An Interview with Birdie - Artist, Cartoonist and Racing Supporter
Darren Bird has become to racing what Norman Thelwell was to the Pony Club. No plump, devilish ponies with ‘Birdie’ but vivid depictions of racehorses: beautifully thoughtful, occasionally touching and frequently amusing. The detail is strikingly accurate – a white sock, a star, lopsided stripe or a snip on the nose. There are former champions beginning their retirements, lounging in armchairs upholstered in their owner’s colours and a sad, poignant scene in honour of the late Malcolm Jefferson. People are often ‘Birdied’ including iconic pictures of Many Clouds’ trainer Oliver Sherwood, Sir Henry Cecil and the Queen. During the coronavirus pandemic, Birdie drew a happy hundredth birthday to the prolific fundraiser Sir Captain Thomas Moore with a huge slice of NHS cake.
Birdie has sketched at the Cheltenham Festival, the Derby, 2000 Guineas and the Irish Grand National. He has drawn wonderful murals for the 2015 Cheltenham Festival, at Hereford racecourse on the back wall of a new stable block and in the Premier Enclosure at Brighton.
There have been topical drawings on the difficulties of working outside in the snow, the biannual changing of the clocks, Father’s Day, Mothering Sunday and a horse silhouette created from poppies for Armistice Day. Birdie even touches on the political: Theresa May dressed in a Union Jack on a non-starter named Brexit, and the racehorse called Getaway Trump double-barrelling a certain American President. Other sports have been ‘Birdied’, including the Olympics, athletics and football. Plus, there have been emotive depictions when television and film stars have passed, including a desolate Pudsey Bear after Terry Wogan died.
Darren is an Ambassador for Racing Welfare. In 2018, he worked with the charity at Qipco British Champions Day, Ascot, decorating the boards for the runners, which were subsequently auctioned off. In February 2019, Darren was shortlisted for the Goldophin Stud and Stable Staff Awards for the Rory Macdonald Community Award, portraying how loved he is.
On his website, there are many colourful prints of new and old heroes alike, from Tiger Roll to Red Rum. Commissions are popular and Birdie works on a five-week turnaround. There are other gifts, including mugs, keyrings, Christmas tree decorations, snow globes, cushions, cards and calendars. Through the Racing Post, he has published a book and, in 2017, had his cartoons jolly on their Christmas jumpers.
In May 2019, he started up the Birdie Racing Club, which has horses in training with Henry Spiller in Newmarket. Most recently, his website stocks a vast number of Birdie’s designs on face masks!
Paul Nicholls' 3000th Jumps Winner
Did your artistic talents show at school?
I remember being asked to draw in front of the class once... it was a scary experience, but I could only just about reach the middle of the blackboard with the chalk (showing my age!) ...so, I couldn't have been very old.
How and when did you start drawing cartoons?
That's too tricky... All I can say is that I can't remember a time when I wasn't doodling or drawing something. It's pretty much been a daily thing for as long as I can remember!
Did any other cartoonists influence you?
The cartoonist 'Giles' was a massive influence on me... Like myself, he was also from Ipswich and he created so many fantastically detailed images throughout his career. I always got a Giles book for Christmas as a child... He was brilliant at capturing a scene in a cartoon, the characters and the expressions on their faces always told the story so well.
Where did your passion for racing start?
I've always followed racing, but it probably comes from my father. Every Saturday afternoon, the racing was on TV or if we were out somewhere, I remember having to wait outside a bookie’s whilst he just popped in for 10 minutes to watch a race! 10 minutes normally meant 30 minutes!
Red Nose Day
What is your first racing memory?
Sitting on the steps of the July Course at Newmarket watching the horses run by, going to post. I must have been only about 7 or 8 years old; my dad must have been off having a bet, but I was sat happily with my can of fizzy and packet of crisps!
When and how did your cartoons and racing merge?
The image that started 'Birdie' off was a simple black and white cartoon of Luke Harvey and Jason Weaver that I tweeted to the 'Get In' show on At The Races. That was back in 2013 and I had no idea that it would lead to me being invited onto the show later that year to draw live on TV.
Do you prefer Flat or National Hunt?
That's far too tricky to answer! All I can say is that I honestly love both codes... A chilly Cheltenham in December compared to a Sunny Sandown in July can feel worlds apart, but both provide fantastic racing.
What is your favourite racecourse?
Fairyhouse for three reasons - Fantastic racing, Fantastic atmosphere and Fantastic people.
What is your favourite meeting?
The Irish Grand National at Faiyhouse.
How do you pick which winners to draw? (As they are not always the ‘big winner’ of the day.)
I've always been inspired by horses with 'quirky' names... Mad Moose, Roy Rocket & Getaway Trump to name a few... the ideas just seem to flow naturally.
Splash Of Ginge
Do you have a personal favourite of your drawing?
The image of the Queen celebrating Estimate's victory at Ascot must be one of my favourites, but I also loved creating the image of Shutthefrontdoor travelling to Aintree in the back seat of the car, being driven by Jonjo O’Neill and AP McCoy!
Who have you not yet had a chance to ‘Birdie’ but would like to?
There are so many great characters in Racing and I've been lucky enough to capture quite a few of them already.... but there are a few jockeys and trainers who have escaped me so far. All I'll say is they are on my list and I'll get them eventually!
My Tent Or Yours
All cartoons are copyrighted to Birdie Racing Gifts.