Tuesday, 03 August 2021

We transform former GB skier

GRAHAM BELL admits that fashion isn’t his strong point.

GRAHAM BELL admits that fashion isn’t his strong point.

The former skier, 47, who represented Britain at five Olympics, says he tends to wear sports-orientated clothing rather than the sort of smart wear required for the royal regatta.

“I don’t often wear a tie,” he says. “Lycra is my material of choice, or maybe neoprene. I’m used to the fact that it is tight and restricting.

“I was even scruffier when I was younger but as I have got older I enjoy fashion more.”

Bell, a father-of-two who lives in New Street, Henley, is also colourblind so his wife Sarah sometimes helps him pick out what to wear.

For the regatta, where he is a regular as some of his friends are rowers, he likes to dig out his old Olympic blazers — and attracts some funny looks.

“You can see people looking at my blazer and thinking, ‘I don’t remember when the Olympics was in Nagano’. I was competing at the winter Olympics obviously.”

Bell, who now presents the BBC’s Ski Sunday, enjoys everything about the regatta and not just the sight of fellow athletes.

“There are very few years over the last 20 years since that I haven’t been to the regatta for at least a single day,” he says.

“I like watching the rowing, going out on boats, drinking champagne and generally the atmosphere around the town — there’s a nice buzz.” He rows himself after being introduced to it by a fellow member of the British ski team who used to row at Cambridge University.

He is usually part of a four or eight and says: “It’s nice to get out on the river. I’ve been out with Justin [Sutherland, captain of Upper Thames RC] and a couple of former Olympians, which was extremely interesting.

“When you are the complete novice and everyone else is an expert it is very clear that any wobbles in the boat are down to you.”

His first memory of the regatta is watching the races from a friend’s boat moored on the booms.

“It’s the best place to watch it because you are right there,” he says. “You can see the look of pain on the rowers’ faces and be very glad that you are not in their shoes.”

His other favourite event is the Henley Festival, although he confesses he doesn’t actually buy a ticket.

He says: “We have a 17½ft Canadian canoe that is quite good because we just paddle down and watch the fireworks and you don’t have to pay anything to go in!”

FOR radio presenter Michelle Livings, the regatta is an opportunity to dress up in her favourite maxi dresses.

She is particularly fond of an All Saints dress with flowers and skulls, which has she worn for the last two years and will be doing so again this time.

“I love it because it is the complete antithesis of everything that is the regatta but no one really knows,” she says.

“I’m a big fan of maxi dresses because they cover it all — your legs — but also the style factor and comfort. They are quite elegant.”

Miss Livings, who won the Miss Henley title in 1995, adds that if she could swap formal footwear for her trusty Converse shoes, she would.

“I probably would wear them if the dress was long enough to cover it up,” she says. “I like to be comfortable.” She was complimented on her style recently by Duff McKagan, the original bass player with Guns N’ Roses, when she interviewed him at the Download Festival for Bloodstock Radio.

“It was the last thing I would have expected him to say,” she says. “He’s obviously quite famous and a childhood hero of mine so for him to say that he absolutely loved my outfit was crazy and such a nice compliment.”

Miss Livings also presents the Marlow FM breakfast show and rock show and also had stints on Regatta Radio.

Her highlights from last year’s regatta include the appearance of the royal barge Gloriana, which was commissioned to mark the Queen’s diamond jubilee.

“It was rather fabulous seeing the boat and talking to the captain as well as seeing lots of nice men in lycra,” she laughs.

“It’s always quite pleasant to wander around and go into the boat tents to see all the crews training and doing their stuff.

“Having covered the regatta for the radio, I feel like I understand it a bit more and it is incredibly exciting — you can’t help but get swept up in it.”

Miss Livings, who lives in Bourne End, was also in the crowd that saw GB rower Katherine Grainger win her Olympic gold medal at Dorney Lake last summer, which she says was “just brilliant”.

More pictures — page 8

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