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I met Willie Carson at the Birmingham NEC in March 2011. He signed two rare ceramic character jugs for me. These were produced by Royal Doulton but the intended run of 2,500 was stopped after only small number were made. Willie said that he'd never signed one before!
William Fisher Hunter Carson, was born in Stirling, Scotland in 1942. His father, Tommy, was a warehouseman, and his mother May had a job as a waitress. His unusual middle names
Willie signing one of my jugs
names were from an uncle who was a missionary in America. He was always called Billy as a child, only later being re-christened 'Willie' by themedia
May & Tommy Carson
Willie as a small child
the media. Stirling was a bleak place in the 1940s with poverty and drunkenness prevalent. Willie attended the local school, but he was no academic, nor was he into sports. As he himself admits, "I had no confidence. I was a weakling - a tiny little kid. I had a bit of a chip on my shoulder because being small made me into a loner".
When he was twelve, he played truant from school to earn coppers at thee
local cattle market. This paid for a visit to the cinema to see The Rainbow Jacket (1954), a sentimental Ealing drama about a middle-aged jockey, banned from racing, whose hopes rest on a young lad he's training
Fella Edmonds & Bill Owen in The Rainbow Jacket
training to become the next champion. Willie Carson realised that this was something someone of his size could do. He took riding lessons, paying for them with a paper round.
Then, aged fifteen, with the full support and encouragement of his parents, he became apprenticed to Captain Gerald Armstrong at his Thorngill stables in North Yorkshire. In 1959 Willie Carson had his first race at Redcar, on a horse
Major Dick Hern
horse called Marija, finishing 5th. It wasn't until July 1962 that he had his first winner - on Pinker's Pond in a seven-furlong apprentice handicap at Catterick. However, he had to leave Armstrong's stables after the trainer took a very dim view of Willie getting a girl pregnant, and then choosing tond
The Big Impression - Clare Balding & Willie Carson
Willie Carson's first win on Pinker's Pond
to end all contact with her, preferring instead to dedicate his life to horses. Over the next five years, he rode 127 winners,
although he had some self-doubt and admitted, "I often felt like quitting."
Willie then joined trainer Sam Armstrong (Gerald's younger brother whose daughter later married Lester Piggott) for four years, before moving to Bernard van Cutsem's yard in 1966. It was Bernard who encouraged Willie to
Willie's 'flying dismount' from Sun Princess in 1983
Willie Carson provided this signed photo for an auction
Cloud Nine. I now own this signed photo!
Carson wins the Oaks on
breed horses, thus giving him a parallel career to race riding.
Dunfermline in 1977
After van Cutsem's death, Willie Carson joined the legendary trainer Major Dick Hern. They became one of the most successful trainer/jockey partnerships - providing Carson with outstanding horses to ride, and giving him some of his most high profile winners.
Carson rode his first Classic winner in 1972, on van Cutsem's High Top in the 2000 Guineas, and that same year he was crowned champion jockey for the first time with 132 winners. He was also crowned champion jockey in
Willie Carson in 1967
in 1973, 1978, 1980 & 1983.
Willie Carson on Troy
Troy easily winning the Epsom Derby in 1979
The Queen's Silver Jubilee year, 1977, saw Willie win both The Oaks and the St Leger on the Queen's filly Dunfermline (he was to repeat the Oaks/St Leger double again in 1983 on Sun Princess).
Carson after winning the Derby on
Henbit in 1980
Willie Carson on 1989 Derby winner Nashwan
Willie Carson on Nashwan in 1989
Willie Carson on Erhaab in 1994
Willie Carson won the Derby for the first time in 1979 on the brilliant colt Troy. It was the 200th runni
running of the famous Epsom race, and the first of his 4 Derbyy
Derby wins. The others were on Henbit in 1980, Nashwan in 1989 and Erhaab in 1994. Carson rates Nashwan as the best hor
Carson's 1980 Derby winner Henbit
horse that he rode in his entire career. Trained by Major Dick Hern and ridden in all his races by Willie Carson, Nashwan won both his races as a two-year-old and then landed a massive gamble to win the 2,000 Guineas in 1989. He also won the Derby, the
the Eclipse and the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes, the only horse to win all four races in the same season. When Nashwan was retired to stud, he became the
The Queen chats with Willie Carson
to raise funds for the Cheltenham children's charity
the most valuable stallion ever, at that time.
Both Nashwan and Erhaab were owned by Sheikh Hamdan, whose blue and white silks were worn by Carson on many of his winners. He is also remembered for his association with Dayjur, one of the fastest ever racehorses.
Dayjur wins the Nunthorpe Stakes in 1990
Willie Carson's best season forr
for winners was in 1990, when he won 187 races, although it was 22 less than that year's champion jockey Pat Eddery. In June that year, he rode 6 winners on the card at Newcastle Racecourse, one of only four jockeys to complete this feat during
Willie Carson is fourth in the all-time list of British champion flat jockeys behind Sir Gordon Richards, Lester Piggott and Pat Eddery.
during the 20th century.
A highly energetic and supremely stylish rider, Willie's career eventually spanned 34
Willie Carson wearing The Queen's
34 years until his retirement in 1996. During that time, he rode 3,828 winners in Britain alone, along with many other winners in Ireland, France Germany and Italy.
Willie Carson in 1992
Willie Carson has also been a very successful breeder of thoroughbreds, since 1980, when he bought the 60-acre Ampney Stud near
Willie Carson on Minster Son
near Cirencester, in Gloucestershire. He renamed it the Minster House Stud, and increased its size to around 150 acres. It has a palatial main house, and two cottages. He has the distinction of being the first jockey
Willie Carson winning the 1988 Doncaster St Leger
jockey to breed a British Classic winner, Minster Son (named after the stud) whom he also rode to win the 1988 St Leger in the colours of Lady Beaverbrook.
on Minster Son
Willie Carson has been married twice, firstly to Carol in 1963, with whom he had three sons, Anthony, Neil and Ross and then, in 1982, to Elaine who has helped Willie to develop Minster House into the state-of-the-art stud complex which it is today.
In 1982-83, Willie Carson was one of the team captains in the BBC sports quiz A Question of Sport which, at that time, was chaired by David Coleman.
Willie with some of his horses at his Minster House Stud
After retiring from riding, Willie Carson began working for the BBC, bringing his immense experience to their coverage of horse racing. Willie is particularly associated with their broadcasts from Royal Ascot, teaming up with Claire Balding as co-presenters.
Willie Carson & Claire Balding
(left) Willie Carson & Claire Balding
watch jockey Kieren Fallon go by in
the parade ring at Royal Ascot
Willie Carson in A Question of Sport
This was one of the last character jugs to be produced by the Staffordshire pottery Royal Doulton. Since the 1920s, they had produced
Willie told me that he had never signed one of these before so this makes my two character jugs unique.
This jug was one of a series of sports personalities including Ian Botham, Sir Henry Cooper, Dickie Bird and Sir Stanley Matthews. The first few jugs went on sale in 1999, but the company's desperate financial position at the time meant that all production stopped and no more would ever be made. This makes it a very hardddddddddd
The Willie Carson jug
produced around five hundred different jugs, most of them of famous people, or fictional characters. The hand made and hand decorated Willie Carson jug was modelled by Stan Taylor
Taylor in 1998, for a limited edition of 2,500. It depicts Willie in Sheikh Hamdan's famous blue & white racing colours which Willie wore successfully so many times. I have the no.6 & no.12 jugs from this limited edition.
Willie holding my two Royal Doulton jugs
hard jug to find on the second hand market.
Willie and I hold one of the Doulton jugs
Willie Carson's autobiography Up Front (co-written with Brough Scott) was published in 1993, two years after Michael Seely's Willie Carson: The Illustrated Biography, which appeared in 1991.
Willie with his second wife Elaine
Willie with his first wife Carol & their 3 sons
Willie was chairman of Swindon Town FC from 2001 until August 2007.
After the 1983 season, the Queen awarded Willie Carson the OBE for services to racing. He has also received honorary degrees from the University of Stirling (in 1998) and the University of Chester (in 2010).
Until recently, Willie had an ongoing involvement with Cloud Nine, a Children’s Charity in Cheltenham.
at Royal Ascot
Sir Alex Ferguson & Willie Carson
Willie's signature on jug No. 6