Broadcaster and author Clare Balding is a cornerstone of British sports coverage and, it’s fair to say, a national treasure.
With a long-standing and varied career under her belt, she was awarded a BAFTA for her work during the 2012 Olympics and Paralympics as well as an OBE the following year for services to broadcasting and journalism.
A devout animal lover, Balding has written a number of books about four-legged friends from dogs to horses, including children’s fiction. Her latest book, Fall Off, Get Back On, Keep Going is also aimed at children.
A practical, inspiring guide for kids, Balding combines warm insight from her own life with advice, tips and the stories of dedication and determination of real sports people.
Below, the broadcaster shares the books which have inspired her writing career and life outside of her work and lines up her final Fantasy Bookshelf selection.
Balding shares the inspiration behind her new book, discusses the best reading recommendations she’s ever received and reveals her favourite fictional guinea pig.
If you could only save one book in the world, which one would it be?
An Atlas, for lots of practical reasons. If it was the only book I had in the world, at least I would know where I was and where I wanted to go. I love maps and I love atlases.
What was your favourite book growing up?
Black Beauty by Anna Sewell – my absolute favourite. That would be a close run for the book I’d want to save as well because I’ve got a first edition and it’s absolutely beautiful. Uncut pages, illustrations, plates on the shiny paper. It’s really, really beautiful.
Which character would you say you were most like as a child?
George from The Famous Five. George had Timmy the dog and she was a tomboy and she was quite rude to people and she just wanted to do what she wanted to do. She loved her dog and I thought she was really cool.
You book Fall Off, Get Back On, Keep Going is full of lots of advice, practical tips, inspiring people and insights from your own life. What influenced the way you wrote it?
I had wanted for years to write a book about how sport and sports people, I think, are really good lessons in how to overcome failure and keep going. I wanted to do that for many years, perfecting the idea of putting it into 10 chapters and giving it this theme of falling off getting back on again, obviously, based on my life.
I realised that a lot of children had read my first memoir which was called My Animals and Other Family. Lots of kids read that, and they identified very strongly with stories in my childhood. So putting that into a form that was specifically aimed at nine to 12 year olds was important to me.
Those small biographies of amazing women, I think those are really good [Little People, Big Dreams]. Children really like facts, they like to know more about people. So that’s why I wanted to do stories in my book of individuals who have done amazing things that [kids] might not have heard of before.
Which book has taught you the most or made you think about something differently?
The Power of Now. I remember when I read it, understanding for the first time how I had always been outcome driven, or driven towards the next project and constantly on a wheel that never seemed to stop turning.
[It helped me] understand the power of being present and how much it could sharpen your brain as well as really focus on the limited time right now.
If you could choose one book for every child to read growing up, which would it be?
Olga da Polga by Michael Bond. I loved that book. I just think [Bond] was a fabulous writer. I’m very taken with books about animals, animals with personalities and animals with voices.
If you could go back in time and convince the author of a book to change one event in their story, what would it be?
There are so many books where somebody dies or an animal dies and I think no, that wasn’t supposed to happen! But I don’t think it is morally right to ask an author to change something because they’ve written for a reason and they are looking to achieve something. If the end of a book is sad and it moves you emotionally than that is intended.
What’s your favourite podcast?
I do listen to a lot of podcasts and one that I have enjoyed the most is a new one, which is Greg James and Bella Mackie who are married in real life. It’s called Teach Me a Lesson.
I really love it because I know it’s going to be a series that will make up for all the times in school when I wasn’t concentrating.
That classic thing of education being wasted on the young. It’s an education for those who knew it was wasted on them.
Do you have a favourite quote which resonates with you?
I used to have written in the front of my diary and I would put it in every diary for every new year, “Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass. It’s about learning to dance in the rain.”
I really like that philosophy. We’ve had a lot of rainy days recently and it is quite difficult to dance on every single one of them. But the idea that there is something to be gained in this moment of crisis for ourselves, personally, I do think it’s a very positive and important outlook.
What is the best reading recommendation you’ve ever been given?
I’ve just finished a book called Where the Crawdads Sing which was bestseller and that was absolutely fantastic. I’ve really enjoyed that, and discovering Jojo Moyes, who actually I’ve met and is a friend of mine.
There’s a final one I’ll mention which is Caitlin Moran. Her books, How to Be a Woman and the most recent one I’ve just finished which was called More Than a Woman.
Fall Off, Get Back On, Keep Going: 10 ways to be at the top of your game! by Clare Balding is out now, published by Hachette Children’s Books.
Read Clare Balding’s Fantasy Bookshelf
Black Beauty by Anna Sewell
The Famous Five Collection by Enid Blyton
Fall Off, Get Back On, Keep Going: 10 ways to be at the top of your game! by Clare Balding
My Animals and Other Family by Clare Balding
Little People, Big Dreams Series
The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment by Eckhart Tolle
Olga da Polga by Michael Bond
Teach Me a Lesson by Bella Mackie and Greg James
Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
How to Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran