Humanising our sporting heroes

Ever wondered what food Tom Daley has to eat to stay in such good shape? Ever wanted to find out how Lewis Hamilton juggles his home life with his travelling around the globe? Ever been curious as to what nickname Charlotte Edwards’ team members give her? Well, the BBC has introduced a sports personality chat show through which audiences can get up close and personal to some of the biggest sportsmen and sportswomen in the country. What’s more, its host is female, a lesbian and a former professional jockey. What’s not to like? A more mellow and sporty version of ‘The Graham Norton Show’; this new venture is set to be a hit with all those who’d like to see a bit more Tom Daley or Lewis Hamilton on their screens rather than any more Jack Dee or Jim Carey. And, whilst Graham has had a wide variety of stars on his sofa every Friday night, the sports stars of today have been noticeably lacking: this is where Clare Balding steps in.

Whilst the intrigue of Hollywood can prove irresistible (and Graham Norton’s show definitely provides this), so can the ‘behind the scenes’ world of sport. How do these athletes become so good at what they do? What is the professional diver’s diet, the sponsored racing driver’s sleeping regime, or the country’s cricket captain’s work-out routine? It’s this insider’s knowledge that anyone with even a deep interest or involvement in sports craves. These sorts of questions get answered with the light, friendly enquiries Claire makes in the early stages of the show as she introduces her sports-star guests to the audience. It’s all fairly straightforward. Tom Daley’s dad ferried him up and down the country for his national diving competitions as a pre-teen, Lewis Hamilton’s dad had spent his entire life’s savings on his son’s passion by the time Lewis had turned 13 and Charlotte Edwards is the only female cricketer to score 2,000 runs in T20 International cricket. In other words, it’s exceptional talent, supported by incredible family and friends and a dedication from all involved that makes a sporting superstar.

Image // Google Images
All Images // Google Images

But we all knew that already. The golden question on everyone’s lips remains: what does it take to become a likeable sports personality? Charisma? Charm? Chat? It seems that Clare is assessing, or rather showcasing, all three in her show and allowing the stars’ characters to shine through. Not only this, but her own likeability and prowess both as sportswoman and presenter come across very well. She sits cool, calm and collected, skilfully managing the conversation with her in-depth knowledge and you see her and her guests in a more personal capacity than you ever would otherwise. Clare’s show, therefore, gives audiences a unique insight into the people behind the success stories and the personalities behind the sporting prowess. At times it can be easy to forget that super stars like Tom Daley, Lewis Hamilton and Charlotte Edwards (who are so often seen in their professional, sporting guises) are all in fact real, interesting and likeable people. It is important that we are reminded of the humanity of our sporting heroes. It makes them better role models.

What surprised me most about The Clare Balding Show was what I found out about it in my research after watching the first BBC episode this week. I discovered that the show has been being broadcasted on the BT Sports channel for over twelve months already. It seems odd to me that such a well-known and successful BBC sports presenter has not had this show commissioned by her regular employers before now. Even odder that such a popular sports-show host with an already well-established programme would be given only a half an hour slot of prime time viewing whilst shows of a similar format (Graham Norton) are given twice that. With its ground-breaking content, style and delivery, I think Clare Balding is giving BBC Sport the shakeup it very clearly needs and is bringing it, kicking and screaming, bang up to date and into the mainstream.