The Great Yorkshire Show's first female commentator on breaking through the 'glass ceiling' and a life in the show ring
Christine’s smooth, calm and distinctive voice had been at the helm of the Great Yorkshire Show’s main ring for 38 years up until last year. She is still the lady with the microphone at several shows, including at Pateley Bridge where she once again commentated at Nidderdale Show a couple of weeks ago.
It was Christine’s passion for ponies, ignited when just three years old, that set her on a course leading to her first commentary opportunity as a teenager.
“I was about three years of age when, at a garden party at Kilnwick Percy, it seems I’d rather insisted I wanted to sit on a pony. That was the start of my interest in riding and my passion in ponies never waned. I finally wore down my parents that it was not a passing fancy and had my first pony when I was 12.
Christine recalls her first commentary was at international show jumper Andrew Fielder’s equestrian centre at Pool in Wharfedale.
“Many may remember Andrew’s famous showjumper Vibart. I would go and help at his shows and when the commentator didn’t turn up one day, I said I’d do it. Afterwards Andrew asked whether I’d come back the next week.
“The first time I did Bramham was when I was 18. It was a Hunter trial and was then only a one-day event. I’ve commentated there ever since.
“My first agricultural show commentary was at Otley Show in 1980. I’ve been very lucky in my commentary career as I’ve never had to tout for business. It has been a great privilege.
Christine says her major step forward in being the voice of agricultural shows came from outside the county in 1984.
“I became main ring commentator for Newark & Nottinghamshire Show that became Nottinghamshire County Show. I went through two interviews with the full show council, because at that time it was unheard of to have a woman commentating main ring at a big county show. I’m almost certain it was the first time, when I did commentate for them, that a lady had commentated in any county show ring. I even ended up on television.
It was to be just a year later that Christine broke the glass ceiling of what had been until then a male domain by taking on the Great Yorkshire Show main ring commentary.
“The Great Yorkshire Show committee were very apprehensive about having a lady commentator. I was listened to at various places before it was even considered that I might come to the Great Yorkshire.
Christine’s first commentary on the show’s flagship Grand Cattle Parade came four years later in 1989.
“I took over from Lance Gilling who was principal at Askham Bryan College and he seemed a little anxious about it coming to a lady. He said he’d done it 17 years and didn’t think I’d last that. Well I lasted 34 years.
“Commentary on the Cattle Parade was always fun, because I worked alongside Margaret Chapman, who became chief cattle steward and has become a very close friend over the years. In the early days it was David Thompson from Thompson Feeds at Murton who was chief cattle steward.
“We all built up quite a relationship. The Cattle Parade in particular was a team effort. I worked closely with Margaret or Bill Cowling or whoever was the cattle steward. Getting the timing right was important and what they wanted saying. I always put in a homily at the end trying to get people to think about British farmers.
Christine has worked alongside international commentators such as Mike Tucker and Nick Brooks-Ward.
“It has been wonderful and has given me so much back. I suppose I have always been a serious commentator. I’m not terribly good at cracking the jokes, not very good at entertaining in an amusing way, but there have been interesting times.
“I was lucky to be one of those chosen to meet Princess Anne, the Princess Royal. What absolutely amazed me was that one minute she’s talking to the chief goat steward or pig steward, has a wonderful question, then moves on to me. I’m introduced as ‘Christine who does the commentary’ and bang straight out comes the question immediately relevant to me. She was so incredibly well briefed. That is how you want to be.
Last year was Christine’s final commentary at the Great Yorkshire. She hoped to spend more time seeing the show with her husband Alan who supported her at all shows. Sadly, this wasn’t to be as Alan passed away earlier this year, which Christine says has made 2023 a difficult time overall, but she looks back fondly on her last main ring commentary at the Great Yorkshire.
“I thoroughly enjoyed commentating on the sheepdog trials which was last year’s main ring entertainment. I was meticulous in learning all the terminology. I’d been to sheepdog trials previously but I studied the 36-page rule book beforehand to make sure. Luckily the judge for the first day was particularly helpful. It was a good way to finish as it was also Margaret’s final year as show president.
Christine recalls one of the more difficult moments she has encountered in her commentary career.
“There’s always been this thing about names. I remember doing the cross country commentary at Rudding Park Horse Trials. That’s where the Great Yorkshire Show show director came to listen to me commentate in order to finally accept me. One of the horses was called Bucking Fizz.
“The controller sat beside me was an elderly gentleman and cracked out laughing as soon as this name came out. That finished me. From then on I discussed the rider all the way around the course and never mentioned the horse’s name again.