How can you not love Clare? With her mellow plummy voice she's just so nice and wholesome and good and she loves dogs and...need I go on? Clare's first book, My Animals and Other Family published by Penguin has a delightful Country Life feel to it, with her young parents (strongly showing Clare's family likeness) and their two children, Clare and her younger brother Andrew, surrounded by dogs, Shetland pony and a foal. Clare, maybe five confidently holds the pony's rein whilst Andrew sits astride the pony's back. The reason for Clare's confidence is really the crux of the book.
In fact the book is, story aside, a treasure of photographs - from the rather eccentric looking wedding photograph of her parents where Clare's grandma fitted out in her wedding finery holds her dog under her arm to a photo of the Queen Mother at lunch in the family dining room (hat still on) and then to the elegant young Clare in her gown at Cambridge. The inside leaf of the book is made up of beautiful pen and ink sketches by Gill Heeley of the family dogs and horses looking very like a posh wallpaper sample. Taking a quote from Anatole France the book opens "Until one has loved an animal, a part of one's soul remains unawakened" and with each of her nineteen chapters named for one of the family pets or racehorses we know that we are set for an animal-tastic adventure.
The opening chapter of the book is touching, "The first face I can remember seeing was Candy's. She was my protector and my companion, my nanny and my friend", Candy being Clare's mother's boxer dog. Reared on the back of a horse, surrounded by dogs, mad on sport, on the lacrosse team and riding in races at Goodwood, Chepstow and Ascot amongst others, Clare is the epitome of the country life. A major television and radio personality and award winning broadcaster, she has achieved so much and is still only in her early forties. But Clare's outward confidence is not something she always felt. You see the problem was Clare was a girl. Plonked on the floor in her basket on her arrival home from hospital, her formidable grandmother reportedly said, "It's a girl. Never mind, you'll just have to keep trying."
Using each of the family animals as a way of leading into another chapter of her life we learn that Clare's father Ian was employed by her maternal grandparents as an assistant trainer when Clare's mother was fifteen. Made head trainer on her grandfather's death six months later he charmed the widow and won his way into the family's hearts. The rest, as they say, is history. Five years later Ian Balding and Clare's mother were married.
Clare admits she marks her years by Grand National or Derby winners and measures distances in furlongs, using this method to work out that she was just eighteen months when she sat on the back of the race winner Mill Reef without saddle or anyone holding her as this detail seems to just now dawn on her. Her father's high profile race horse owners included her Majesty the Queen, who came twice a year to check her horses and had gifted Clare's parents with Valkyrie, the Shetland pony seen on the cover, who had taught both Princes Andrew and Edward to ride and on whom Clare learnt to ride at the same time she learnt to walk.
All of this goes a long way to explain all we as TV viewers know about Clare. Her obvious love and great knowledge of dogs as seen in her Crufts coverage. Her love of the racetrack as seen in her commentary and camaraderie with the jockeys coming from growing up surrounded by horses and riding competitively herself. There is more to Clare however, and this we learn from this revealing and touching autobiography. From her need to prove herself from being 'just a girl' she has pushed herself and succeeded in being not just good at what she does but possibly the best.