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chapter 24 yes, Ma’aM

n between working for the BBc at the aintree meetings i was back

i

on the move: in august 2008 i led a riding holiday in tajikistan and afghanistan and then in January i returned to argentina to have

another crack at aconcagua. on this occasion i le Major Phil and his mates behind, and went instead with a friend called henry cookson. i had met henry when i was preparing for the south Pole, via the small world of arctic and antarctic connections. aer doing various expeditions of his own henry had started a business leading adventurous holidays, and does his utmost to ensure that his charges reach their destination. i still suffered from the altitude but taking the mountain at a more realistic pace enabled me to summit successfully. channel 4 provides the coverage for cheltenham, so during the 2009 festival i was not working but i am sure a lot of people got sick of seeing my face repeatedly all the same. i was regularly on air, up on a grey horse with familiar-looking liquid black eyes. ere the similarities with desert orchid ended. e horse in question was the docile Gracie, a prop for a television commercial promoting Paddy Power Bookmakers. a very public promotion, aired endlessly during the festival. we ride into a punter’s kitchen to deliver the good news that Paddy Power are paying out for fih place on each-way bets. half asleep, he is somewhat surprised to find us loitering by the fridge, with me munching


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his cereal sat on Gracie before i deliver his winnings. leaving him bewildered, the horse and i trundle out, lacking the flourish or flair that my exclamation “ride like the wind!” suggests. it is doubtful that hollywood will be calling offering opportunities to emulate retired footballer Vinnie Jones’ post-sporting career on the big screen. e phone was buzzing aer every showing though. Mainly with a relentless stream of mickey-taking texts. “wooden woody” was a common theme. despite all the slating it was a good laugh, and it paid well for a few hours’ work. it was one of four advertisements featuring retired sportspeople, all of whom still need to earn a living, and these are the sorts of opportunities that come our way. former liverpool goalkeeper Bruce Grobbelaar recreated his spaghetti-legs shimmy from his famous attempt to disrupt francesco Graziani’s concentration as he lined up to take his kick in the penalty shoot-out between liverpool and a.s. roma to decide the 1984 european cup final. in Bruce’s advert he has an even less dignified exit than i, making his escape through a tardis-like dishwasher. former nottingham forest and england defender des walker appeared in a wardrobe, hanging amongst the shirts. des got the most questionable line for boosting his self-esteem, introducing himself to the surprised punter as: “desmond sinclair walker. 657 appearances. one goal.” former sheffield wednesday and west Bromwich albion footballer, carlton Palmer, was probably the strongest actor of the four of us. he popped up in a punter’s bath, replacing his submerged wife, to deliver the winnings whilst delivering his lines with significantly more poise than Bruce, des or i managed. such flippancies were diverting entertainments in 2009 as i prepared to undertake the main event: walking 1,000 miles in 1,000 hours in to


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celebrate the 200th anniversary of captain robert Barclay’s achievement of the same feat on newmarket heath in 1809. captain robert Barclay was a scottish aristocrat known as e celebrated Pedestrian in the early nineteenth century, and was considered by many to be the founding father of pedestrianism, a precursor to the sport of racewalking. in those days people would regularly walk great distances for practical purposes, and measures of speed and stamina quickly became an indicator of sporting prowess. for practical purposes Barclay would think nothing of walking 100 miles to attend a drunken dinner party and would walk home again to sober up. Barclay belonged to a group of well-bred gentleman known as e fancy, wealthy types who would gamble on anything and everything. horses were inevitably a favourite as well as boxing matches, but as the sport of pedestrianism gripped them with ever-increasing distances it became their punt of choice. e fancy would challenge each other to feats of pedestrianism. e climax to these challenges arose in the summer of 1809 when another member of e fancy, James wedderburn-webster, wagered that captain Barclay would be unable to walk 1,000 miles in 1,000 hours for 1,000 guineas. as Barclay could walk 70 miles between breakfast and dinner on a good day, at first glance the distance and time allowed do not seem overly taxing. e catch was that each single mile had to be completed in consecutive hours. Barclay would walk the same mile on newmarket heath for 1,000 hours without a break, snatching sleep and meals in the spare minutes between the miles. at the time it was considered the greatest feat of human endurance ever attempted. Barclay’s 1,000 Mile challenge remains a significant event in the history of racewalking, and as the 200th anniversary approached the race walking association were keen to commemorate it by rerunning the


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challenge in newmarket. ey were also hopeful that someone connected with racing could be persuaded to be the pedestrian. for some reason they thought of me. i knew nothing of this when one day in april 2008 i walked into newmarket races and was confronted by stephen wallis, the managing director of the racecourse. “i have got something for you. come and have a chat with ron and me,” he said cryptically. for further details i agreed to meet with stephen and ron wallwork, a former commonwealth racewalking gold medallist and manager of the new astley club for stable lads in newmarket, which receives valuable contributions from racing welfare. ron was understandably keen that the walk should support that charity. My interest had been piqued when i first heard all about captain Barclay and his 1,000-mile walk, and i had visions of potential routes. i recalled that sir ian Botham had recreated hannibal’s walk through the alps to raise money for leukaemia research and began to think along similar lines. unsurprisingly i was soon a little disappointed to discover that the 1,000 miles actually meant walking the same stretch up and down newmarket’s Bury road one thousand times. nevertheless, this was ron’s brainchild, his enthusiasm was engaging, i was keen to support racing welfare as i am a trustee, and so i agreed. a committee was formed including roger weatherby, chairman of racing welfare, and Brough scott, the journalist. sponsors were sourced and the logistical planning started in earnest. at is how i found myself in newmarket a year later, in april 2009, undertaking a 72-hour trial as a taster for what i was letting myself in for. But there was no backing out if i found it was not to my liking. captain Barclay had taken a slightly different approach. Before he accepted the


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wager he was unsure of how the sleep deprivation would affect him. in order to find out he instructed his manservant to walk a mile every hour for as long as possible. aer his manservant’s sixth day he was satisfied it could be done. My trial was more of a training exercise as well as an opportunity for the scientists of the university of ulster to carry out some tests. ey would be monitoring my performance levels, both physical and psychological, during the main event. it was also an opportunity to familiarise myself with my surroundings. apart from the university of ulster’s involvement, modern energy snacks, nike ultra-light trainers and Gore-tex waterproofs i had a secret weapon captain Barclay could never have dreamt of. a suite in e Bedford lodge hotel. noel Byrne, the manager of the Bedford lodge, had agreed to put me and the racewalking officials up for 42 days in June and July while i completed the mileage. in april i arrived to get to know what would become my new home for the summer. in three days i learnt a few things from the trial, but principally that i was in for a monotonous time and that i needed to be careful to avoid injury. we established a routine that involved completing each mile on either side of every odd hour. it takes approximately 15 minutes to walk the mile, so i would commence a mile at twenty minutes to the odd hour, and return at five minutes to. en i would rest for five minutes before setting out again on the stroke of the hour, returning at a quarter past. in this way i was able to complete a mile every hour but have 1 hour 15 minutes in bed between each block of two miles. if it sounds repetitive just reading it, you should try walking it. i obviously did not need to sleep between each set of miles, so through the day there was a lot of hanging around, passing the 80 minutes. during


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the main event i had plenty of company as people came to walk with me but during the trial the boredom was killing me. liz ampairee, a good friend who was managing all the organisational aspects of the challenge, was with me, and together we spent a lot of time drinking coffee in the bar of the Bedford lodge. on the third day of the trial, i had just finished my one o’clock miles and was sitting in the bar with liz when coral Pritchard-Gordon, sir Michael stoute’s partner, rang. sir Michael’s home was near the Bedford lodge. “hi richard, you busy?” “i’m pretty free for the next 80 minutes to be honest, why?” “well pop over, we have a visitor you might like to meet, come and say hello.” “oK, give me two minutes!” i said, and sprang to my feet to go and make myself look presentable. sir Michael stoute is one of the Queen’s racehorse trainers, and coral had previously mentioned that she might be in newmarket to visit her horses that week. i had met the Queen before, but in very formal surroundings. e most recent had been when i presented her with a silver memento and cup for winning the chesham stakes with free agent at royal ascot in 2008. Before that i had met her in 1994 when she presented me with an MBe for “services to racing”. it has oen been mentioned that when my presence was first commanded at Buckingham Palace to receive the award, my response was that i could not make it because i was due to ride at Plumpton that day. ings had changed a lot since then. i had more free time on my hands fieen years later, and loitering in the Bedford lodge there was no way i would be making the Queen wait now. liz and i arrived at sir Michael’s house and were shown into the drawing room. sir Michael and coral were there, as well as John warren,


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the Queen’s racing manager, and Michael and Georgina Bell. Michael is another newmarket trainer who also handles some of the Queen’s horses. everyone seemed very relaxed and chatty. e Queen herself was sitting on a sofa and there was space next to her, which coral ushered me towards. i am quite a shy person, but i am not oen intimidated when i meet somebody. Plonking myself down beside the Queen in a social situation, i was petrified. My mind was racing. how should i address her? “your Majesty” first, and then “Ma’am” of course, but how do you actually pronounce that in practice? i think i called her Mum at one stage. coral was going about her business and serving tea, as if this was all perfectly normal, which maybe it is in her drawing room. it is certainly not in mine. e Queen asked me a couple of questions about my walk, but these were merely the polite preliminaries. she wanted to talk racing and started telling me about Barbers shop, a horse she had in training with nicky henderson that used to belong to the Queen Mother, and which Mick fitzgerald rode regularly. within minutes it was obvious that the Queen knew her racing inside out, and she is easily one of the most knowledgeable owners i have ever met, with a firm grasp of every detail. if the media qualified for royal warrants i suspect the Racing Post would be a certainty. Between flustering about my comparatively limited racing knowledge, i was taking sips of my tea. coral had got the finest china out, dainty and delicate little cups and saucers, better suited for more elegant fingers than my oversized digits. as i tried to grip the bone china between my stubby forefinger and thumb, i spilt tea into the saucer, starting a further mental panic. taking tea with the Queen is a fascinating experience. up close she seems like she has the sort of sparkling sense of humour you would expect


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from the wife of someone as entertaining and amusing as the duke of edinburgh, but there is a formal subtlety to it. as it is only hinted at, with smiling eyes, of course you cannot be sure, and wary of offence you end up just responding to everything with an involuntary “yes, Ma’am.” she mentioned a time when Jamie spencer met her in the paddock before riding for her. he came into the parade ring with grass stains all over his breeches, from a fall in a previous race. “when i asked him what the ground was like, he chose to ignore me,” she said, with what appeared to be wry, regal humour. if any other owner had told me about Jamie spencer ignoring them in the paddock in similar circumstances, i would have laughed and said something like “sure, we’ve all done that in our time!” with the Queen i just said, “yes, Ma’am.” she must have thought i was crazy. liz did the same, pretty much responding to whatever the Queen asked with a “yes, Ma’am.” it was clear the Queen assumed that liz was my girlfriend and at one stage she asked liz a question confirming this assumption: “you must miss him when he’s away?” under normal circumstances liz would have gone to great lengths to correct the misguided impression. her response to the Queen? “yes, Ma’am.” e Queen told me she had high hopes for the richard hannontrained free agent in the coming year. she must be disappointed. listening to the details of a win for Barbers shop at sandown, i heard how his rating had been raised 17lbs in two races. with any other owner i might have suspected they held strong views on trainers’ abilities to look aer their horses’ handicap mark. we talked about her winner at ascot the previous summer and it was fabulous to see the Queen simply expressing the unbridled joy of a passionate


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owner revelling in the satisfaction of a big winner. although it was on her turf, she had not had a two-year-old winner at royal ascot for 20 years and breaking the cycle very obviously had meant the world to her. Just as i thought i was beginning to settle, and would be able to offer more meaningful conversational input, she caught me off guard again. she was telling me about the jockeys who had ridden for her, when suddenly she paused, her eyes twinkling with the faintest hint of a knowing smile. “i hear Mick fitzgerald’s book is very good. do you think so too?” “yes, Ma’am.”

Yes Ma'am - Method in My Madness  

Extract from Richard Dunwoody's autobiography - Richard takes tea with the Queen

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