My Animals and Other Family

my animals and other familyPublished: 2012
Author: Clare Balding

Warm, witty and all that’s wrong with celebrity memoirs


Last year will not go down in history as a triumph for the BBC which is a real shame. For all the scandals and cover-ups and disasters I still think it’s one of Britain’s greatest institutions. One of its saving graces from 2012 however was the coverage of the London Olympics and one of the stars of the Olympic presentation team was Clare Balding. Balding, previously known as a horse racing specialist, has been coming to prominence more and more over the past few years and became a full blown national treasure during London 2012.

Someone very clever in publishing knew that this was bound to happen and had commissioned her memoirs which were published in September 2012 when Clare Balding adoration was at its fullest. People wanted to know more about Clare and My Animals and Other Family became an instant hit and a book which graced a fair number of Christmas stockings.

I have a problem with celebrity memoirs – if someone is going to write their autobiography I’d like it to be interesting. I want to know about their life. That’s not to say I want to know about every sordid or inane detail. I don’t care that their perfume comes from whatever brand is sponsoring them this week nor do I care about the crass gossip or sordid details but at the same time, I expect them to give a little of their lives rather than it be a heavily publicist approved and soul-less affair. Nor do I expect it to come in multiple volumes over several years. Write AN autobiography – one book or don’t bother.

Maybe I expect too much but I like an autobiography to be an honest account of an interesting life. Which is why part of me loved this book and part of me was thoroughly disappointed and felt that I had missed out on so much.

Balding is the elder of two children of Ian Balding, a famous racehorse trainer whose clients include Her Majesty The Queen. As such Clare and her younger brother Andrew were brought up surrounded by animals – horses and dogs – and she uses animals as her chapter structure, a neat trick which works well. She takes us through her first 20 years and shares a number of amusing anecdotes which don’t always portray her in the most positive light. I was surprised by her history of shoplifting while at boarding school – who would have thought Britain’s favourite broadcaster was such a hardened criminal?

Her childhood was undoubtedly privileged (there are very few of us who can cite The Queen among our breakfast companions) but I’m not sure if it was a happy one. In the no-nonsense style we’ve come to recognise from Balding there are no complaints and everything, except the blatant sexism from her family, is accepted as the way of the world. Her stories are fun and I hadn’t realised that she was such an accomplished sportswoman and amateur jockey – beating Princess Anne in one, controversial race which I imagine still rankles with the Princess Royal today.

Balding has a nice, warm voice and it was a pleasure to read her story. She’s self-deprecating and witty. You can tell why she became Head Girl of her boarding school. You would certainly want to go to her with any problems – she would sort you out double time and get you back on the lacrosse field without anyone knowing there was a problem.

I felt though, a little short-changed. This book ends when Clare is 20. Is there another book to come? I hope so – if not then the final few pages were a huge let down: I went to university, realised I was a lesbian, went to work at the BBC, met the love of my life, the end. I don’t want any salacious details, but there seems like there are more interesting parts of Clare’s worth finding out more about.

My Animals and Other Family represents a wider problem with the celebrity autobiography – if people don’t want to share the private aspects of their life that’s their choice and should be fully respected. But don’t write memoirs and ask people to pay their hard-earned cash for them. The age of the puff-piece celebrity memoir has to come to an end. Either tell us something interesting about your life or don’t bother and don’t split it over multiple editions published in consecutive years – it’s getting tedious and expensive.

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