In a pique of leftish rage, I found myself over at The New Stateman’s website looking to see if they had any imminent plans for revolution. I was in a mood to build barricades and wave Soviet-era pitchforks. An article on The Guardian had been sitting so shit pretty in its self-satisfied pose of middle-class dilemma (‘my children are obsessed with their iPads… I called the nanny!’) that my working-class boots were demanding protest action. Thankfully, there was a place to inject my fire without it leaking out into civil disobedience.
The title of Will Self’s newest essay (‘Why I can’t stand Clare Balding’) turned my anger into a satisfying whoop of delight. It promised so much, especially since Self is one of the best essayists around as well as one of grouchiest men I’ve ever witnessed beyond the context of my own bathroom mirror.
Now, the point of this post isn’t just to highlight an essay I think you should read. I also wanted to explain the reasons why I also can’t stand Clare Balding, especially since Will Self left such large gaps of loathing unaddressed. Perhaps he began to feel some compassion towards the woman in the process of writing his essay or perhaps he doesn’t know her well enough to dislike her entirely. Well, I have no such qualms about peering into the shadows of my deepest loathing and I hope you don’t have any qualms about peering there too. If, for any reason, you do have warm place in your heart for dear sweet Clare, then I suggest you read no further.
For instance, Will doesn’t mention Clare’s earnestness. No presenter fixes their eyes on the camera and lowers their voice quite like Clare Balding. One moment everything is bright and breezy, the next she’s driving you through a long dark tunnel and that sound you hear is your own breath being forced back down your throat until it makes you gag and turns into a sickly retch. When she speaks like that, in that drowning droning monotone, everything she tells you takes on the importance of biblical revelation. ‘Now this dog has FOUR legs. Now that’s pretty standard for a dog but you can sometimes get them with THREE legs. THREE legged dogs have usually been involved in some kind of ACCIDENT resulting in the severing of a LEG but sometimes they’ve been born with legs that, if you count them, just go up to THREE. Now dogs with FIVE legs are very rare…’
Christ save us from the drip drip drip of the jabbering obvious! Except he can’t help us escape it! Even he can’t help himself escape it because if a show isn’t presented by Clare Balding, people accuse the producers of skimping on their costs. Her big bold head has become so ubiquitous that every major live event looks like it’s being broadcast from Easter Island. And that’s where my enmity stems: from that enormous head.
She has the most suitable-for-outside-broadcast hair in the business, probably cast in an ironworks in Doncaster and modelled from photographs of the haircut that the late Princess of Wales wore in the 1980s. Except it isn’t the same haircut. It’s the same haircut on an industrial scale, modelled first in clay with thick channels to help the molten iron flow more evenly during the casting process and that big bold bastard parting hiding the inconvenient hole where the pig iron was poured in.
Had he been alive, Ted Hughes would now be writing children’s books about Clare Balding. The Iron Giantess with the unshakable head-girl confidence as she strides across the countryside, her hot exhaust gases slowly clogging our lungs until the whole nation is susceptible to her command. And it’s that confidence where my loathing ultimately crashes and breaks. It’s the pretence of normality that I can’t stand most about Clare Balding. The arrogance that people like her exude, that they should rise to the top simply because of who they are. She and her kind prove that we live in no meritocracy. She is where she is because she bleeds establishment blood. Daughter of a champion horse trainer who, along with her grandfather and brother, trained the Queen’s horses, she was at the same school as the equally loathsome Miranda Hart before she went to Cambridge and then the BBC gave shape to her modicum of talent.
She is the epitome of middle-class blandness disguising the reality that is upper-class ultra-chic lesbianism. She is our feudal lord and master. She is the crushing annihilation of every dream you might have had or hold, the death of the dreams of your children and their children’s children.
And that is why I can’t stand Clare Blanding, the destroyer of worlds.