Prince Charles may only have had the briefest of attempts at jump race riding but the huge efforts he put in back in the winter and spring of 1980 have left memories that will never fade. Warm and proud, but also hurtful and tragic, they came tumbling out when I was asked up to interview him last month at Birkhall, his home on the Balmoral estate in Aberdeenshire.
Movingly, the strongest memories of all were not the dual public humiliations of being unseated by Good Prospect at Cheltenham and Sandown but of the unforgettable spin round Ludlow to finish second over fences at the first time of asking on his original horse Allibar. And then of the dreadful morning when Allibar collapsed and died on the gallops at Lambourn.
Of course, Prince Charles has done thousands of interviews and played the lead in Macbeth as a schoolboy, so you might not be surprised to see him acting up in a piece whose purpose was to highlight the work of his Countryside Fund and its big fundraising day at Ascot on November 24th. But if he was being insincere when he talked of holding Allibar’s head in his arms “as the life drained out of him”, his Royal Highness’s future should be on the stage rather than on the throne.
To be frank, these sorts of trips are littered with so many protocol problems that the interviewer rather than the interviewee can be losing patience before the start. But take as you find, and our little ITV crew (the interview was screened during Saturday’s Cheltenham coverage) could not have received a more courteous royal welcome on what was a mercifully glorious highland morning at Birkhall. The Prince and the Duchess joined us to say that the talented Carntop will be running over hurdles this season and they could not have been easier subjects.
I didn’t let our future King escape without pressing on him a copy of Churchill at the Gallop, but we have yet to see his review up on Amazon. Surely only a matter of time?