Clare Balding recently vowed to do less, and do it better. She may be doomed to disappointment. Do less? By dropping what, exactly? Some element of her television work for the BBC, Channel 4 or BT Sport? Not the horse racing, surely – as the daughter of a racehorse trainer, equestrianism is in her blood, and her decision earlier this month to forego this year’s Grand National was made to allow her to host the first ever women’s Boat Race to be held on the same course as the men’s and on the same day.
Next year’s Olympics in Rio is set in stone, and will be her sixth summer Games (not to mention two Paralympics, three Winter Olympics and as many Commonwealth Games). She is the face of the BBC’s rugby league coverage, while Wimbledon is saved for the beloved radio where she started her career, and where she now presents Radio 2’s spiritual programme Good Morning Sunday every weekend. Meanwhile, her landmark Radio 4 show Ramblings is entering its 16th year. Then, of course, there’s The Lord Mayor’s Show, Trooping the Colour and Sports Personality of the Year. And she’s affiliated to at least nine charities.
How to be better is more puzzling still. As long as 12 years ago, she was Racing Journalist of the Year and The Royal Television Society Sports Presenter of the Year, since when she has been knee-deep in assorted prizes for radio, television and lately writing – My Animals and Other Family was pronounced Autobiography of the Year at the 2012 National Book Awards. Her work at the London Olympics bagged her a Bafta Special Award, and then the OBE. There is no one else like her. Dame Clare is a racing certainty one of these days.
We meet, of course, at one of her many workplaces. Today that means the studios of BT Sport, within sight of the Olympic stadium in north-east London, one hour before she records the latest edition of her eponymous sporting chat show. An indication of her “in-demand” status is that BBC2 has begun airing it the day after it’s first broadcast on BT Sport.
Actually, the only way our own interview could be shoe-horned into her schedule was to do it while her make-up was being applied before the show, and continue afterwards in her car on the way home.
So Clare, this idea about doing less… How’s that working out for you?
She laughs – you get used to that sound around Balding – and says: “I mean, honestly. I do have three weekends off in May. I used to say yes to everything I was offered because I thought it would all stop tomorrow. Now I think it might stop tomorrow precisely because I say yes to everything.
“In 2014 I didn’t do a single panel show because they get repeated so much. From December 10th last year when I hosted Sports Personality until I did Crufts on March 10th, I was not on television presenting anything. Yet people still say: ‘You’re on everything.’”
The fact is that loafing is not Balding’s natural state. Even when watching television (which she readily agrees she does a lot of – Happy Valley, Last Tango In Halifax, Strictly Come Dancing and plenty more), she simultaneously tweets to her 574,000 followers and plays online Scrabble.
“Growing up I wanted to be a three-day event rider,” she says, eyes closed as make-up is applied to her flawless 44-year-old skin. “But if by some magic I could now have the choice of being an all-achieving three-day-eventer or be me, I’d be me. I’m really happy. I love what I do. I don’t ever wish I was doing something else.
“I mean, the other day I was walking on the Downs and it was a beautiful day and I thought ‘God, I wish I could do this more often’. But of course I could do it more often, and I don’t because I’m always working.”