The last time I spoke to Oli Bell, was just before ITV Racing took to the airwaves for the first time in many years. I decided it was time to catch up with the Opening Show Presenter and find out how Oli and the ITV team have been doing…..
The last time we spoke was just before ITV Racing went LIVE, how do you think the first year or so has gone?
I think we would look back on our first 15 months or so in a very positive light. Obviously there are things that we would like to keep building on and we haven’t got everything right but as a general overview of the early stages I think everyone in the team and hopefully within the industry thinks we’ve done a good job to date. To receive a BAFTA Nomination for our Grand National Coverage 2017 was incredibly flattering and that was probably only our 25th or something Show. I think since then we’ve continued to innovate, to challenge each other and to love what we do and hopefully that comes across.
The ITV team are bringing a new style of racing coverage to UK TV, how much of a say do you and the rest of the presenters have in the style and content?
To be honest everyone in the team has a say whether it’s on screen or off screen members of the ITV Racing team. We have a production meeting every Tuesday with reflections on the week just gone and plans for the weekend ahead. Everyone is on that from the social media team, the production managers, the on screen team, directors or the editors so everyone does contribute and brings their ideas to the party so to speak. There’s a very creative and talented team that work on the Racing behind the scenes and some of the content they produce really is exceptional. As presenters we are given a lot of artistic licence to go and find the right content when we’re at the races so it’s about working together, all bringing ideas to the table and then maximising the talent on or off screen that we have.
How are you finding the early morning’s for the Opening Show and how do you feel it has been received by the racing public in general?
Haha – thankfully my body clock has just about got used to the early starts now. I think the show has come along way and is continually improving – one of the main things the public speak to me about is the start time for the show, we listened to that and changed the start time to 9.30 from 10am. The £20 challenge has become a popular little feature, the social Stable and viewer interaction is a positive introduction, we’ve had some really interesting discussions and debates on the show and always make a point to preview the big races properly. We can’t hide from the fact that in 2017 there were a couple of disappointing midweek figures at Cheltenham and Aintree but I was delighted to see that on the same days in 2018 those numbers were up about 120%. I think as people continue to become more accustomed with The Opening Show being on ITV4 at 9.30 on Saturday morning and that becomes ensconced in peoples planners so to speak we will continue to see growth with it. We are always looking to improve and listening to feedback from the audience because we’re not foolish enough to think we get everything right the whole time.
The Presenting team have plenty of banter on air, is it like that behind the scenes?
I know people might read this and think I’m towing some party line but I’m really not. I can honestly hand on heart say that the team get on really well and from a personal point of view some of them have become really good friends. It’s not just the on air team though, there’s so many people that come on this Racing roadshow with us behind the scenes and they’re so cool. We all take the mickey out of each other, all check in with each other when we’re not working and all have each other’s backs really. It’s wicked and a great team to work with.
Not content with the Morning Show, you also get to Interview the winning jockey’s, what has been your favourite jockey Interview to date?
That’s actually quite an easy one to answer – when Bridget Andrews won at the Cheltenham festival on Mohaayed she was obviously absolutely over the moon but what made that interview so special was her boyfriend (fellow rider) Harry Skelton who finished 6th or something. He was understandably so happy for her and he waited, circling around with us so I could have a quick word with him about how he felt seeing Bridget win at the Festival. It was a really lovely moment and was special for them both but they brought that across that so well to our audience with there reactions. I think Racing has this amazing ability to make us feel things that we don’t expect. When that excitement and emotion is accurately conveyed (as it was by Bridget and Harry) I defy anyone not to fall in love with the sport.
Can you give us your racing highlight of the series to date, both National Hunt and Flat ?
National Hunt I think the Gold Cup and the duel between Native River and Might Bite was really special. What a race that was. On the Flat, this is a bit self indulgent but Big Orange and Order Of St George going head to head in the Gold Cup at Royal Ascot will be something I never forget. Two great races.
What can we expect for the rest of the Flat season from the ITV team, any surprises to look forward too?
Well we announced recently some really exciting news – we will be showing evening Racing for the first time with live coverage of the Brigadier Gerard meeting at Sandown in a few weeks time! Fingers crossed this can become a regular thing because there is some decent evening racing throughout the year at some great tracks.
Having top Ex Jockey’s like AP McCoy and Johnny Murtagh brings a different perspective for the viewer. How much have you all learned from having them on the coverage?
I think listening to them talk about horses and race riding is absolutely fascinating and given their achievements throughout their careers it would be wrong to think you don’t absorb a wealth of information and knowledge just by being around them. They’re both really good blokes to work with and I get on very well with the pair of them. I think what’s been really nice to see is how keen they are to improve as pundits. They’re both so driven to be good at whatever they turn their hand to and are supremely talented pundits but they never settle with mediocrity and consistently challenge themselves, and us, to bring out the best in them. It’s why they have had the success they have had – they never settle for second best.
You have recently been boxing, can you tell us a bit about that?
I started presenting a couple of boxing bouts in the World Boxing Super series for ITV and got asked by a friend whether I would do a white collar fight. I thought for research it would be good to know a bit more about the life of a boxer so I agreed to it. It was a tremendous experience and I learnt so much. The guy I was meant to be fighting sadly had to pull out last minute so I had to fight a ringer who knew what he was doing and he ended up beating me on points. I’ll do another one I think. I loved it.
And finally, can you give our followers a horse to follow for the rest of the Flat season?
Well I think La Ti Dar is potentially world class but that’s not rocket science given she’s favourite for the Oaks….
Jeremiah of Charlie Fellowes’ could win a couple Nice handicaps this season. I know he was beaten when well backed at Chelmsford recently but I’m not sure the race was run to suit. I wouldn’t give up on him quite yet and he’s trained by a very talented young trainer so I’m sure he will get the best out of him.
Our thanks to Oli Bell for taking the time to talk to us. We wish Oli and the ITV Racing team all the best for the rest of the year and the future. Also a special thank you to Charlie Fellowes and photographer Jayne Odell( jayneodell.com and @JayneOdellPhoto on Twitter) for supplying the image of Jeremiah.
Interview by Rich Williams – arseonlinetips