a huge impact in ten years time when you get a load more female athletes, as well as Paralympic athletes, having trained to do it because they have realised that it is attainable.

But I love the Paralympics and I love the impact that it has had as I have had a lot of feedback, particularly from kids. I think that it has a massive impact as I think it changes the way that we think about disability but it also has a huge impact on engineers, architects and people who design transport systems to think about access - access if the key to freedom.

Whether you are disabled or able bodied it doesn’t matter you need to be able to move around and you need to be able to get places and that is hugely important and I hope that that is a legacy.

- We are going to see a handful of the winners from both events are going to be battling it out for Sports Personality of the Year so who do you think it going to win?

I don’t know. I think it is a hell of a list and it is the best list that I have ever seen. I am very pleased that there are five women on it and I am very pleased that there are Paralympics on it as well. I think it is a really reflective list across a variety of sports that deserve a higher profile in none Olympic years.

I think it is a great list as there are different personalities on there, different sports, different ages, different routes they have been on, different backgrounds and we will showcase them all on 16th December. I can’t wait.

- We are so use to seeing you on TV but you have also turned you hand to being an author with your book My Animals and Other Family so how did this project come about?

I read English at university and had dreamt of being a writer. I was using the excuse that I didn’t have time to write as a shield to protect me from the fear that I couldn’t but once I was kicked into shape and told to get on with it I just got on with it.

Once I started writing properly I just loved it. I have used animals to give me a framework as I am better if I can see the structure. Although it is the story of my childhood it has a dramatic narrative and I hope it is a story well told.

Luckily it has been going great as it was #1 for four weeks and it has been top ten every since and it won an award earlier this week at the National Book Awards. So I am really proud of it and I am thrilled with how it is being received.

It is the most personal thing that I have ever done and it will have a greater longevity than anything that I will ever do on television or radio and that makes it the most important thing I have ever done because it will exist forever. And while that is a very scary thing to do I am very pleased that I have done it.

- So would you consider writing more book in the future?

Yes I would and I will start working on a book next autumn probably. I am not quite sure what framework I will use for it but I do have a few ideas. But yes I will write more and hopefully one day write fiction.

- You have been a journalist, writer, broadcaster and presenter is there anything else that you are keen to try your hand at?

I think that that is probably (laughs) I think it more than most people would consider. I am always interested in projects where I am creatively involved.

I always wanted to try and have an impact on improving people’s lives and I think I can do that through helping promote women’s sport because I think it has a big impact on young girls.

And it ties in with the history pin website and I think women’s sport is tied in with female emancipation as well and equality and therefore if you get more coverage you allow girls to know that they can be strong, competitive and ambitious and those are not negative adjectives.

- Well you have slightly touched on my next question you have very much been a voice for women’s sport over the years so what else to you think now needs to be done to make the push to bring through the next generation of girls through?

I believe that it hinges on three I’s; Imagery, which is important, Information, which is more important, and Investment and the investment needs to come from television companies to profile sports.

But also from newspapers because if you pick up any newspaper the coverage is hopelessly male dominated when we know that women’s sport is of a quality that is well received and has great competitors in it that can share their stories.

I think there is a way to go there but I am working with a couple of pretty key powerful companies that can change that. So I hope that part of my personal legacy to have played an active role in the coverage of women’s sport.

We will see what impact that has - I may never know the impact that it might have (laughs) but I know it will be good, hopefully (laughs).

- We saw so many great performances at the Olympics and Paralympics from the likes of Jess Ennis and Sarah Storey they really drove the British team forward so how key do you think those performances are going to be?

I think that is massive as well and I think the more you see women being competitive and successful and that being regarded as a positive thing the more that helps. I do think the leads pf the Olympic and the Paralympic teams were female.

- Finally what is next for you heading into 2013?

I have got a big new show called Britain’s Brightest which will start on BBC on January 5th and that is all about the brain and testing our all round intelligence. I am really excited about that as it is intelligent family viewing for Saturday night.

I start on Radio 2 on 20th January and I start on Channel 4 Racing on January 1st. So the very first day of 213 will be a whole new experience, not with the sport but the channel and the team.

It looks like my book is going to America and that will be published in the spring and the paperback will come out here. It is all an adventure is what I have always thought and said and this is a huge adventure and will continue to be that.

Clare Balding is working with npower to launch an online energy archive called ‘Remember How We Used To’ (see

Marking the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee year, the site chronicles how energy has transformed our lives over the past 60 years and powered our world into the 21st century.

FemaleFirst Helen Earnshaw

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