Nicki Chapman helped to change the face of Saturday night TV as a judge of The X Factor forerunner Popstars and then Pop Idol – but she is now galloping off in a new direction, writes Graham Walker.
Her bubbly enthusiasm and passion for all things equestrian is set to make one of the greatest horse shows on the planet even more popular.
Nicki will host the 2014 Spanish Riding School of Vienna Tour in London and, for the first time in Yorkshire, at Sheffield’s Motorpoint Arena.
The majestic, highly trained White Lipizzaner stallions and their regal riders, are regarded as the royal family of the horse world.
They perform impressive Renaissance skills, famed for in-hand work and movements above the ground such as the Capriole, Levade and Courbette.
But the 430-year-old spectacle is getting a modern makeover, with additional performances next year by Team GB’s Olympic and Paralympic dressage gold medallists Carl Hester MBE and Lee Pearson CBE, in an Attercliffe venue more familiar to showcasing the likes of Lady Gaga and Bruce Springsteen.
Nicki said: “This is rock and roll for horses.
“You’ve got Carl and Lee opening the show and in the second half the Spanish Riding School, with all the music and effects. It’s like an art form, like ballet. It’s absolutely beautiful.”
VIDEO: Press the play button to watch show highlights and our video chats with Nicki Chapman and Lee Pearson.
Nicki, aged 46, became a household name after teaming up with pop guru Simon Fuller in the 1990s and joining his 19 Entertainment management company as creative director. It led to her taking a seat on the Popstars judging panel with ‘Nasty’ Nigel Lythgoe and Paul Adam, making stars of Hear’Say, back in 2001, before joining Simon Cowell, Pete Waterman and Neil Fox, on Pop Idol, to discover, among others, Will Young.
She has worked with the likes of Amy Winehouse, the Spice Girls, Take That and David Bowie, then more recently turned to presenting travel and lifestyle TV such as Wanted Down Under.
Next spring she hosts new BBC TV show, Escape To The Continent, about people wanting to move abroad.
Nicki, who also came second in a public vote while taking part in celebrity horse jumping TV show Only Fools On Horses, for Comic Relief, will not be getting back in the saddle for the Arena show.
Speaking exclusively to The Star, at Smeltings Farm Riding Centre, Ringinglow Road, Ringinglow, she said: “I’m going to be honest. I wont be appearing on horseback because I know my limits.
“I think British dressage and the equestrian world have asked me to support this event because they want to encourage more people to come along and get into riding.
“Charlotte Dujardin won gold last year at the Olympics and proved you don’t have to have hundreds of thousands in the bank and own your own dressage horse – we can go to a local riding stable at the weekend, enjoy a couple of hours and it won’t break the bank.
“The Spanish Riding School of Vienna Tour is a family spectacle. It will appeal to all ages, even if you’re not into dressage, or you don’t ride yourself. It’s like nothing you will see anywhere else. And right here on your own doorstep.”
Inspirational Lee Pearson, aged 29, who was born with arthrogryposis multiplex congenita, a congenital joint condition, is a 10-times Paralympic gold medallist and has also won six world championships and three European titles.
He said: “I started out riding a donkey, because the standard joke was I couldn’t pedal a bicycle. Then I had a pony, but I was absolutely rubbish as a child. I was nervous and didn’t have much talent at all, but I kept persevering because I just love horses.
“I also thought dressage was the most boring sport God ever invented.
“But actually, it’s not just about horses going around in circles, it’s about the power of the horse and the partnership between human and animal. It’s more like gymnastics. And when you get the bug, you kind of end up where I am.”
* The Spanish Riding School of Vienna Tour is at Sheffield’s Motorpoint Arena in Attercliffe from Friday to Sunday, October 31 to November 2, 2014. For tickets, priced £22 to £66, including booking fee, call 0114 256 5656 or visit www.motorpointarenasheffield.co.uk.