Malcolm Borwick: The Polo Evangelist
Royal Salute world polo ambassador Malcolm Borwick talks about the changing face of polo.
Dubbed the sport of kings, polo has a certain air about it that separates it from the masses. After all, it doesn’t get more blue-blooded than polo. But times are a-changing. With an increasing number of people in the sport trying to change the perception of the sport and initiatives such as Royal Salute’s polo clinic, perhaps it’s just a matter of time before polo becomes much more popular.
Malcolm Borwick is one of these evangelists. With a six-goal handicap, he is one of the UK’s best polo players. As a world polo ambassador for Royal Salute, he conducts polo clinics around the globe to help spread the word. His illuminating masterclass in Singapore was held a day before the British Polo Day Singapore 2016 and was immediately followed by a Royal Salute tasting on the veranda of Singapore Polo Club. We had the opportunity to have a chat with the affable British player.
Do you see polo as a rich man’s sport?
Polo, inevitably, has this perception of being hugely affluent. But that’s changing. With most polo clubs now, you can turn up in jeans and flat shoes, and you can experience it from start to finish. We want to break down that barrier. We know the sport is attractive to brands from a luxury point of view and that’s cool. We really appreciate all the investment that brands such as Royal Salute have put into the sport but we, as polo players, want more people to see if they can come and have a go. If the stars align and one day they end up playing polo, that’ll be brilliant. We want to break down that barrier of inaccessibility. You can’t just go and sit in a Formula One car, but you can go and sit on a polo pony and play polo. We can offer that kind of experience to anybody. It’s no more expensive than a golf lesson.
What’s your earliest memory of polo?
I was 11 and I’d received a phone call from a friend asking if I wanted to play polo. I grew up on a farm and had ridden all my life but I’d never even heard of it. So, the next day, we went to this polo club and my fluffy pony was there and my friend said: “Okay, here’s a stick, here’s a ball, there’s the goal. This is how you hit it. Off you go.” I remember driving home in the car after, going, “that was amazing”. From there, I remember telling all my friends about what fun it was and we ended up forming a village team and playing on a circuit all around the UK. It got a little more serious when I was 14 — I was picked up by our sports governing body for a scholarship and they sent me to Argentina. That’s probably my seminal experience where I suddenly saw the sport as a much bigger thing.
Did you go full time at this point?
No. I didn’t decide to go professional until after university. When I left university, I got into the England team and they asked if I wanted to play professionally. Around the same time, I was applying for jobs and, funny enough, got one in a private bank in Singapore. I was ready to move to Singapore, but my boss wanted me to give up polo for three years. Maybe it was a test on his part, but I had to decide between giving up polo and joining the national team. I chose the latter and that’s when I started really travelling with the sport.
I hear you’re pretty big on whiskies.
I am a fan of whisky and drank it long before I worked for Royal Salute. It’s something we grew up with at home. A relatively new jewel in the Royal Salute range is a masterfully blended Scotch whisky released in 2013 to coincide with the 60th anniversary of Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation. It has a long, sweet and luscious warmth to finish. For me, the Stone of Destiny Royal Salute 38 year old is another unbeatable whisky. It’s a good combination — Scottish whisky and polo. It doesn’t necessarily help your sporting career, liking whisky, but it’s a passion of mine.
Are you involved in any charitable causes?
I am a very close friend of Prince Harry and I’m involved in his charity, Sentebale, which was founded by the prince after his mother died. It is also an event that Royal Salute sponsors, so I get to play in it every year. We’ve constructed schools, women’s hostels, hospitals and health centres in Lesotho. When you have children and you see what other children go through, you see no difference between your kid and the other kid. What that parent feels is exactly what I feel. If you know there is a small thing you can do, even if it’s just time helping raise money. Polo is seen as a very egotistical world. But behind that perception, there is a lot that gets done even by the new elite. This is a very large philanthropic group. They don’t usually advertise it, but you find that a lot of a people in this group have their own charitable causes.