Marcus Armytage asks Channel 4’s new Grand National presenter Nick Luck about his acting career, English accents and whether he loves the sound of his own voice
In a fortnight’s time, Nick Luck will present the Crabbie’s Grand National on Channel 4 to some 8.5m viewers. He follows in the footsteps of broadcasting greats David Coleman, Des Lynam, Sue Barker and Clare Balding — who has forsaken it this year for a two-horse (backwards) race on the Thames — in bringing the great race to an eager nation.
Was it a love of racing or an interest in presenting that came first?
“A love of racing definitely came first. Like a lot of H&H readers, I grew up around ponies and horses. I can ride OK but I was pretty quick to realise my complete ineptitude. My eyes and hands quite often didn’t work together and I was never the most coordinated. I wasn’t the best or bravest. My parents had the odd horse in training, but I was always the most obsessive in my family about the facts and figures of racing. My family were more National Hunt than Flat but I watched everything. If you’d asked what I wanted to do when I was doing A Levels, I’d have said a career in media or journalism, not a lawyer or banker.”
There’s a rumour that you played Juliet to Oscar-nominated Benedict Cumberbatch’s Romeo in a school play at Harrow? Please tell us it’s true, and was acting your first love?
“It’s almost true. I played Kate to his Petruchio in the school production of The Taming of the Shrew.
I can’t remember what degree of physical contact there was. I actually met his wife, Sophie Hunter, when I was on a year abroad in Paris and she was studying mime there.”
Did you see yourself as an actor?
“At school and university I was quite into student drama and fringe drama. The nearest I got to doing it professionally was being a member of a fringe sketch show at Edinburgh and on the London pub theatre circuit. It was called Three Handed Woman — I don’t know why. We thought it was ground-breaking avant-garde, but I suspect it left the audience scratching their heads.”
Give us a brief resume of your presenting career
“I started at the original ATR [At The Races] in October 2002. It went under in March 2004 but, thankfully, Jim Ramsey employed me at Racing UK [RUK], which started up six weeks later. I was on the first show with Rishi Persad and Jason Weaver in May 2004. My first Channel 4 shift was six weeks later. Graham Goode was commentating and I was presenting — the second meeting at Redcar.”
The Americans love an English accent. You provide that for NBC’s Breeders’ Cup coverage
“In 2006 ESPN wanted someone from Europe to be a regular on their Breeders’ Cup show, though there was no guarantee it would last longer than a year. But I stayed until 2012 when they gave the contract back to NBC, who asked if they could inherit me. I also do seven of their 12 lead-up shows to the big day so am in America quite a lot.”
You’re an old hand at covering Grand Nationals?
“My first was Hedgehunter’s National in 2005 for RUK. There were just two of us. The team became more full after a while. When Channel 4 took over from the BBC in 2013, I hosted the studio side of things.”
For a long time there was talk of Channel 4 hiring a celebrity co-presenter with you like Jeremy Kyle, Peter Andre, or Ant and Dec. If you had the choice, who from the world of television or film would it be?
“Carl Hicks, the producer, half suggested Rachel Riley from Countdown. I’m not entirely sure it was for her betting knowledge.”
Most people don’t like the sound of their own voice when they hear it played back to them but presenters, presumably, love it?
“Some colleagues will tell you that I love the sound of my own voice. When you hear your voice for the first time everyone wants to stick their fingers in their ears but after a while you accept it.”
Tell us about your family?
“My wife Laura is a professional classical singer. She’s the one with the talent in the family, but she doesn’t shout about it. We have two daughters — Clemmie, four, and Hebe, who is 10 months.”
Does Laura sing in the bath?
“Around the house I make more noise.”
What career advice would you give someone about to sit their A Levels about getting into television presenting?
“Well, I slightly fell into it. People of that age now seem so much more switched on about following their dreams. I did a degree in French and a masters in French literature at King’s and I can’t say I was plotting a career path in television. People starting now have a lot of opportunities to learn on the job. There are a lot more outlets to hone your skills without being horribly scrutinised — like point-to-point commentating, bookmakers’ radios, the internet etc. The key is to have someone as a sounding board whom you can bounce ideas off and who can stop you developing bad habits. You should try to get as much experience as possible and develop a pretty thick skin. In racing your audience is pretty knowledgeable. There’s less margin for error.”
It is still two weeks out, so you can line up your excuses, but can you give H&H readers a tip for this year’s race?
“Unless I’ve missed something with all the focus on AP’s last National, I think the danger comes from within the Jonjo O’Neill camp in Merry King. His third in the Hennessy stands up well and he only has 10st 5lb. Rocky Creek also has a great chance. Because of the McCoy factor he’s probably a bigger price than he would be otherwise.”
H&H 26 March 2105