The week after I came back Mary did an evening for the Dog’s Trust in north London. It is one of their biggest sites with lots of facilities and a super little training hall. Size wise it was a bit compact to the usual hall Mary performs in but it was a cabaret night in every sense of the word. There were about 80 people in the audience who were in good humour and it was a really, really good night. All Mary’s dogs were on form and Mary had her comedy hat on so it was just one of those great enjoyable nights. And best of all I think they all picked up a few tips on dog training.
At the end of January we had the Rugby DTC’s Heelwork to Music Crufts semi finals at Stoneleigh. We promoted Mary to the position to official commentator for this event and she brought a bit of her humour to the proceedings. Some great routines were performed and we could see it was going to be a great final and at Crufts we were not disappointed.
In the second week in February Mary was off on her holiday accompanied by her sister Pauline, well I call it holiday but Mary called it work! She flew out to Miami, had three nights in the Hilton Hotel in Fort Lauderdale where she met up with Val and Ann from the Gold Coast in Australia where they all joined the Holland America Line cruise ship ‘Westerdam’ for a seven night Caribbean cruise and on one of the days they were at sea Mary had to do some work a 2 3 hour lecture on dog training. It must have been really hard for her.
It was a dog cruise organised by a group of dog enthusiasts and there were about 160 dog people on board who had a choice of seminars to go to on a daily basis. I think there were canine 8 experts taking seminars. There were a total 2200 passengers on board and 800 crew, Mary and Pauline absolutely loved it, it is only the second cruise that she has been on but this one was far superior, the boat and the crew were absolutely first class.
Did I miss her? Well, you ought to try looking after ten dogs who miss their pack leader especially a young dog whose high drive needs something to do to keep her occupied. And the day Mary went of course the weather turned to rain and the ground to mud! So was I pleased to see Mary arrive back? You bet your life I was!
It was not long until Crufts when she returned so she had no bookings and could concentrate on her preparation. She had already completed her HTM routine which was to the Slumdog Millionaire movie theme “Jai Ho”. There is a little story to be told here. Getting the clothing/outfit for Mary’s HTM routines can be a bit of a nightmare not to mention expensive as Mary is quite choosy. But before Christmas we decided we were going to see a Classical Spectacular concert at the NIA in Birmingham city centre and knowing we would be passing by one of the biggest Indian clothing areas in the Midlands I suggested we left earlier and called in there. It is loosely situated in Saltley and it was quite an amazing experience as not only did Mary pick an outfit out but when it didn’t quite fit the assistant made a phone call and within two minutes the outfit was whisked away and within ten minutes alterations were made which still didn’t quite suit so it was taken away again and returned within ten minutes made to measure. Quite amazing and all at a reasonable price compared to what we have paid out previously! Also she managed to pick up some Indian jewellery from the shops that were in the vicinity.
So when Mary came back off her cruise it was just a bit of sharpening up for the HTM routine and she could concentrate on some obedience training for Taz and Foxy in the Championships and Levi who was in the World Cup.
But if only everything went smoothly in the Ray household. We had left the calendar empty before Crufts BUT the KC asked if Mary would be involved in filming a small piece of agility for the ‘Get Fit with Fido’ campaign. When she agreed it she didn’t realise that it was actually a Rosemary Conley DVD. So, one day we trooped off to Quorn in Leicestershire to Rosemary’s manor house and headquarters where we actually did some filming on her front lawn. Sometimes people say that celebrities can be funny and full of themselves but it is not something we have come across and Rosemary is a good example she was really, really nice to us and I have to say, as a man, she looked really good as well she may keep herself fit but she “looked fit” as well I can assure you! I wish I had no lines on my face! According to the internet she is actually older than me, I should really ask her how she stays looking so good and get a few tips.
The next little job to fit in was another celebrity spot. I had a meeting with the KC and the programme producers at Olympia last year about doing an agility challenge at Crufts for two competitors on the Ant and Dec Push the Button show which has been running for the last few weeks on a Saturday evening on ITV1. It is a very very popular show where two families compete against each other for money and has one competition on the show each week where a member of each family competes in a challenge that they have to train for. Previously they’ve had dancing on ice, kicking penalties on the Wembley pitch, horse racing at Newbury and this one was to be completing a dog agility course at Crufts!
On the day before Crufts started in Rugby we had the full film crew at the Rugby DTC dog barn with Ant and Dec spending most of the day there as well. We had Dillian competing for the Simpson family and Lee competing for the Cassidy family. I did keep it a bit of a secret as we didn’t want spectators there because it was a deadly serious operation. Anyone who was under the impression that these things are fixed couldn’t be further away from the truth. We couldn’t tell one how the other had got on, what they had been doing or how successful they were, they were kept apart the whole time when they were under instruction. In fact, the only time they came together was when they were needed for joint filming and we were not allowed to tell one what had happened with the other one then.
First job in the morning was to decide which dogs they were going to borrow. The dogs belonged to Mary, Jan Morse, Julie Skipp and Yvonne Croxford. There are lots of great agility dogs around but of course choice is severely limited as of course they have to be happy to work for a stranger. They ran two dogs each and the producers decided to leave the choice to them. Lee chose our Levi and Dillion chose Jan’s Kia. And the rest of the day was spent training in sessions. I had suggested at an early stage that due to the pressure involved in this on the judge that a completely separate judge was invited and not one with commitments at Crufts already. And I further suggested that it should be Arthur Rodgers. Arthur supplied our first training course which was a fairly straight forward 16 obstacle course and indeed he arrived at the barn just after we started. They mastered that quite well with Mary doing all the training and the two handlers coming into the barn individually. For the afternoon training session the level of difficulty was ramped up with Mary and Arthur planning the courses between them and I have to say considering Leigh had owned a dog but not for the last five years and Dillion who had never owned a dog and was very apprehensive about dogs they both did extremely well in fact it was quite amazing how they responded to the training. At the completion of the training day they were whisked away not to see the dogs or a single piece of equipment until one hour before the competition the next day in the main arena on the opening day of DFS Crufts , Thursday 10th March.
During the Thursday morning at Crufts the fact that Ant and Dec’s ‘Push the Button’ was being filmed in the main ring at 1:40pm was widely publicised around Crufts and before 1pm there almost wasn’t a seat to be had in the arena there were nearly 9000 people seated waiting for the competition too start!
Lee and Dillion met the dogs again in the collecting ring about an hour before the competition started but again the secret service stepped in and they weren’t allowed to watch each other. They had 30 minutes each to bond with the dog and there was a hurdle there just to put the dog over to warm up. And neither were they allowed to see the course in the arena when it was built. Previously, I had advised them that it would be best in this case that instead of having our usual 5 faults every mistake on the course should have 5 seconds added to the time and to ensure that both handlers completed the course that any eliminations incurred should add 20 seconds to the handlers time. And as the result was not going to be announced until the Saturday night programme, the number of faults and eliminations would be kept secret and unveiled on the Saturday night.
Mary was allowed 5 minutes for an individual course walk with each competitor and I have to say that she did her best but it was very apparent that she needed at least 10 minutes and I’m sure that she would have liked 15 minutes! The pressure on Leigh and Dillion with 9000 people watching them live was enormous. They really did so well once the competition started, to have just about 3 hours training and compete in those circumstances they really should have both won! It was a tremendous achievement even though they both had some eliminations. I was a little disappointed as I was scheduled to commentate on the class but they decided that they wanted a celebrity commentator so Peter Purves took the reins.
It was difficult to second guess the result so everyone waited with baited breath for Saturday night’s programme. Miraculously, all the filming at Crufts including the final and a whole day’s filming in our barn at Rugby was condensed into less than 10 minutes on the programme and it was a really, really good piece of television and really well edited. I know we can be accused of being biased but we believe it has been one of the best challenges they’ve had on Push the Button. If you want to look at the clip from the website:
Now, I will revisit what I mentioned about what are celebrities really like. Ant and Dec have a reputation for being ordinary guys and I can tell you they are. They are two of the most well known entertainers in the UK and you couldn’t wish to meet two nicer people. Anyone who wanted photographs, autographs or anything they were only too pleased to oblige and they are always there with their light hearted remarks and it is very apparent why they are so popular with everyone they work with. In fact, at the Rugby barn it was the producer who was getting annoyed as he tried to get them away from having their photographs taken with yet another fan.
Now for the real reason that we were at Crufts for Mary to work the dogs! In the dog Championships Taz worked a lovely round but when she was giving position on distance control he plainly couldn’t hear it, in fact when she called him back he didn’t respond to that the first time but he is nearly 12 years old and she has suspected for a little while that his hearing has deteriorated slightly so in actual fact Mary retired him at Crufts. She was of course disappointed but she wasn’t upset and wasn’t annoyed with him and it is a good place to have his final serious obedience work out. He now joins the rest of our retired dogs, for those who don’t know they all live indoors none live out and they all have a very comfortable retirement with his older brother Quincy.
In the bitch Championship, Foxy missed a couple of positions and then failed scent so not a good result again but once more Mary was disappointed but not annoyed, Foxy will be back again and she is a lovely dog so you just hope for better luck next time.
On the final day at Crufts, Levi competed in the Crufts Obedience World Cup. A little concerned with what he’d been doing the last few days with the Ant and Dec crew and rehearsing for the HTM Best in Show routine but Levi came good as usual and Mary was second in the individual results and as a member of the England team was second place in the team results.
The last event for Mary was her Best in Show routine. Always a bit nail biting will it go right in the ring? It was Levi performing and he was going to be joined by Mary’s Sheltie Ozzie. Her props in the ring were 3 different sized drums dressed in red. Well it was a triumph, superb routine and brought the house down as usual. But the BIG, BIG disappointment was the lack of TV coverage. This was nothing to do with the KC, in fact I don’t think it was decision made prior to the performance it was a director’s decision on the night of when they switched from one item to the other so we had the ludicrous scenario of Claire Balding sitting on the sofa talking to some guy and then saying we’ll go over to Mary Ray who is performing in the main arena to join Mary for the last 10 seconds of her routine what a farce they missed the lot! Don’t ask me how many emails I’ve had, there has been hundreds and a lot of very upset people on various forums. Anyway, it is on Youtube although it is a bit of a grainy picture. I have filmed it myself and I will try and get that version uploaded shortly but in the meantime you may want to have a look at this.