Sunday, February 02, 2014

Matt Baker and Alex Jones began The One Show last Thursday by giving viewers a few clues about who their first guest was. Apparently the guest had just celebrated her birthday, and one of her birthday presents was a somewhat dated book called "Clare in Television" by Pamela Hawken.

Alex Jones: She's everyone's favourite, and the face of the BBC's Winter Olympics coverage. You've got it, surely. It is, of course, Clare Balding.

Clare Balding: Hello.

Alex Jones: Happy Birthday!

Clare: It was my birthday yesterday. I may mention that many many times. I love my birthday. And therefore I had all my schoolmates and my university friends round for drinks last night to celebrate the very important landmark of 43. So I don't need a special birthday to have a party, I just love my birthday.

Clare Balding on The One Show - 30th January 2014

Matt: Who bought you that book, then?

Clare: Oh Zeb Soanes, who's an announcer on Radio 4. And he found it in an antique bookshop and it's a part of a series that was written in the 1950's about different careers for girls. And so it does all this introduction saying for girls looking for a different career. And this one's all about this girl, Clare, who goes to work - by chance actually - goes to work in television.

Matt: And a similar story to your's actually. When you left university, you didn't want to do this did you?

Clare: No, I didn't Matt! And now I'm so excited. I didn't really know. I wanted to be a writer actually, yeah, in that kind of dreamy way.

Alex: Similar-ish

Clare: Yes, sort of.

Matt: It's happened. You've done a few books, we know that.

Alex: Well we will be quizzing you all about the Winter Olympics very shortly.

Clare: I love a quiz. ....

Later the programme included a recorded item about coming out.

Matt: From March, gay couples in England and Wales will be able to get married, declaring their love, in public, to friends and family.

Alex: But for some people, even choosing to tell loved ones about their sexuality can be a really daunting experience.

We then saw three lesbian and gay people and their mums talk about their experiences. After that Matt and Alex chatted to Clare about what it's like for gay people today.

Clare didn't feel that acceptance is a generational thing. Alice's parents (Clare's father-law and mother-in-law) had been very supportive and accepting. Clare believed, however, that parents sometimes had a sense of shame and were embarrassed on behalf of their kids.

Clare: The great thing about not feeling shame is you have the freedom to really enjoy love as love should be enjoyed. And that is with all your friends, with all your family. You know, being able to talk about it at work - or not - if you don't want to. Because some people don't like talking about, you know, whatever relationship they're in.

Alex: And as a society, generally speaking we've come a pretty long way accepting same sex relationships when you compare it to the 1950's when people were put in jail for being gay.

Clare: Well even 10 years ago ... it was still illegal to be gay in the armed forces. And 10 years ago we still had very stringent restrictions on what teachers could say in schools. And I think there's still a hangover of that that some teachers feel that they have to hide their sexuality.

Alex: But do you think we've come far enough then, Clare?

Clare: Well equal marriage is a very exciting development. And that will come very soon, in March. And that, again, that's just affirmation of couples being able to be the same as everybody else and that is, I think, wonderful and joyful. ...

Matt: But I mean there's been real controversy, hasn't there, over recent Russian laws which are seen as being widely anti-gay? Was there ever a point when you thought to yourself "well I'm not gonna go"

Clare: Well to be honest it would be an awful lot easier to stay at home. I'm in a very lucky position, I'm not short of work at the moment. So I wouldn't have been idle. But I think it's terribly important - I believe in equality and I believe in freedom - and I therefore believe in the right for people to do the job that they do without fear of prejudice, without fear of recrimination on any basis, whether that's race, religion, gender or sexuality. So for me to go to Russia - a country that doesn't yet believe that, and hasn't got there yet, my statement is "Here am I, one of the three main presenters for the BBC on the Winter Olympics. And I am out and I am proud and I am happy and I'm doing my job." And I think that's a stronger statement to make, for me personally, than to stay here. Because frankly if I stayed here no-one in Russia's gonna notice!

Alex: No. It's a protest in itself, isn't it?

Clare: Exactly. And I think President Obama and his delegation, you know, picking very high profile 'out' gay former athletes like Billie Jean King, that's him trying to make the same sort of statement. ... Boycotts have worked effectively in some situations - but you all need to be doing it. It's not just about one individual, and certainly not about the one gay presenter not going. ....

Most of the rest of the chat turned to the games and the chances of Team GB doing well. The BBC's tagline for the Winter Olympics is Nature. Who will conquer it?

Clare Balding has a presence on Twitter, and six months ago she was asked whether shd'd be going to Russia. Clare suggested her attendance would be the best way to enlighten the Russians. Yesterday, the start of LGBT History Month, Clare confirmed her decision in a tweeted reply to Newsround Blog.

Whether or not Clare's method of protest changes the minds of Russians remains to be seen. Some programmes, such as BBC Panorama and Dispatches on Channel 4 - but regrettably not CBBC Newsround - are presenting viewers with a fuller picture of what these games are really about.

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