Welcome to another post here on zoelouisesmithx.com. I hope you have all been enjoying the extra posts here this week and are starting to feel excited for the Cheltenham Festival. I will have 5 more posts after this one in the week to follow, they will be going up Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday all at 6pm and on Saturday at 11am. Today’s post, I am very excited for. I got to sit down and talk to someone I look up to in the industry and that is of course Ed Chamberlin, who you all may know as the face of ITV Racing. We spoke about all things racing, including him being the ambassador for WellChild – a charity who will be working closely with the Cheltenham Festival in the week ahead and the work they do and why they are so important. I will leave a link at the bottom of the interview to their website so you can read more and look at ways you can support them. Ed was very supportive and offered me a lot of helpful advice which I am super grateful for. I really enjoyed this one so I hope my readers will too!
Me: For the first question, I am going to throw you straight into the deep end and ask if you could own any horse currently in training, what horse would you choose and why?
Ed: Gosh, good question. It would be… either… there’s three and they’re all novice chasers. It would be one of Envoi Allen, Monkfish and Shishkin. The Gold Cup is the race I’d love to win more than any other, so that rules Shishkin out, as brilliant as he is. And I think, I’d go for Monkfish. I think Monkfish is an extraordinary looking animal. I’m no judge of a horse and I’ve referred to him a couple of times on ITV as a monster but actually when you see him in the flesh he’s not. He’s tall but he’s also quite thin. He’s like a ballerina at his fences, he’s just the most brilliant athlete who’s obviously got stamina to burn. And if ever… A bit like lego, if you were ever to put together a Gold Cup winner, I think you would probably put together like Monkfish. And look Envoi Allen might have more brilliance than him and might be more mercurial than Monkfish, but they don’t always win Gold Cups. It’s a really tough question, but I’m going to go for Monkfish.
Me: What are your first memories of racing?
Ed: The first memories would be as a 7 year old with my Grandfather who lived in Somerset. He was mad about racing, to such an extent that my mother’s 18th birthday present was a Tote credit account. My Grandfather loved it. His passions in life were cider and betting on the Grand National was his favourite thing and I just got caught up in that. The first race I can remember was the 1981 Grand National where, he always let me have a couple of quid on a horse and I had it on Spartan Missile who finished second in that Grand National and I was gutted. I had no idea that this was the greatest racing story of all time with Bob Champion and Aldaniti winning the Grand National. And from that moment I was hooked! I took on the huge responsibility of being in charge of the family sweepstake. And I start looking forward to the Grand National weeks in advance, I always remember sleeping better as a small boy the night before Christmas than I would the night before the Grand National because my excitement was just off the charts for the Grand National. And yeah, I was just totally consumed by it and once you get into something like that, it just snow balls and racing very quickly became a passion of mine.
Me: Following on from that, what is your favourite race to watch back?
Ed: To be honest the 1981 Grand National is right up there. There’s so many, I love going back down memory lane on Racing TV and I love all the high profile ones, Dawn Run, Desert Orchid’s Gold Cup. And lots of flat racing since we’ve covered the sport. Crystal Ocean against Enable is one that leaped off the page, Big Orange beating Order of St George in the Gold Cup as well was just a great battle. We’ve been very lucky to have some great performances. But my favourite horse of all time, it’s a bit random to be honest, Dublin Flyer was my favourite horse ever. There were two performances he put in, one was over the Grand National fences and he jumped them as good as any horse you’d see jump them in the John Hughes Memorial but my favourite race of his, it was called the Mackeson then, now the Paddy Power Gold Cup when he rallied to get up and beat Egypt Mill Prince, I think that’s my favourite race of all time.
Me: What is your favourite racecourse to present at and why?
Ed: You are horrible asking that question! Oh goodness, that’s so difficult! The best thing about my job is every week – well not at the moment – but in normal times every week is different. Going to a different track every week is so exciting because they’re all so different and so cool in so many different ways. I’m not going to sit on the fence, but the ultimate buzz to present is the Grand National because obviously it’s to around 10 million people in this country and hundreds of millions worldwide so that gets the adrenaline going more than any other. But I also love doing the smaller days at Kelso and my local track Wincanton, I love those days. But the big festivals are just fantastic to present. Cheltenham Festival, Glorious Goodwood, York, Royal Ascot and everything that goes with that. Royal Ascot is the hardest to present because I have to be on top of everything from the Royal Procession through to the singing on the bandstand and the races in between. I think my single favourite day to present is Derby day. Because it’s the one day, just to sum it up, that I have to wear two ear pieces so I can hear my director, it’s that noisy. It’s like a cauldron and it’s the closest I get with the way that, the straight at Epsom, with the crowd on either side, the open top buses, it’s the closest I get with my old job which was presenting football at old fashioned grounds like Anfield and the old White Hart Lane which just used to have an intensity that’s very hard to describe because you were just so close to the action and the crowds felt on top of the pitch. And you get that at Epsom. And on Derby day, I get moved to the front of the stands for the classic, the Derby, and that is just unbelievable, it really is. And that would be my favourite experience of a normal year. The year gone by sadly, it was probably the worst experience I’ve had on a racecourse just because I love it so much. I actually didn’t present the Derby very well in 2020. If I could have another go at one race it would be the Derby. It was just so, it was a really depressing day with marshals guarding the fence, not to let people in. A Derby run in silence was a pretty desolate experience.
Me: At the beginning of the year I interviewed Mick Fitzgerald who spoke very highly of you, telling me how you aim to get the best out of everyone you work with and that’s why people love working with you. What do you enjoy most about being a part of the ITV Racing team?
Ed: It’s a very good question Zoe. Gosh, that’s very kind of Mick Fitzgerald. I feel like I want to be the referee, I don’t want anyone talking about me. When you’re the presenter, it should never be about you. I never offer an opinion on much because I’m there to get the best out of other people. And the one thing I’ve tried to install since joining ITV in 2016 to start in 2017 was to try and create a team ethic. I always wanted us working as a team and the first thing I did was to introduce a rule where everyone had to get together the night before a meeting at 6 o’clock. Obviously that’s difficult now, but we’ll do it for Cheltenham next week. And I wanted to create an environment where we’re in it together, whether you’re Anthony McCoy or the runner that makes cups of tea, I wanted us all to be working together. I wanted us to have a production meeting together, eat, drink, laugh as a team. And I think we’ve really go that ethic which hopefully shines through on screen because we obviously have our disagreements but we are one big family on ITV Racing across the board, everyone behind and in front of the camera, we all work together. Summed up by last week, which was a very tricky week, you know, we were… various whatsapp’s, zooms and we really stuck together and worked together and I think that’s really important in any walk of life – working as a team. And I really do love the team dearly and I hope that comes across on screen. And Mick is such a big part of that, I’m surrounded by a lot of really good team players and that’s what I wanted when I started.
Me: Since working with ITV Racing, what’s been your favourite moment to present?
Ed: Lots of ups and downs. Day 1 didn’t go to plan, I remember that, January the 1st 2017 – That was the hardest. There’s been lots of lows and lots of highs. We learn from the lows and we keep the highs in perspective. If I was to say one, Tiger Roll obviously was the closest to my heart, when he won the Cross Country and the Grand National, I was very emotive. It was a bit like presenting a Southampton win in my old job in Premier League football, it’s very hard to keep your emotions in check. That horse, I just became very close with him. But if I have to say one hour that suck out, I’ll always say the best moment I’ve had in television is when Manchester City won the Premier League with the iconic Agüero goal and Martin Tyler’s commentary. But the hour at Cheltenham a couple of years ago when Bryony Frost won the Ryanair on Frodon which had us all choking up because her interview was so good. It was a very emotive experience. And then immediately to have that followed by Paisley Park winning for Andrew Gemmell, Emma Lavelle, Barry Fenton, Aidan Coleman and just this warrior of a horse in Paisley Park, honestly it was… I remember being praised in the newspapers afterwards for being a bit like Des Lynam in not saying much, I let the pictures breath, which is a very important skill for a presenter. But that wasn’t a choice by me, that was because I found the whole thing emotional and I wasn’t capable of speaking even if I wanted to. Because Emma is one of my favourite people and to see Andrew Gemmell who’s been blind since birth getting such a thrill and enjoyment out of Paisley Park winning was just an extraordinary bit of sport. We called it the golden hour, it was magical and that’s what we need next week. We need stories like that to show just what a magnificent sport this is and how wonderful the horses are and get racing back on the back and front of the newspapers for the right reasons. Stories that only racing can write.
Me: Before you moved over to ITV, you worked for Sky, how did you find the transition from football to horse racing?
Ed: I found it really really difficult. Incredibly difficult. Switching sport is not something I’d recommend to any young presenters out there. I still don’t find it easy now, but I got it very wrong at the time, I thought… When I left football Leicester had just won the Premier League and I thought I needed to know everything about racing, because you know, I’d been in football nearly 20 years and I thought I needed to know absolutely everything. I went everywhere trying to learn every aspect of racing, but in hindsight, that was a mistake because in my job you don’t need to know everything. It helps to have it stored away but you don’t need to use it because as I said earlier, you’re there to get the best out of other people. And ITV Racing, I very quickly learnt that the real racing fans, there aren’t very many. The large bulk of our audience… Like Cheltenham next week, we’d like to think we’ll get well over a million each day, and only in the tens of thousands of those are the real racing fans, the rest are generally just sports fans who like to dip into racing. We are part of the entertainment industry and it’s got to be entertaining and I quickly learnt you can’t please everybody every show we do. People say ‘we need to see more of the horses’ or ‘we need something else’ or ‘we need more betting’ or ‘we want more social stable’ and you have to accept you can’t win and you need a thick skin to stick to what we’re doing. I’ve learnt a lot in the four years and trying to get that balance right is very difficult and we’re never going to get it 100% right, of course we’re not but the way we’ve grown our audience over the four years is very satisfactory because it’s been nice to prove people wrong. There are a few articles last week, where one journalist said jump racing was in danger of extinction, well more people are watching jump racing now than they have in a very long time. We’ve obviously got a challenge to keep those people, but it’s very popular right now on ITV and during lockdown that’s obviously accelerated dramatically with people watching so that’s quite satisfying for me, but I want to keep doing that. I want to keep getting people to enjoy what I think is a brilliant sport. Our mantra has always been since day one to make racing accessible to as many people as possible and that’s something I’m passionate about and will continue to do.
So to answer your question, it was a lot harder than I expected it to be and a lot more challenging but I’ve learnt rapidly and hopefully the viewing figures back up the way we’ve done it.
Me: I think it’s important because with ITV Racing it is presented in such a way that you don’t need to be an avid racing fan to truly understand what’s happening.
Ed: The key thing there, to any presenter watching, television is very subjective. Everyone has a different opinion on television but the media training I do, the key thing as a presenter is to make people feel welcome, to make people feel warm and a part of the show. Particularly now when a lot of people suffering and a lot of people are fed up, give them an escape for a couple of hours, feel part of our coverage, make people feel welcome to it – That’s always what we’re trying to do. Make racing welcoming to everybody.
Me: That always comes across when you are watching ITV Racing.
Ed: I always say, people sometimes like to compare us to racing channels, you don’t need to do that. My ethos is if I can get people into racing and enjoying it and they then take out a subscription to Racing TV then I’ve done my job. That’s what I want to happen.
Me: With Cheltenham Festival just around the corner, what would you say is the best bet of the week?
Ed: Best bet of the week… There’s a few I fancy actually. I think Soaring Glory will go very well in the opener, the Sky Bet Supreme. But I think if I had a bet of the week, I’d love Paul Nicholls to have a winner at the Festival because he’s so good for the game and I just hope the love is shared and Willie Mullins doesn’t just win absolutely everything… So I think I’ll go for Bravemansgame in the Ballymore. Challow Hurdle winners at Newbury have got an awful record in the race, but hopefully he can break that because his owner is a good friend of mine in John Dance and I just think Bravemansgame has got something very special about him. And he’ll go off at a decent price because on the preview circuit their talking about Bob Olinger as if he’s absolutely past the post already so that’s going to make the price for Bravemansgame, so I’ll go with him.
Me: And in terms of the Festival, WellChild have been announced as an official partner, you’ve worked with them for many year as an ambassador, can you tell us a little bit more about what they do and how important they are and what partnering with the Cheltenham Festival will do for them?
Ed: I’m so pleased you’ve asked that because… I find it very emotional to talk about actually. For me, it’s very surreal. I’m looking at the Cheltenham Festival magazine here supporting WellChild and when I first starting working with WellChild 10 years ago they were just a very small charity in Cheltenham. They just struck a note of something that meant the world to me, someone who was very ill 10/11 years ago and seeing a children’s cancer ward was like no experience I’ve ever gone through or ever want to see again. It was much worse than the experience I was going through in the ward next door. And, I said to myself then, if I can come through the other side of this, if I can do anything to help get children out of hospital and looked after at home. The sight of a young child in hospital just broke my heart and what WellChild does is it looks after and nurses seriously ill children and it nurses them at home which I think is the most important thing. So things like my annual golf day, WellChild awards, marathon runners – that type of thing, helps fund the nursing at home. There are some desperately sad stories, yes. But there are also some of the most inspiring young people you’ll ever meet. We’ve got them drawing pictures for this year and this is the biggest boost for WellChild at a really difficult time. They’ve had a torrid year, when you think that all their fundraising events have been cancelled. My golf day – cancelled. London Marathon – cancelled. WellChild Awards- cancelled. And they’ve really suffered, then suddenly this idea came about.
The local community in Cheltenham is one of the things we’re really going to support this year, it’s the theme of the first day, we’re doing a theme each day. Day 1 is local community and WellChild ticks that box as well as B&B’s, hotels, taxi firms in Cheltenham. And for WellChild, the exposure and hopefully fundraising is just going to make the wold of difference to a lot of WellChild families and a lot of seriously ill young children. Which I just find emotive and surreal and incredible what Cheltenham and the Jockey Club have done here. And again, it just shows how awesome racing is.
It’s given everybody who works for the charity a huge boost, it’s given the nurses a huge boost and I just hope the families get a real buzz out of it. I had to do a judging of the pictures the young kids had drawn. With kids as young as 5 drawing picture of horses and Gold Cup’s… How am I supposed to pick the top 3? I wanted to pick all of them! I can’t give too much away for next week but there’s going to be some very clever signage and little touches to support the kids. Which again, I might go a little bit quiet on ITV and you doing this interview you’ll know why I’ve gone quiet. It just means the world to me.
The Jockey Club and Cheltenham have got so behind the cause and you’ll see what they’ve done at the racecourse just how much they’ve committed to it. Because some people say ‘it’s ridiculous, a charity shouldn’t be spending money at Cheltenham’ but actually, they’re not spending any more. This is all the Jockey Club and Cheltenham supporting the charity.
Me: Beyond the Cheltenham Festival is the Grand National, with it being announced Tiger Roll won’t be running, who do you fancy now to take that crown from him?
Ed: I fancy one quite strongly actually. I think after what Cloth Cap did the weekend, he’ll take the world of beating, he was on springs around Kelso, he will absolutely love jumping those fences. And I would absolutely love to see Trevor Hemmings win the Grand National for the 4th time. If he doesn’t warm people’s hearts and boost spirits, nobody will. His enthusiasm is infectious at his ripe young age. But from a betting point of view, I think Secret Reprieve. Now I, it sounds like he’s definitely going to bypass Cheltenham and it sounds like from Evan Williams quotes, even though he’s not committing him, it sounds like the Grand National might be the plan. And off 10-1 after his performance in the Welsh Grand National he’s going to be absolutely running free. And that day, he just looked like a Grand National winner, the way he jumped and he obviously has stamina in abundance. The Grand National these days is a race where they go pretty quick and stamina now is more important then ever, you’ve got to stay every yard. You’ve got to look for a horse that stays and Secret Reprieve we know he stays, he’s off a great weight clearly and he’s made for the race. The owners have gone so close in the National before, it would be great for them to win it and I think Secret Reprieve stands out a mile.
Me: Another thing I wanted to touch on was social media, you worked in TV before social media was really a thing, how much would you say it has changed your job, the industry and sport as a whole?
Ed: I think it’s changed the world a lot, I wouldn’t say it’s changed my world. I’d be someone that says as a presenter if you listen and broadcast to social media then turn out the lights and give up the game because it’s a dangerous thing to do. I used to really embrace social media, I enjoyed it and I’m talking about Twitter here primarily, but I feel very differently about it now. I worry about it, not for myself, it doesn’t bother me, but I worry about it for young people like yourself because it can be a horrible, horrible place. And some of the messages I have to receive and to be fair, most of them I am old and uglier enough to just laugh at but, come on, why can’t people post under their real identity? I just don’t understand that. I’ve seen you upset on there few times, I’ve seen other people upset on there and it really worries me. I have two kids and I don’t want them growing up having to listen to some of the stuff and I don’t want them to read the stuff about their daddy. People need to think before they post, they need to be kinder and they should have their name on their profile. I spend very little time on their now. It can be a very good information source, it’s got lots of brilliant people, but the last week… Lee Mottershead, it sums it up. The reaction to Lee Mottershead to what he said on Sunday, fine don’t agree with him, I didn’t particularly agree with what he said, but the vile, horrendous stick he had to take just makes me despair. 24 hours after I had said the lesson of this whole episode is that racing needs to listen and we need to be better at listening, accepting criticism, learning from criticism and then that happens and I just despair sometimes. As I said, I’m old enough and uglier enough, it doesn’t worry me and I don’t spend a lot of time on there. But then things like Instagram I absolutely love, it’s great fun! You must not get too caught up in it because Twitter does not reflect real life, I promise you. I listen to everything, I read everything but most of the stuff I just laugh at. I used to react to it, but I try not to do that anymore because it’s just not worth it.
Me: What would be your best piece of advice for a young person who has a passion they want to follow?
Ed: Go for it. Be determined, you just… In life you need a bit of luck but when you get that bit of luck, take advantage. So my lucky break was one of the senior executives at Sky was watching Bloomburg Television one day, I think one man and his dog watches Bloomburg Television, but I used to go on there to do a sport preview show and they saw me there. I had no interest in working in television at the time, I was a journalist. And that was my lucky break and when I got my lucky break and was invited into Sky my attitude was take advantage. The door had opened for me, it was up to me to barge my way through it and then really make the most of it and that’s what I did. Then I had another lucky break when I became the face of Premier League football on Sky when Richard Keys and Andy Gray left sky, again the door opened for me and I took advantage. That’s the way to do it. But these days it’s very different to when I started. For someone like yourself, you’re doing exactly what I recommend to people. Get yourself out there with interviews, blogs, podcasts – there’s so many things you can do now to get yourself out there and get yourself seen an I know it’s a cliché, but it only takes one pair of ears or one pair of eyes to see what you’re doing and think ‘that’s good’ and then you might get an opportunity and take advantage. So if you’re interested in the media, if you’re interested in writing, journalism holds the key. So, I would be very disappointed if anyone that does a role similar to mine turned down an interview from a young person like yourself. And you’ve just got to have that initiative and that determination to do it, which you’ve clearly got in spades and I’m full of admiration for that. So my advice to young people is be brave, get yourself out there and work damn hard.
Me: Just to finish the interview, I’ve been asked to ask you by my friend Kian Burley, if he can still have your job with ITV Racing when you decide to step down?
Ed: Bit worried about my mortgage at the moment so he might have to give me just a few more years yet. And I’m rather enjoying what I’m doing at the moment – The question I get asked more than any other in supermarkets and garages is why did I leave Premier League football and they also asked me when will I go back to Premier League football. To which my response is I’m in no hurry whatsoever, I’m enjoying what I’m doing. So you’ll have to tell him, I’m not ready to give it up just yet.
Me: That’s everything from me, I want to thank you for taking your time outto speak with me, I really appreciate it.
Ed: Honestly, to see someone showing a bit of initiative like you are, I’m all in favour of supporting. I turn down lots of things as you can imagine, but I will never say no to something like that. You can tell hopefully from my ethos and attitude. But you have to promise me one thing… Don’t get too upset by people on social media.
After the interview ended, Ed spoke with me about everything I was doing in more detail and gave me so much advice and support and I just want to say a huge thank you to him, I understand totally how busy he will be in the run up to Cheltenham but for him to give up his time to sit and speak with me on a lengthy phone call and give me some support and advice also, meant a lot to me, especially as he’s someone I look up to in the industry.
As I mentioned at the top of the page WellChild are an incredible charity and I am so glad I got to speak to Ed about the work they do. There website is: https://www.wellchild.org.uk/ – I urge everyone to check out their website where you can find out more about the work they do and also donate if you can afford to.
I am really grateful I got to speak with Ed and I really hope everyone enjoyed this one as much as I did! Leading into the Cheltenham Festival I have a post Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday evening’s at 6pm and another next Saturday morning at 11am so a very busy week ahead on my website and I hope to see you all back here for all of those!
Thank you so much for reading, I will see you tomorrow at 6pm for my next post: The History of the Champion Hurdle.