Olympic Celebrity: Jennifer Saunders

May 30, 2012

Will the Olympics survive when PBS comedy AbFab characters Patsy and Eddy show up?

When the hit British television show Absolutely Fabulous (“AbFab”)announced that it would emerge from re-runs and produce three new episodes in 2011, I laughed. The timing was perfect.

Absolutely Fabulous follows the lives of two best friends, Edina, an International PR guru by trade, but sixties teenager at heart, and Patsy, a sex-crazed magazine editor. I mused that champagne-swigging Eddy (played by comedienne Jennifer Saunders) might take on an Olympic equestrian team (no doubt from an obscure country not found on any map) as a PR client for the Games.

It never occurred me that she might want to ride in the Olympics herself.

All that sounded pretty tame two years ago. But the Olympics really are coming…so my prophecy will soon come true: AbFab really is airing an Olympics special episode, the third of three 20th anniversary shows. Actress Joanne Lumley, a.k.a. Patsy, leaked in an interview that “we do get into the Olympic Arena and for one magic moment we feel that we might have been two Olympic heroines”. Whether it’s an equestrian arena remains to be seen. Saunders is currently hard at work on a documentary about her love affair with horses; segments of it are scheduled to air in Great Britain in August, perfectly timed with The Olympics. British eventers Lauren Shannon and Piggy French are among the riders profiled by Saunders. Whether for the sake of the documentary or a real ambition to compete seriously, Saunders has taken lessons with French and also with showjumper Tim Stockdale. According to British Eventing, the reason is the latter: Saunders is determined to compete in eventing and had planned to attend the Badminton Horse Trials, which were cancelled this year by bad weather.

Jennifer Saunders sports her inflatable riding vest last weekend at the Houghton Horse Trials in England. ? Lauren Bezant image

Actress Joanne Lumley plays Patsy and hinted at the storyline of the AbFab Olympics special

Britain’s queen of eventing and 2011 Rolex Kentucky winner Mary King is almost certainly headed to London at age 50. It would take a fatalist gambler to bet against New Zealand’s Mark Todd, aged 56, making his nation’s Olympic team for the seventh time. Canada’s showjumper Ian Millar is planning on riding at London in his tenth Olympics, at age 65. So Saunders, at 54, is in good company. In December, British Showjumping announced that Saunders had given her support to the organization and would serve as an ambassador during the Olympic year. She led the British Nations Cup team out at La Baule in France last month. Saunders admits that she has to play some catch-up as a competitor.? ?I did compete at a lowly level,” she told British Showjumping. “Gymkhanas and small shows. I was happy to get over the first jump, anything after that was a bonus. I was hooked on showjumping as it was covered widely on television and was hugely entertaining and the riders were household names and the horses were personalities too.” While Jennifer Saunders’ trophy shelf may be light on horse show cups and ribbons from her youth, it sags under the weight of recognition for her show business career: three BAFTAs (British “Emmy” awards), an International Emmy Award, a British Comedy Award, a Rose d’Or Light Entertainment Festival Award, two Writers’ Guild of Great Britain Awards, and a Peoples Choice Award in the United States. Saunders won a coveted BAFTA award last week for the 2011-12 AbFab specials. The award is especially poignant given Saunders’ battle with breast cancer in 2010. She was treated with chemotherapy and radiation, according to the British newspaper The Telegraph and suffered from depression as a side-effect of post-therapy medication. When asked in a radio interview what she’d do after her recovery, the Pony Club mother listed, “…ride my horse a bit more.” One of the horse world’s all-time favorite YouTube videos seems to be Saunders’ sketch with her longtime friend and comedy co-star Dawn French, who often portrayed some version of eccentric British countrified women in their iconic collaborations; this one is the most popular: You can do it, Jigsaw! Ride on, Jennifer Saunders! To learn more: The AbFab Olympics special airs in Britain the week before the Olympics. Absolutely Fabulous web siteBritish Eventing: Jennifer Saunders proves age is no hurdle when it comes to Eventing


Fran Jurga is a freelance writer and editor from Gloucester, Massachusetts. Her blogs include The Jurga Report for EQUUS Magazine and War Horse News on the 2011 Steven Spielberg film. Fran is the founder of Hoofcare and Lameness Journal and writes a specialist Hoof Blog. You can follow Fran on Facebook and Twitter for more news about the horse world. In 2008, Fran wrote the WorldRides blog for the Hong Kong equestrian events of the 2008 Beijing Olympics and the Discover WEG blog for the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games in 2010.

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