Five Minutes With... Phillip Miller

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Her latest victim in the 'Five Minutes With Series…', Daisy sits down with born comedian and Hickstead Derby superstar, 2013 winner Phillip Miller…

When did you first come to Hickstead?I can't remember that far back! It was way back in the day when you used to have the Grade A & B finals for the Young Riders. I was 19… which is roughly only about 7 years ago of course!! So much has changed since then, although the unique atmosphere hasn't… I thought it was all state of the art then, but looking at the all weather arenas, stabling and warm ups you have now, it makes me giggle thinking about warming up alongside the river back in those days!


It was actually quite funny because I had 2 in it and I was third to go… and I mucked up my timings and got to the ring just as it was starting so I didn't have time to walk the course. I remember desperately trying to find out the course and everyone told me to just go for the smaller ones and follow the numbers… the really huge jumps in there were for the international class later in the day! I came 3rd… obviously I would have won it, had I walked the course!

I've jumped here every year since then and it feels almost like a second (summer!) home! I never thought riding in to the ring for that very first time that I'd be back to jump the Derby one day - let alone win it (interviewer's note: amazingly Phillip has never even jumped our Speed Derby before, despite winning the Derby itself!) Hickstead is, and particularly now always will be, a very special place for me.

What is your worst Hickstead memory?Well, it's not your most obvious answer but… it was my owner Penny Cornish going into labour while I was driving the lorry home! Not your average Sunday night occurrence. It was that baking hot summer when the World Cup was on, and I was completely knackered from zipping up and down the hill like a yo-yo, with four horses in the 6 year olds, and I couldn't wait to get home to my bed… and then that happened! Luckily Penny's best friend was in the lorry with us so I could just concentrate on driving to the hospital!

What is your best Hickstead memory?When I won the foxhunter… naahhh, only joking! Obviously last year's minor win is pretty high up there as one of my best life memories not just Hickstead ones! Carter felt excellent in the lead up to the show, so I knew I had a good chance of jumping well, but couldn't really believe it when we cleared that last fence with all the poles still up! I didn't let myself get excited though because Derby jump offs are notoriously demanding and I jumped about half way through the class - I had about 12 left to go, including Derby specialists and recent winners, William Funnell, Tina Fletcher and Guy Williams!

When poor Tina got off to test the ground at the bottom of the bank and I realised I'd won, I spent one second feeling sad for her and then went into complete shock. "I've just won one of the biggest competitions in the world" just went round and round my head and it was all a bit of a daze! Everyone was jumping up and down hugging me, and I couldn't wait to go and see Carter! He looked so sweet with the famous laurel wreath on, and one of my favourite pictures is just before I got back on to go into the presentation. One thing that stuck in my mind was how genuinely happy for me the other riders were - I think we are very lucky to have such close friendships in our sport because we all spend so much time together - quite unusual in the world of sport where you spend your professional life competing against each other.

What would you do if you weren't a showjumper?I would be a zoo keeper and conservationist… animals of all shapes and sizes, not just exotic ones (interviewer's note: Phillip famously said that if he wins the Derby again this year he will be buying a cow to celebrate, after buying a Macaw called Peggy after last year's win). I am a passionate conservationist, and often find animals easier to relate to than humans - you can tell them anything and they don't talk back! I have a farm at home with birds, rabbits, guinea pigs, Peggy the macaw and a comedy house pig called Gloria.

What specialist training are you doing now 3 weeks out from the Equestrian.com Derby?Well we've had this year's Derby as our long-term goal, since shortly after last year's to be honest! I've kept him super fit - we have over 80 acres of set aside and I do a lot of cantering work with him - so it's just keeping him super fit and balanced - and funnily enough not letting him get too fit and over excited! I jumped in the Lummen Derby to help get his eye in over the permanent obstacles again.

A lot of people don't realize how important the rider's fitness is too, so I've been mindful to keep my weight down - I've actually lost a lot of weight recently purely through riding so many naughty young ones at home!