Aromp through the racing scene, royalty and boarding school, Clare Balding’s memoir reads like a Jilly Cooper novel, without the sex. It starts when her father, a gypsy-blooded, Cary Grant lookalike jockey meets and marries the aristocratic heiress to a vast stable yard. Too girlie for her family, too country-bumpkin for boarding school, too plump for the horsey set, Balding, the offspring of this marriage, chooses to define herself through her animals, whose names mark the chapters of her life.
Forthright, thoughtful, often funny, Balding’s style, though candid, is more jolly hockey sticks than misery memoir, as she reveals her shoplifting, bulimia and boyfriends. For a girl gifted a horse by the Queen, she is also brilliantly irreverent. “Shit happens,” she shrugs after cutting up the Princess Royal in a race. Her challenge to her father’s misogyny is stronger, too, for coming not through some feminist polemic, but in the saddle — the book ends with Balding, barely 20, becoming England’s leading amateur flat jockey.
But for all its honesty, her memoir leaves so much unsaid: how she trounced the auto-cuties to go from Grand National presenter to television’s national treasure, her thyroid cancer, how she met her wife Alice, or what a nightmare it must have been coming out to the aristo-set. We never even reach the Olympics, surely the catalyst for publishing this autobiography now. All of which is a shame, not because her journey to jockey isn’t intriguing but because her success on the turf is the most predictable thing about her.