Chatting With… Ed Chamberlin

Ed Chamberlin (Facebook)

By Samantha Martin (@sam_angelina22)

Since January 2017, Ed Chamberlin has been a regular fixture on our TV screens as the main presenter of ITV Racing. So, as you can imagine, I couldn’t wait to talk to him about his career and what drives him. Something that struck me from our phone conversation was how he seemed as enthusiastic to talk to me as I was to talk to him. The passion is contagious and, without a doubt, one of the reasons why his presenting style is so successful.

Born in Somerset, Ed began his career “on a financial TV channel called Bloomberg TV, talking about sport and Sky Sports picked me up from there.” In 1999, he began working on Sky Sports and became the chief football presenter in 2011 up until May 2016 presenting Super Sunday and Monday Night Football, alongside Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher.

However, despite working in the football industry for nearly 20 years, Ed has always had a passion for horse racing. His interest stemmed from – like myself and many others – his Grandfather, “My memories of him, when I can remember him, he was almost forced to sit in a chair and watch racing as he wasn’t able to do much else. He loved cider and racing. He loved the ITV7 and I would help him with that.” With the influence of his grandfather, the Grand National rapidly became of interest to him, “The highlight of his year was the Grand National and it quickly became the highlight of my year.” Ed’s first bet came, “at the age of 7 or 8”, in the 1981 Grand National. “I finished second to Aldiniti without really realising what an amazing story that was and my horse was ridden by a fifty-four year old jockey. I was furious to finish second and from then I got hooked on the National and it sort of spiralled from there.” The story of Aldiniti is one of the most famous in racing. Bob Champion was followed in by fifty-four year old amateur John Thorne riding 8/1 favourite Spartan Missile.

These kind of narratives make sure that “every week is different” and that is what Ed likes most about his job. ITV took over the rights for horse racing on terrestrial TV in 2017. But the transition was far from easy for Ed, “It is hard to describe just how difficult it was for a presenter like myself to make that change from football to racing.” From the few occasions I have spoken to Ed, there is no doubt in my mind that he loves his job, “It’s just fantastic to travel the country to all these wonderful racecourses and see all these amazing horses and great people in the sport. As you can tell, I feel very lucky to do it but I do genuinely, absolutely love it.”

ITV Racing has had its critics and a thick skin was required at times, “Football is tribal, as the best way to describe it. I wouldn’t say quite so many people have a strong opinion about the TV side of it, while in racing there are lots of opinions flying around, which is great, what it’s all about.” However, Ed relished the challenge, “I’ve enjoyed proving people wrong from the way we started.”

A few weeks into their coverage, the racing world was shocked to its core by the devastating passing of 2015 Grand National hero Many Clouds after he gallantly battled Thistlecrack to victory in the Cotswold Chase. For Ed, it was “one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do in my television career.” The sensitive handling of this tragedy acted as a “coming of age” for ITV Racing. Suddenly, the show became much more respected and racing fans came around to the fact that the presenting team had the qualities needed to do horse racing justice. This was reflected in their viewing figures, “Last year, our viewing figures went up 17% and continue to grow.”

The transition from Channel 4 to ITV brought about a change in presenters. A big thing for Ed was the team ethic he wanted to develop within the cast and crew, “I made a rule when I first joined ITV that everybody – whether you were Sir Anthony McCoy or the young lad who made the tea – was you had to join up with the team at 6 o’clock the night before. We have a drink together, we have a production meeting and then we all go out for a meal.” On the show, Ed presents alongside many experts in the game, like Jason Weaver, who he describes as “one of the finds of our tenure”; Ruby Walsh, who’s “dissection of races is just brilliant” and “great friends of mine” A P McCoy, Luke Harvey and Mick Fitzgerald. We can’t forget those who put in such hard work behind the scenes and Ed is quick to give them a mention, “Paul McNamara, the director, has put a fresh pair of eyes on racing. Paul Cooper and Richard Willoughby, the editors, too. It’s a great gang of people who I always look forward to seeing.” I was keen to assure Ed that this camaraderie came through on screen.

In the summer, for the flat season, Ed’s co-host is Francesca Cumani, daughter of maestro trainer Luca Cumani, “I’m very proud of the fact I present with Francesca Cumani. There aren’t many male/female combinations who present, certainly not in sport, you’ve got your Holly and Phil and all that kind of thing, but there aren’t many in sport. I’m proud of the fact we won the Sports Broadcaster of the Year Award, which got racing onto a different platform.” They’re a combination which work well on screen because, according to Ed, “I know nothing about the actual horses while she knows everything!”

Horse welfare is evidently something Ed has an interest in. Around the time of Many Clouds’ passing, ITV Racing brought vet Eva O’Donoghue on to the team and she made frequent appearances to help educate viewers, “We’ve always wanted to explain things because, if you explain things, a lot of it makes sense.” The BHA seem to be adopting this ideology of late with social media videos exploring the misconceptions surrounding horse racing, with input from top jockey Tom Scudamore and vet Sally Taylor. This topic is something I am extremely passionate about so these videos are a wonderful addition and Ed is “delighted” by them.

Another crucial development of late is the ‘Welfare Report’ and this is great because, as Ed says, it’s about “being on the front foot”. This addresses the use of the whip; talks through ways to approach communication with the public surrounding the misconceptions and the tracking of racehorses throughout their lives, from birth to their racing career and into retirement. “Full marks to Annamarie Phelps, Nick Rust and the team for doing that and we [at ITV Racing] will help to get that message out there. So welfare is the biggest challenge but we are on the front foot with it and spreading the word of what this magnificent sport does with these great horses.”

It is so important to remember within these welfare reports just how well-treated these horses already are. The ITV Team are all very passionate about calling attention to stable staff and the work they do, “We try to bring them to the forefront of our coverage as well because they’re such a big part of it. When a horse is led in at the end of a race, I’m always very keen to name check the groom and any little stories we’ve got about the owners or the staff involved are so important to bringing those stories to people at home and it’s part of making them feel part of what’s going on at the racecourse.” I love that ITV mention the grooms – they work with these animals day in, day out and deserve the recognition.

One of the wonderful things about horse racing is how close you can get to the superstars of the sport – whether that be the horses or the jockeys. In Ed’s background of football, he believes that there is a “major disconnect between fan and player”. However, “contrast that to horse racing – the players, which are effectively the jockeys – the access to them is terrific and they’re brilliant with it as well. With ITV, we’ve tried to really make the most of that with our ‘Beaten Jockey Interviews’ and interviews with jockeys down at the start.” The same access isn’t just reserved for the TV cameras, it is on offer when you go racing too- “When you come racing, you can chat to these guys. They’re very open, very warm and, when a kid meets Frankie Dettori, hopefully, that means that they’ll keep following him and it spirals from there. We’ve got a real opportunity with the players”.

At Rein It In, we are really lucky to have the support of Ed as getting young people into racing is a topic of much interest to him, “I want to attract people to ITV Racing for starters but, more importantly, I want to attract youngsters to come racing because if they come racing, the chances are they’ll get hooked on it and watch it down the track. Hopefully, they keep coming back to racecourses as well.” However, Ed doesn’t believe the message of how good this sport is gets out enough, but Great British Racing do a “terrific job” in their ‘Under 18s Go Free’ scheme over the summer. He proceeded to say, “I wrote an article comparing Legoland with a day at Ascot with your kids. Ascot are sensational at entertaining families and anyone really should go along and try Ascot, particularly their Christmas and Family Fun Days. They are brilliant. So, you’re paying nearly £300 for a family of four to go to Legoland when down the road you can spend £60, depending on the enclosure, and you’re kids are in for free.” Ed has ideas for racecourses too, “When we get these kids racing, let’s create a ‘kids zone’ for people to have a little space to watch the racing and cheer the horses.” From a personal point of view, it’s wonderful that Ed and the ITV Racing team hold such strong ideals about the importance of attracting young people into horse racing and, with their influence on terrestrial television, I’m sure they will!

I was intrigued to know what Ed’s main piece of advice to someone looking at a career in racing and, handily for me, his answer was get your work out there, “If you are a young person, now, if I was 15, 16, 17 or a little bit older again, I would be blogging; I’d be interviewing; I would be getting stuff out on social media because, as my career will tell you, you never know who’s watching, listening or reading!”

Cheltenham is one of the highlights of the National Hunt fan’s year and Ed believes these four days are “the envy of all other sports – the way it brings the season to a crescendo. Sporting seasons are always looking for how they can build best to a crescendo!” The incredible atmosphere tempts not just racing fans, but the wider public too, both sides of the Irish Sea. “I love the fact that the British and Irish horses have been kept apart and now it all builds to this big collision at one of the big sporting venues in the world. I think that that is fantastic and we should treasure it.”

Everyone has an opinion about who will win at Cheltenham and Ed has explained his take on the Festival – “I’m more excited about this Cheltenham than I have been for a long time for a number of reasons. I think the two novice hurdles – the Sky Bet Supreme and the Ballymore are fantastically exciting. We’ve got Rachel Blackmore, who is an absolute global superstar, in a sport where we should be shouting from the rooftops that we offer a level playing field for female and male participants, which is a sensational selling point for the sport. We’ve got the best Champion Chase for years. We’ve got a little horse called Tiger Roll going for a fifth festival win on the Wednesday and that won’t even be top of the bill with that Champion Chase and Envoi Allen running with the whole of Ireland cheering him on. That is going to be the most sensational sporting day you can imagine. Then, on Thursday, we’ve got Frodon and Paisley Park trying to repeat what they did last year. What a few days we’ve got ahead – and a really competitive Gold Cup.”

Shishkin (JTW Equine Images)

I couldn’t let Ed go without discussing his fancies at Cheltenham and he’s given three to look out for:

• “SHISHKIN is a bit special. He’s buzzy – but I think he’ll win the Supreme.”

• “I like ASO in the Ryanair, who will be written off again but will run well as he always does at Cheltenham.”

• “I’m a big Santini fan but I do think Al BOUM PHOTO is going to take the world of beating in the Gold Cup as he tries to retain his title, which not many do, but every year we say Festival form is the key factor at the Cheltenham Festival.”

Of course Tiger Roll got a mention too! “He has touched the nation – he is the best thing and best known horse in sport. He resonates with people who don’t even like racing – they’ve heard of Tiger Roll. It’s so powerful and the fact that he is going for history, not just at the Cheltenham Festival but for a third Grand National. He is a household name and, in racing, you can’t ask for much more than that!”

I’m positive that, if Tiger Roll wins at Cheltenham and Aintree, he will promote racing to a wider audience, as ITV Racing continues to do week-in-week-out. It was an absolute pleasure to interview Ed Chamberlin for this piece as, on a personal level, I look up to him massively. I can’t thank him enough for the encouragement he has given to me and Rein It In Racing.

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