Clare Balding’s history
It’s good sport Clare Balding’s turn to get emotional…
Clare Balding has always been intrigued by hints of a scandal in her family. The sports presenter suspected that her maternal greatgrandfather, MP Sir Malcolm Bullock, was secretly gay, and in this week’s Who Do You Think You Are?, she discovers the truth about Malcolm’s friendship with celebrated artist Rex Whistler.
‘I was interested in Malcolm because there had been whispers about him in the family and things might have even been said in Parliament,’ Clare tells TV Times.
However, Clare’s investigation was hampered because some of Malcolm’s correspondence was burned by his daughter, Clare’s grandmother, Priscilla.
‘It was frustrating,’ says
Clare, 46. ‘My grandmother was a forceful woman and
I wonder whether the shame associated with Malcolm contributed to her later homophobia.’
Eventually, Clare tracked down Rex’s letters and discovered that he and Malcolm had a close relationship in the 1930s and were part of a set that attended parties at a country house where couples could be together away from prying eyes.
‘It was a fascinating other world where they wouldn’t be judged,’ says Clare, who
married journalist Alice Arnold in 2015. ‘I’ve no doubt that Malcolm was gay or bisexual and I know he was heartbroken when his relationship with Rex was broken off. Malcolm was also very protective towards other people who might have been criminalised at that time because of their homosexuality. I wish
I could have met him.’
Malcolm’s relationship with
Rex began after the death of his wife, Lady Victoria Stanley, in a riding accident in 1927. Clare wanted to discover more about Malcolm and Victoria’s marriage as she has a portrait of her great-grandmother, Victoria, in her home.
‘I assumed they had a marriage of convenience, but I discovered that they really loved each other,’ says Clare, who was moved to read a letter that Victoria’s father Edward, the Earl of Derby, sent to Malcolm following Victoria’s death.
‘I choked up because it’s rare to see male emotion expressed in that era, it was incredibly moving,’ she says.
Clare was also keen to investigate the ancestors of her racehorse trainer father Ian. However, Ian was baffled that Clare wanted to follow the line of his American mother Eleanor Hoagland, rather than the more horsey Balding clan. ‘Like many men, he believes that only the males in the family are interesting!’ she laughs.
Mr Balding couldn’t have been more wrong, because when Clare headed to America, she learned that the Hoaglands were descended from the 17th-century Dutch settlers who made New York their home, including Sarah Rapelje, the first European woman to be born in the city.
‘It was amazing to imagine what life was like for those Dutch settlers,’ says Clare. ‘I’ve never really thought about myself as American, but now I feel like American royalty!’
Clare also discovered that
Joseph Hoagland, was a property developer who helped shape the New York skyline in the
1920s, and that her greatgreat-great grandfather, also a Joseph Hoagland, founded the Royal Baking
Powder Company in 1866.
‘The team who make the show found a Royal
Baking Powder tin on
Ebay for me,’ says
Clare. ‘It’s now on my mantelpiece in my study – it’s so cool!’
Presenter Clare Balding on how she has unearthed a shocking family secret and her connection to the birth of New York City
Clare Balding admits that she’s usually looking to the future and the next sporting event, but she’s fizzing with excitement as she looks backwards for once, into the branches of her family tree. Her first stop is her maternal great-grandfather
Sir Malcolm Bullock, who she suspects had a gay relationship with artist Rex Whistler in the 1930s. Then, despite her vow not to cry (why do they promise that when they always end up in floods?), there are tears as Clare learns about the death of Malcolm’s wife Lady Victoria Stanley. Meanwhile a trip to America uncovers her paternal line and the fabulously wealthy Hoagland family who made their fortune through property and baking powder!
New Yorker: Clare’s greatgrandfather Joseph
Clare’s dad, Ian, with his brother and their father
Clare’s family set up the Royal Baking Powder Co.
Politician: Sir Malcolm Bullock
Clare is completely unprepared for what she finds
Sir Malcolm Bullock