Our columnist Richard Williams recently caught up with popular racing UK and ITV racing presenter Oli Bell to get an insight into his life.
Can you tell us your 1st memory of Horse Racing?
OLI: I remember it very well, My Grandparents owned horses and i went to Leicester racecourse when their horse Home from The Hill ran. The horse won in a photo and i was hopping and hollering from about 5 furlongs out. My Grandparents were quite stiff upper lipped people and they were deeply embarrassed. I was hooked after that.
You presented the breakfast show on school radio, how was that? & what’s your taste in music like?
OLI: In truth, I did that to avoid double biology on a Wednesday morning, but it did give me my first taste of broadcasting and was great fun. I’m not sure how much I really learnt from it but to have a platform to do that at school was obviously a great opportunity. At the time I think Busted were quite big so I think I used to just put a few of their CDs on!
I also noticed you played Cricket & Football to a high Standard, Batsman OR Bowler? What position did you favour when playing Football?
OLI: That was a long time ago! I’m a batsman and used to play up front but i don’t think I ever really set the world alight in either sport. I still play a bit of cricket for the Newmarket Racing XI and there is a good T20 match every year at Goodwood that I play in for Lord March’s XI against the Lords Taverners. We’ve won the last twice so fingers crossed we can win it next year!
How did you get into TV Presenting & who was your TV inspiration?
OLI: I started by doing radio reports aged 16 at places such as Burleigh horse trials, and took every opportunity to do as much work experience as possible when I could. I then started work full time at Racing UK aged 18. Initially I worked behind the scenes for 4 years and then got an opportunity to present. They were, and have remained, very loyal to me and I’m indebted to them for the opportunity and support they’ve shown me through the years. Sir Peter O’Sullevan and Des Lynam were broadcasters that growing up i really admired.
You spent time in Australia presenting for Sky Australia’s Racing Channel, how does Australian TV compare to UK TV?
OLI: The channel i worked for out their Sky Racing is a slightly different beast to Racing UK or At The Races because there is a lot more racing and they also covered Greyhound racing and Harness racing so it was very busy and effectively race after race after race so it’s quite hard to compare. I think were very lucky in this country (a lot of the time) to give each race the time it deserves.
The Melbourne Cup is the highlight of the Australian racing season, how does it compare to say The Breeders Cup, Royal Ascot or The Meydan Carnival?
OLI: The main difference I think is that the town and country for that matter gets really behind the event. The street parade of connections a few days before the race, the fact that it’s a public holiday in Victoria it means that it is in everyone’s psyche. I suppose the Grand National has that level of national interest in this country and that is something I hope can continue because the buzz around Australia during the Melbourne Cup is amazing.
How has TV changed UK Racing?
OLI: I think technology has allowed us as viewers to feel a lot more involved in the race and the event. There has been innovative cameras and technology used in recent years that take us into the heart of the action. Social media has also provided a platform for those involved in the sport to be seen and heard on a more regular basis which is a good thing.
With being a Presenter on Racing UK & ITV RACING, how does that compare to the work you have done before?
OLI: Well it’s certainly a bit different to when I worked as a pot washer/waiter in my local pub when i was younger! I’ve been very fortunate in that in my professional life it is all I have really known so there isn’t much to compare it too. It’s a job I absolutely love and in truth, it has never felt like a job.
Congratulations on your new job presenting ITV Saturday Morning’s Racing Programme, what can we expect on a Saturday Morning?
OLI: Thank you, an exciting time ahead. I hope people enjoy the show and it is a platform to share the many amazing stories that this sport has to offer. I also see the morning show as an opportunity to whet the appetite for when Ed and the team go on air for the live racing. There are a few new and exciting plans in place but you will have to tune into the first show on January 7th on Tolworth Hurdle day from Sandown to find out what they are!!!!
How is your Auto-Cue Skills? No seriously, is it going to be a big Challenge?
OLI: Ha-ha, well, I’ve never used auto-cue and I won’t be using it on the show so thankfully I don’t have to worry about that! I think with racing you can’t really write scripts because it is wonderfully unpredictable.
Is this the highlight of your Career so far & teaming up with Sir AP McCoy must be a big a massive thrill?
OLI: It’s obviously a fantastic opportunity and without sounding cheesy I’m really flattered to have been asked to do it. obviously am very very excited by the challenge and I hope I can do a good job. Working with people like AP, sorry, Sir AP, is cool because as a racing fan he is a legend but that’s not to say I’m going to tread on eggshells around him! He’s put on a lot of a weight since he packed up riding and I will remind him of that regularly!
What is your idea of the most exciting race you have seen past or present?
OLI: There are a few I could mention here! Ouija Board v Alexander Goldrun in the Nassau was a thriller, Giants Causeway v Khalanisi as well but if think the excitement around Denman v Kauto Star was amazing and the build up to that was really special. That would just top it for me I think.
What advice would you give?
OLI: can only speak from first-hand experience really and the lessons i learnt from working behind the scenes and the work experience that I did was invaluable. It doesn’t happen overnight and yes there will be a lot of boring days and cups of teas made but you’re able in those situations to absorb a lot of vital lessons and information. When you are young we are all sponges really and its important in your formative years to learn as much as possible. I think as a presenter it’s very important to be yourself and find your own style.
We ask everybody for a Couple of Horse’s to follow for the season, do you have a couple for our readers?
OLI: Jessber’s Dream is a very good mare that Ditcheat Thoroughbred’s purchased recently and is now with Paul Nicholls, I’m sure she’s got a big future, as has Behind Time that recently won the same handicap at Cheltenham that Uknowwhatimeanharry won for the same trainer Harry Fry.