Broadcaster Clare Balding delves into her history on the BBC One programme Who Do You Think You Are?, and discovers some emotional revelations
If anyone knows about upholding the stiff upper lip, it’s broadcaster Clare Balding. Whether she’s fronting Badminton Horse Trials or the Olympic Games, she’s resolutely upbeat, the definition of no-nonsense. She is after all, from good horsey stock: her father is the Flat trainer Ian Balding, and her brother Andrew has followed in his father’s footsteps as well.
But when she delved a little further into her family’s history last night (20 July 2017) on the BBC One television programme Who Do You Think You Are?, the 46-year-old showed a softer side.
“It’s unusual for me to be looking backwards,” she says. “I’m always about the next thing — the next winter Olympics, the next Commonwealth Games, the next [summer] Olympics. So actually to be reflective about anything is rare for me.”
On her mother’s side, Clare descends from the Earls of Derby, one of whom, the 12th Earl (1752-1834), founded the Derby.
In a quest to find out more about her great-grandparents Sir Malcolm Bullock and Lady Victoria Stanley, Clare heads to Knowsley Hall near Liverpool, the family seat of the Earl of Derby and where Lady Victoria Stanley was born and grew up.
“I’d love to know how this marriage came about between Sir Malcolm [who was an MP] and Lady Victoria, and whether it was a marriage of convenience [Clare earlier looks at evidence to suggest that Malcolm may have had relationships with men as well as women].”
She discovers that her great-grandparents met in Paris, when [Victoria’s father] Lord Derby was the British ambassador there and Malcolm was working for him. But she then finds out that everything was to change for the family in 1927.
In November that year, Lady Victoria struck her head on the brickwork of a low bridge while riding side-saddle out hunting and had a fatal fall. The accident was reported in what appeared to be all the newspapers of the day, and Clare is choked looking at the correspondence following the accident.
A letter from Winston Churchill to Malcolm reads: “My dear Malcolm, you and Victoria were so suited to one another, so devoted to each other, that this separation and destruction of your happiness seems doubly cruel.”
Malcolm replied: “Victoria and I had eight years of perfect happiness together without a cloud or anything to regret. I cannot yet believe that it is all over.”
On reading these letters, Clare says: “Where I had wondered whether her marriage to Malcolm was one of convenience, I actually think now they were really happy.”
A letter of sympathy from Lord Derby to Malcolm reads: “My dear Malcolm, I send you a photograph of our darling. I can’t talk to you or write about it, I’m too greater coward — but I loved her as no man has ever loved his daughter. And with her has gone all joy from my life.”
Clare hopes the story, which centres on a horse-mad heroine with big thighs, will boost body confidence among children
As well as heading to Kingsclere to talk to her father Ian as they watch the horses on the gallops, the programme also sees Clare travel to the Rumson Polo Club in America to find out about the life of her professional polo-playing grandfather Gerald Balding, the last English 10-goal player.
For all the latest equestrian news and reports, don’t miss Horse & Hound magazine, out every Thursday