Balding's father is horse trainer Ian Balding who previously trained champion thoroughbred Mill Reef. She was educated at Downe House in Berkshire, where she was Head Girl and a contemporary of comedienne Miranda Hart. She applied to read law at Christ's College, Cambridge but failed her interview and realised that law was not what she most wanted to do. She later successfully applied to Newnham College, Cambridge and read English. While at university she was President of the Cambridge Union Society in Easter 1992 and graduated in 1993 with a 2:1 honours degree.
She became a trainee with BBC National Radio in 1994, working on 5 Live, Radio 1 (presenting the sport on the Chris Evans Breakfast Show), Radio 2 and Radio 4. In June 1995, she made her debut as a television presenter, introducing highlights of Royal Ascot. The following year, she graduated to live presentation, and in December 1997, she became the BBC's lead horse racing presenter after the retirement of Julian Wilson, and has fronted coverage of the Grand National.
She has reported from five Olympic Games, for BBC Radio in Atlanta and for BBC Television in Sydney, Athens, Beijing and London. She has presented two Paralympic Games, the Winter Olympics from Turin and Vancouver as well as the Commonwealth Games from Melbourne and Delhi. She is the face of the BBC's rugby league coverage, having presented Grandstand from a Rugby League Challenge Cup semi-final, and having been so impressed by the vibrancy and physical challenge of the sport she asked to cover further rugby league events.
During the 2009 Grand National, Balding commented on winning jockey Liam Treadwell's teeth and suggested that he could "get them done" with his prize fund. The BBC received 1,477 complaints about the comment, leading to an apology from both the presenter and the BBC.
In 2010, Balding presented a BBC TV series that retraced some of Harold Briercliffe's British cycle tours. Balding joined Chris Evans as co-host of Channel 4's Famous and Fearless in January 2011. The show has since been cancelled because of poor ratings.
From February to March 2012 she presented a programme on BBC Radio 4 called "Sport and the British". This was a thirty-part series looking at the impact of sports on British life.
Clare was also a lead presenter on Channel 4's Paralympics TV coverage.
In August 2012 it was reported that Balding would be presenting Channel 4's racing coverage, while still retaining an option to work for the BBC on non-racing programmes such as rugby league.
In October 2012, she appeared before an All Party Parliamentary Group on Women's Sport, with Katherine Grainger, Hope Powell and Tanni Grey-Thompson. "Women having freedom to play sport leads directly to women having political freedom," said Balding.
She has served as one of the presenters on BBC Sports Personality of the Year.
She is the new regular presenter of Good Morning Sunday on BBC Radio 2 taking over from Aled Jones.
Balding is the presenter of Britain's Brightest, which began in January 2013 - 'Ordinary people with extraordinary minds face a series of nail-biting challenges and demanding puzzles as they battle to become crowned as Britain's Brightest'.
Balding has written regular columns for The Observer, the Evening Standard and The Sporting Life. She signed a deal with Viking Press to write an autobiography entitled My Animals and Other Family, which was published on September 2012.
Balding was the Royal Television Society's "Sports Presenter of the Year" in 2003. In the same year, she won the "Racing Journalist of the Year Award" and has followed up with the award for "Racing Broadcaster of the Year".
In December 2012, she was awarded the "Biography/Autobiography of the Year" award of the National Book Awards for My Animals and Other Family.
She also won an achievement award from the UK chapter of the Women in Film and Television in 2012 for her coverage of the Olympics and Paralympics.
Clare was awarded the 2012 Sports Journalists' Association’s annual British Sports Journalism Award for Sports Broadcaster of the Year (BBC and Channel 4).
In February 2013 she was assessed as one of the 100 most powerful women in the United Kingdom by Woman's Hour on BBC Radio 4. and also won the award for Sports Presenter at the Television and Radio Industries Club Awards.
Other awards also include those from Attitude Magazine, Red Magazine, Tatler and Horserace Writers Association.
Balding has close family links to horse racing: her father, Ian Balding, trained Mill Reef, 1971 winner of the Epsom Derby, Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe and King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes, and her younger brother, Andrew Balding, trained Casual Look, the winner of the 2003 Epsom Oaks. The latter win led to a very emotional post-race interview with her brother. Furthermore, her grandfather was the trainer Peter Hastings-Bass and her maternal uncle the 17th Earl of Huntingdon former trainer to Queen Elizabeth II. Her maternal grandmother, Priscilla Hastings, is descended from the Earls of Derby and was one of the first women elected to membership of the Jockey Club.
On 29 May 2009, Balding announced that she had thyroid cancer. She told the Daily Mail newspaper that she had her thyroid gland removed and would have radioactive iodine treatment in July that year. She promised to be back on television covering the Epsom Derby, by the following Saturday. On 21 August 2009 she announced on her website the results from a post-treatment scan which showed the radioactive iodine had been successful with no signs of the thyroid cancer having spread anywhere else.
In July 2010, Balding made a complaint to the Press Complaints Commission over an article by writer A. A. Gill in The Sunday Times that she felt had mocked her sexuality and appearance and for which the newspaper refused to apologise. The PCC found in her favour, judging that AA Gill had "refer[red] to the complainant's sexuality in a demeaning and gratuitous way".
Balding participated in a celebrity edition of The Apprentice in order to raise money for charity. Sport Relief Does The Apprentice is part of the BBC's annual charity initiative and aired on 12 March and 14 March 2008.
"The Girls' team", which also included Louise Redknapp, Jacqueline Gold, Kirstie Allsopp and Lisa Snowdon, won the contest, raising over £400,000 from ticket sales and sales on the night of the big event at their shop.
In 2010 Balding became a patron of the British Thyroid Foundation.