Friday, 14 July 2017

Balding Turns Detective

The BBC presenter delves into some family secrets

Written by Ben Felsenburg
You know where you are with Clare Balding. She rode hard to great success as a champion jockey, and with her winning forthright style and Ben-Felsenburg-colour-176engaging frank speaking rapidly climbed to the top as a BBC sports presenter.

Happily married to that former voice of Radio 4, Alice Arnold, Balding is nothing less than a national treasure and the acme of Middle England style. But in Who Do You Think You Are? (Thursday, BBC2, 9pm) she finds that just a few generations back her family was far less straightforward and shrouded in scandal and intrigue.

The pivotal figures are her great-grandfather, the Tory MP Sir Malcolm Bullock, and his wife Lady Victoria. Frozen in time in a portrait by John Lavery, she is haughty and beautiful and utterly inscrutable. Killed in a hunting accident at the age of 35, Lady Victoria must forever remain to a degree veiled in mystery.

As for Sir Malcolm, he was a culture vulture with a rare appetite for the arts and left a voluminous correspondence with everyone from Evelyn Waugh to Sir John Gielgud. But then there are the letters that were burnt after his death: what secrets could they have betrayed? Balding has an inkling that Sir Malcolm’s close friendship after his wife died with the painter Rex Whistler could have been far more intimate than the strait-laced times would have tolerated.

She proves to be a dogged detective who won’t stop until she gets to the truth.

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