‘I have to break the news to Geoff Billington’: John Whitaker teams up with Marcus Ehning for fancy dress at London International Horse Show

  • Anticipation is sky high for the long-awaited return of the fancy dress relay competition at this year’s London International Horse Show.

    A superb field of competitors are set to line up the class on Sunday evening (18 December) including William and Pippa Funnell, Joe Stockdale and Jack Whitaker, and possibly the dream team of John Whitaker and Marcus Ehning.

    William Funnell, who is on the show committee, has been helping organise the competition and says all the riders’ measurements have been taken and their fancy dress costumes ordered. Each pair will jump a course of fences in a relay race and a celebrity judging panel – with a little help from the audience – will be voting for the best dressed pair, best dressed rider and best dressed horse.

    It’s not just showjumpers taking part this year either, as some elite names from the world of eventing are also joining in the fun for what is sure to be an action packed and thoroughly entertaining evening.

    “I think it’s a great idea to resurrect it,” says William, who reveals that he and his wife Pippa will be dressed as Mary Poppins and Bert for the competition. “It’s not going to be quite as much of a show as it was in the past – it got a bit risque sometimes and times have changed – but I’m hoping to get a bit more artistic leeway moving forward.

    “But we have a plan, we have the riders – and it’s a great line-up, the young ones are keen to do it and I did think Marcus and John would make quite a good dream team. Hopefully it’s going to be a good evening for everyone to enjoy.”

    William has fond memories of teaming up with James Fisher to win on a couple of occasions before the London Horse Show fancy dress was removed from the schedule around the turn of the century.

    “We once we came in on emus that were dressed up as turkeys and had a turkey race, then another time we copied the police display and cantered up the centre line and took our saddles off,” he recalls. “I was showing off a bit and when I took the saddle off, my horse ran off and I fell off the back! I finished by throwing myself through the hoop – I bounced a lot more easily then than I do now. Health and safety would have had a field day.”

    John Whitaker and Marcus Ehning

    London Horse Show fancy dress: John Whitaker makes a welcome return

    John Whitaker, one of the most frequent and popular participants in the annual event during its time at Olympia, initially took some persuading to raid his fancy dress cupboard once again.

    “I think I’m too old but Willy Funnell talked me into it,” says John. “I wasn’t sure if Marcus would be up for it either, but he seems keen.

    “The only problem is that Geoff Billington said I wasn’t allowed to do another fancy dress without him! So I have to break the news to him. He’ll be devastated, it was Geoff’s thing.”

    With John short of a horse for the class, William has promised to lend both him and Marcus one.

    “So I’ve no idea what our horses are going to be like yet – although I expect we’ll both be riding a horse called Billy!” says John.

    “We did so many good ones over the years,” says John of the days when the fancy class used to be a real highlight of Olympia. “One year Geoff Billington, Nick Skelton, my brother Michael and I dressed up as Take That – that was a good one! We also did Tina Turner’s Steamy Windows and a Dolly Parton one.

    “I paired up with Nick in the early days, then Geoff took over the whole thing and the four of us would do it together for a while. But Geoff made us all go to rehearsals every night and eventually Nick and Michael decided they didn’t want to rehearse anymore so it ended up being just Geoff and me! But we had a lot of fun.”

    The full list of teams is as follows:

    • Guy Williams and Trevor Breen
    • Holly Smith and Manuel Fernandez Saro
    • Joe Stockdale and Jack Whitaker
    • Harry Charles and Matt Sampson
    • Pippa Funnell and William Funnell
    • John Whitaker and Marcus Ehning
    • Laura Collett and Gemma Stevens
    • Tom McEwen and Yasmin Ingham

    The London Horse Show fancy dress relay takes place during the evening performance on Sunday 18 December.

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