British television presenter and ‘national treasure’ Clare Balding has said she would like to see more openly gay women on TV. Balding, who was one of the main faces of TV sports coverage during the Olympics and Paralympics at London 2012, has said media companies needs to address their poor representation of LGBT people on television.

Speaking to The Times at the weekend, she said: “There’s a lack of visibility. I remember an article that said, ‘Lesbians are like baby pigeons: you never see them,’ and then naming a couple – me and Sue Perkins.

“Television and newspapers need more visible women, full stop. That’s why the Olympics have been so great, because you realise that women come in all shapes and sizes, short and tall, old and young. And yes, some of them are lesbians.”

She added: “I get really upset if being gay – and the fear around it – stops people being who they could be.” Balding described how “terrified” she was of coming out to her parents several years ago. With her maternal grandfather able to trace his family back to King Henry V, Balding said that for years she only talked about work to her parents because she didn’t want them to know about her private life.

She recalled showing them an article about the openly lesbian TV star Ellen DeGeneres and calling her “amazing”, but not being truthful about why she admired her so much.

But Balding believes being open about her sexuality had an incredibly positive effect on her life and self image. She said: “You don’t feel that people are judging you. You’re not scared. You haven’t got this massive secret on your shoulders.”

Balding met her partner, Radio 4 newsreader Alice Arnold, in 2001. They became become civil partners in 2006. On their relationship, she said: “She has made me a much better person. More politically aware, bolder, in terms of what I say, or just being more comfortable with who I am.”

By Chris McMurray