The first time I saw Andrew Nicholson in person, we were sitting in the cafeteria at the 2006 FEI World Equestrian Games in Aachen, Germany. My fellow Chronicle cohorts started giggling, blushing and making suggestive comments as I tried to understand what the big deal was about this gray-haired eventer seated two tables away.
“But he’s old!” I insisted. They laughed, patted me on the head and made a few more remarks about “silver foxes” before we went back to eating our lunch.
Then, at the Olympic Games this year, when Andrew was due in the mix zone, where reporters get a chance to quickly interview riders after their rounds, one of my fellow reporters from a very established British equestrian magazine started turning a charming shade of pink as she prepared to interview him by carefully rearranging her white, damp t-shirt to best display her assets. I laughed, but I still wasn’t getting it.
This year at Rolex Kentucky I understood what the fuss was about.
On Saturday night when Nicholson sat in first and second after cross-country, I began putting together my thoughts about what I’d ask “Mr. Stickability” on the morrow. After all, he didn’t get to be one of the world’s most decorated three-day riders by giving up a lead like that, so I was pretty confident of whom I’d be interviewing when show jumping concluded.
Press conferences at major events are funny things. You have the obligatory questions like, “What does it mean to you to win?” and “Tell us about your ride and your horse.”
You inevitably have someone’s dear mum who got her press credentials because she’ll be sending a report to her granddaughter’s school newspaper, and she’ll monopolize the microphone in order to ask, “What’s Muffin’s favorite barn treat?” or “Can you tell me more about eventing? I hear it’s the triathlon of horse sports.”
Then you have serious reporters on assignments for completely different projects that have nothing to do with the competition taking place. “Can you tell me how the new quarantine facilities compare to others you’ve visited?” “Is your horse, by chance, Belgian-bred? What’s your opinion on the Belgian Warmblood?”
What I’m getting at is that sometimes you just need to do a one-on-one interview.
So I waited, hands shaking a bit, until the press conference concluded for my five minutes alone with Andrew Nicholson. My esteemed colleague Nancy Jaffer, probably the most famous equestrian journalist in the United States, got to him first. She didn’t become who she is by letting another reporter scoop her! I was patient.
Then a woman jumped in front of me who wanted Andrew’s autograph. “I picked you to win before you’d even done dressage!” she told him, beaming. He winked at me as he took up the magic marker. I might have stopped breathing for a moment.
Next it was the Kiwi photographer who won a magnum of champagne, generously donated by Rolex, for correctly choosing Andrew and Quimbo to win in our media contest. Of course she wanted a photo squeezed up next to him holding the giant bottle. He winked at me again. I swear; I’m not making this up.
At long last I got my interview. I eased in by asking how he gets himself fit (and boy is he ever…) “Oh you know, riding 12 horses a day.” We discussed his fleet of four-star horses and how he’d chosen his Kentucky rides. And then I got around to the question I’d been carefully phrasing and re-phrasing for 24 hours. This feud with William Fox-Pitt over William’s ex-wife, Wiggy Channer, who has been Andrew’s one and only since before the Fox-Pitts divorced…is that still a thing?
Andrew grinned and jumped right in. “Oh yes, we don’t speak between events,” he told me. And while it may not be quite as serious as it was when the affair happened, Andrew said he thought the rivalry was good for the two of them and good for the sport—it gave the press something juicy to add to their stories!
With that he was done, rushing off to catch a plane back to England so he could gallop his Mitsubishi Motors Badminton entries.
I returned to my seat in the pressroom, flushed, hands shaking. I was a little embarrassed, frankly. I’ve attended two World Equestrian Games, an Olympic Games, multiple World Cups. I have Steffen Peters and Karen O’Connor on speed dial on my cell phone. I’m the managing editor of The Chronicle of the Horse, for goodness sakes! But no matter how experienced I become at this job, there’s nothing that gets my pulse racing like trying to appear professional and intelligent in a five minute one-on-one with an equestrian legend.
Oh, and it doesn’t help that he most definitely is hot. I totally get it now!