When Charlotte Dujardin, the newly-crowned BT Sport Action Woman of the Year, touchingly thanked her “best friend” in her acceptance speech, she meant her dressage wonderhorse, Valegro. In the audience, her fiancee, Dean Wyatt, just beamed. He knows his place.
“I actually told him from the very beginning, from our very first date nine years ago: ‘My horses always come first.’ If he didn’t like it, he knew where the door was,” revealed an elated Dujardin after the award ceremony on Tuesday night. “And I have to say he’s been absolutely fantastic. Without his support it would be very, very hard and I’m so lucky to have him behind me.”
Charlotte thanks her horse Valegro in her acceptance speech
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Even so, nearly nine years is a long time engaged, up there with the Andy Murray-Kim Sears delayed action, and even they have now announced their intention to marry. So Dujardin is one of sport’s most famous hold-outs, connubially, and with her sights on the Rio Olympics that may not change any time soon.
Wyatt is fine about it. He said: “Wow, it’s just been amazing to see her win so many things this year, topped off by the Action Woman Award. She’s achieved everything she wanted and I’ve been there from day one when she turned round and said: ‘Dean, my horses come first and my dream is the 2012 Olympics.’
“I’ve always dreamed of being with somebody who was a sports person. I love sport myself. I played rugby, I was a runner. I just never thought that the person I’d be with turned out to compete on four legs instead of two. But I take my hat off to her, I bow down to her and I’m so proud of her. Look at me, after six months of being with her, I proposed. And that was eight years ago.
“At the end of the day, it’s her career. It’s her sport. And all I can do is support her and that makes me happy whether we’re married or not.” With phenomenal devotion he makes her supper every evening and leaves the tea bag and half a spoon of sugar in her cup in the morning. “All she has to do is boil the kettle.”
Charlotte collects her award from Rachel Atherton, the winner of the 2013 award.
It is the classic example of a relationship that works. During their long engagement, Dujardin has won every single major title in her sport, culminating in her all-conquering performance at the World Equestrian Games this year.
“I guess 2014 was more emotional for me. In the sense that I had more pressure to deal with,” she explained. “At London 2012 I was someone new to the sport, just making her way through her career, but now I have a lot more expectation on me when I go and compete. I really wanted to rise to that challenge and the reception I got was outstanding.”
That’s been the story of her year, including the audience reaction at the BT Sport Action Woman Award ceremony when last year’s winner, downhill cyclist, Rachel Atherton, announced the result. “I couldn’t believe I’d won," she said. "When you see all the other athletes and how many amazing women there are in sport, it’s incredible. Just to be among them is a huge privilege, but to win, it’s fantastic.
Behind the scenes at the BT Sport Action Woman of the Year awards
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She also revealed on stage at the awards that it was a “big womanly wobbly” that saved her horse from being sold in 2012 when the owners, including her own mentor, Carl Hester, had been offered a reputed £6 million to sell. “Well, obviously Carl’s not used to women having tantrums I guess but it was such a hard time for me thinking my dance partner and best friend - someone I’d been training with for eight years - was going to be sold," she explained. "I did have a ‘little bit’ of a tantrum and Carl surrendered quite quickly to it. I’m so grateful that he and co-owner Roly Luard secured him for life.
“We’ll definitely continue until after Rio, as long as he feels fit and healthy and enjoys what we do. As soon as he doesn’t, that’s the time I’ll retire him. A big goal for me now is to train some other horses and maybe have a part of what I’ve achieved on Valegro on another horse. It would be an absolute honour to do it again.”
Wyatt may have to hang on a bit, which is fine with him. “I know that one day I’ll have the biggest smile on my face,” he predicted. “She makes me very proud.”
Charlotte Dujardin is the BTSport Action Woman of 2014, with climber Shauna Coxsey and athlete Jo Pavey as runners-up.
The 2015 Action Woman of the Year launches in January on BTSport.com.