Chatting With… Oli Bell

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By Samantha (18/4/18)

Oli Bell burst onto mainstream TV screens in 2017 when ITV took over the horse racing coverage from Channel Four. With his boyish grin, Oli is a favourite with the ladies.

You could say Oli was destined for a job within the horse racing world. His father Rupert is a racing commentator on the radio, his uncle is prolific flat trainer Michael Bell and his grandfather owned racehorses.

Despite having the connections to get in the racing circle, Oli makes it clear that it was all down to luck and opportunity that he is where he is today. He is a firm believer that it is good to start from the bottom and work your way up.

I caught up with Oli with his charity boxing match looming on the horizon.

What got you interested in Horse Racing?

For me, my uncle is the race horse trainer Michael Bell and, as a kid, I used to go to my Grandparent’s house. My Granddad owned a few race horse and we’d sit down and watch in the afternoon, I’d sit in his armchair with him and we used to watch the horse racing together cheering on my uncle’s horses and I used to comment on the racing whilst he was in his armchair, getting annoyed at me commenting on the races, from there I had a real passion for it. I was something I associated with spending time with my grandparents and obviously cheering on Mike, my uncle and it grew from there.

How old were you when you decide to persue a career in horse racing?

Probably when I was about ten, to be honest. I was very young when I knew I wanted to go into horse racing but when I thought that I could seriously get a job in it, I was about sixteen. I started presenting on the school radio station we had at school and did a bit of work experience at sporting events and I thought that if I put a lot of time and effort into it, then it was something, probably, I could do for a living if I got lucky along the way and fortunately I have got lucky.

What made you decide to work in the journalism side of racing?

I was rubbish at riding and I hated getting up early in the morning so I couldn’t be a jockey and definitely not a trainer. My dad [Rupert Bell] is a racing presenter on the radio so I was lucky enough to have a few opportunities to see what that side of the world was like and I really enjoyed it and it looked like a lot of fun. It was something I was told I was okay at when I was quite young. Lots of people told me that if I pursued it, I could get a job so it wasn’t by default but it was the path that I thought would suit me and my personality the most. So I followed it.

What is your main piece of advice for someone who would like to have a similar career to you?

I think that the most important thing I’ve ever learnt was what I learnt in the four years I did behind the scenes. I didn’t go straight to TV presenting. Everyone looks at me and goes ‘oh he’s young’ and ‘he got to where he is very quickly’. Which is true but I think that the most important years that I spent in TV were those first four years, when I was making cups of tea and working behind the scenes running tapes up and down the stairs because, for me, that taught me so much about TV and how that side of the coin works. It wasn’t necessarily that I learnt loads about racing although I did I was able to absorb loads of different information from people who have years of experience. I also saw another side of something I’d never seen before- the world of TV etc. I think that people probably get a bit quick to want it all straight away particularly in this day and age where you have Twitter and YouTube. I think if you want to have longevity to a career it’s really important to keep your head down, to work hard, to be polite to people behind the scenes. Then if you show that you are consistent, capable, hard working and then I think opportunities will come.

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If you didn’t work on ITV, what job would you like to do?

I’d like to be a footballer but I don’t think I’m very good at football.

You worked as a presenter on Racing UK for a while. Was it challenging to make the move from Racing UK, where most of the viewers know about racing, to ITV, where lots of them are new to the sport and don’t know much?

I think there was a responsibility on all of us to try and make the sport as accessible as possible and so whether you were Ed who came from football, me who came from Racing UK or Francesca who came from Australia. I think we all had an understanding that for racing to reach as many people as possible, there were times when we kind of had to debunk the myth of racing sort of so I think that if you are passionate about something, whether it is racing or knitting or whatever it may be, you don’t mind sitting down and explaining to people because it is your passion and hopefully, if you explain it well, people can feel and understand why you love it so much. And so, with us, it is important that we get the balance right and we don’t ostracise racing fans that watch it but also have enough in there that educates new fans. The balance is always something we are looking to find. I don’t think it’s been hard to or to try to adapt our styles to a bigger and more mainstream audience because that is something we realise is very important for us to be successful.

Who do you enjoy working with most on ITV?
I enjoy working with them all but Luke Harvey is a very funny little man. I do a lot of my stuff on the Opening Show with him and he really does make me laugh. He always has a smile on his face and always has a story. He doesn’t take life too seriously but also he is a very good broadcaster and he really gets what we are trying to achieve and it has been a pleasure to work with him since day one.
You are from a mainly flat racing background. Do you prefer flat racing to jumps racing?

I don’t actually. I prefer jump racing because the people in jumps racing, not that there isn’t at flat meetings, make a really good atmosphere at jump meetings. I enjoy going to Aintree and Cheltenham.

Who do you think gave the best performance at Cheltenham it Aintree this season?
For me, Altior probably. I thought Altior vs Min was incredible because he overcame adversity to win- he looked, he looked beaten and then showed he was a really good horse and stamped his class and for him to win as convicting you as he did. He is just a supremely talented horse. I thought he was phenomenal. Tiger Roll won at both- he won the Cross Country Chase and the Grand National so for him to do what he did takes some doing. I think we were very lucky actually because we saw some excellent performances at both festivals this year.

What do you think the racing authorities could do to get more young people into racing?
I think that there is a lot of responsibility for us to be leaders in allowing access to the sport for everyone in the sport- not just young or old people. Sometimes people think it is a closed shop and it is in house and I think now there is things like YouTube and Instagram and, on ITV, we’ve launched the ‘Social Stable’ so we hope it opens the conversation up to as many people as possible. I think racing should be giving young people as much of an opportunity to experience what is so good about it as possible because they will be the future owners, trainers and jockeys, or whatever it may be, so they need to see and experience and feel what everyone in the sport feels, which are amazing things. That could be by getting school programs out to as many schools as possible by things like YouTube channels with cool people saying ‘look how cool this is’ maybe. It is basically about making it as accessible as it can be for young people and that can be through social media. I would say it should be free to go for as many people as possible to give students the opportunities to come and see racing as much as possible and show off how good the sport is to as many people as possible, as much as possible. The best people to answer that question are you lot.

Thank you so much for taking time out to talk to me Oli!!

If you want to support Oli in his charity boxing match raising money for Well Child, donate to his just giving page here

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