UKH

Andrew Cotter - Olive, Mabel, The Mountains & Me Interview

© Iain Cameron

Sports broadcaster Andrew Cotter covers the BBC's major events including The Olympic Games, Wimbledon, The Masters, the Rugby World Cup and the World Athletics Championships. He's also a keen hillwalker and dabbles in climbing. We asked him about his Labradors' viral fame in lockdown, his love for mountains and dogs, Tokyo 2020 and his hill-filled book Olive, Mabel & Me: Life and Adventures with Two Very Good Dogs.


In a locked-down world that had very much gone to the dogs, two unsuspecting canines became viral internet stars and lifted our spirits. It all started with a video called The Dog's Breakfast Grand Final, born out of boredom and posted to Twitter last March by their owner, sports broadcaster Andrew Cotter, who suddenly found himself devoid of sport. Olive the Labrador - "in her familiar black" - and her younger, yellow counterpart Mabel greedily engage in an eating contest. Cotter narrates the play-by-play in his familiar Scottish lilt that is typically a soundtrack to TV rugby or golf; Olive is "focused, relentless, tasting absolutely nothing" and finishes first. Then comes the pay-off, a show of good sportsdogship: "Ah, you see the swapping of bowls at the end" as the pair desperately snuffle for leftovers.

Mabel, Andrew Cotter and Olive. Buachaille Etive Mòr from Beinn a' Chrulaiste.  © Iain Cameron
Mabel, Andrew Cotter and Olive. Buachaille Etive Mòr from Beinn a' Chrulaiste.
© Iain Cameron

10.4 million views, 120 interview requests and numerous celebrity retweets later, Cotter and his sidekicks had unwittingly created a monster. Messages flooded his inbox and media requests rushed in from across the globe. After ten years of tweeting carefully considered opinions on sporting events, Cotter's Twitter following had doubled thanks to—as he so humbly puts it—'a video of dogs eating'.

Every dog has its day, the saying goes, but as fans demanded more of the dynamic duo, the pressure of sharing a sequel - 'the difficult second album' - weighed on Cotter's mind, while Olive and Mabel dozed on the couch and dreamt of squirrels. The result was Game of Bones, a simple commentary on the pair tussling over a toy bone. Olive holds the bone in her paws and begins to chew. "With no opposable thumbs, it's high risk at this stage," Cotter narrates, before Mabel swoops in. It's another hit, with 19.7 million views and further endorsement, from the likes of Luke Skywalker to comedians such as Armando Ianucci.

Climbing mountains has always been an escape - it is for most people who head for the hills and certainly is for me. Getting away from the occasional madness below, more often than not accompanied by my dogs.

Olive, Mabel & Me.  © UKC Articles
Bowing down to pressure from his growing fanbase, Cotter tentatively clicks the upload button on episode three: The Walk of Shame, in which the dogs attempt to outdo each other in a bid to be the naughtiest during a walk. In the fetid pond, Mabel wallows in glory —"just standing, letting all the unpleasantness soak in"—while Olive contemplates rolling in a dead squirrel.

Not content with sticking to the winning formula of straightforward play-by-play commentary, Cotter began devising more complex sketches. The silly season finale came in the form of The Company Meeting, where the dogs partake in the Zoom zeitgeist. They're chided for their lack of concentration and "the inappropriate stuff with Kevin the Doberman from accounts". Olive is praised for being a very good dog, while Mabel dozes off and leaves the meeting—a sackable offence. 'If she didn't get such good results,' Cotter sighs at the end of the video.

Indeed, Mabel's hard work has paid off: their 18 videos have amassed over 70 million views across all platforms so far. Cotter created a spoof perfume advert (Scent of a Dog), a mockumentary and a play-fight montage of puppy Mabel—with "the mind of a wolf, but the body of a care bear"—wrestling her half-aunt Olive, among other filmed antics. Meanwhile, followers have expressed the joy that the dogs have brought them during the darkest periods of the past year. Some have requested commentary on their pets, children and everything in between —including penguins—and myriad offers of merchandise deals and dog food sponsorships rolled in, but Cotter was cautious not to let the tail wag the dog, so to speak, and politely declined. Nonetheless, the trio have appeared on 60 Minutes Australia, MSNBC and Outside Magazine named Olive and Mabel among the 2020 Outsiders of the year, while musical theatre lyricist Sir Tim Rice rewrote 'Don't Cry for Me Argentina' for the pair. An appearance at the London Palladium was cancelled due to the pandemic, but a book deal and a column in The Times has kept the three of them—or Cotter at least—busy.

On the first peak on An Teallach.  © Andrew Cotter
On the first peak on An Teallach.
© Andrew Cotter

When he's not commentating on humans, dogs or penguins, Cotter is a keen hillwalker and is often accompanied by Olive and Mabel —and titbits of chicken, cheese and sausage—who have each padded up around 50 and 20 Munros respectively. The dogs differ in character: Mabel is an open book; 'One with very large print and easy to follow diagrams,' Cotter writes, while Olive is steadier and more serious in temperament. Although Cotter was deprived of mountains and endured dog-free days while focusing on his career in London, a trip to the Cobbler got him 'hooked on the hills again' and he eventually moved further north, where he now lives in Cheshire.

In the halcyon days pre-COVID-19, Cotter's YouTube and Instagram were filled with videos and photos of their mountain escapades, which caught the eye of his publisher. Olive, Mabel & Me not only tells the story of how the trio became an Internet sensation, but also delves deeper into Cotter's life as a dog owner and his passion for finding solitude with them in the mountains, away from the hustle and bustle of his work at major sporting events. The book begins with Cotter and the dogs traversing the ridge of An Teallach on the eve of the year that would send many people barking mad, and ends on the summit of the Merrick in the Southern Uplands.

Their fortuitous ascent to global fame was steep and dizzying at times, but Cotter remains grounded and the dogs only a little bamboozled at the extra pats and 'Good dog!' praise that they now attract on walks. Between dog walks and TV appearances, Cotter kindly took the time to talk about all things dogs and mountains...


In your work as a sports commentator, you cover 'mainly golf and rugby union, but also tennis, athletics, dogs and The Boat Race,' as Wikipedia amusingly describes you! Your father was a keen hillwalker and you played golf from an early age. How did your interest in sport and sports commentary develop?

I think my interest in sport was just the interest that most youngsters have in it. We were a very outdoorsy family but also I had two older brothers, so you're always playing sports in the street, on pitches or on the beach. We were just outside playing sports all the time. I grew up in Troon which is a real golf town, so you're hitting golf balls from the age of three. My grandfather played for Scotland a couple of times in rugby and that was big in the family as well, so we were just a sporting family.

In 2011, Des Lynam wrote in The Telegraph: 'One of the BBC's top executives told me this week that he fully expects Cotter to become the No 1 voice of television sport within five years. If he does, he will achieve it without adding football commentary to his repertoire.' Most sports commentators specialise in one or two sports, but you now cover a wide range and lived up to Des's prediction. How do you manage to be so knowledgeable and insightful across such a wide variety of sports?

Well, you just end up doing a lot of work, basically. All of the sports I do I have a real love and affection for, but you still have to do all the work because in the summer you might be doing tennis for two weeks and then you go straight from Wimbledon to the Open Championship and straight from there to the Olympics in an Olympic year...well, in normal life. You're studying as if studying for exams and just making sure that by the time you get there you know everything there is to know or as much as you can know about those sports; the matches taking place, the people playing against each other. I was going to say so it sounds like you know what you're talking about — I hope this is because I actually do know what I'm talking about. But yeah, the most important thing is to sound like you know what you're talking about.

'intertwining dogs and mountains' made up your childhood in Scotland: 'Dogs were 'firmly, indelibly printed on my soul.' Can you explain a bit about how your numerous family dogs led to your becoming 'a dog person'?

Yes, I grew up in a household that was never short of dogs. There were always at least two. My grandmother on one side always had a couple of dogs and on the other side there were four or five Shetland Sheepdogs. We had all sorts of breeds and occasional rescue dogs, mongrels and we graduated recently to Bull Mastiffs. Having dogs when you're young doesn't necessarily mean you're going to be an absolute dog lover when you're older, because one of my brothers is probably slightly less doggy than I am, but he grew up in the same environment. I think it makes you very comfortable around dogs; you're never going to be a person who shies away as they bounce up to you on a walk. I just love animals to be honest and dogs give you that very easy love and affection, which we all need more than ever at the moment. Dogs are probably at the top of the list.

'Matching coats for the steep slopes of An Stùc. I think Mabel's cost more.'  © Iain Cameron
'Matching coats for the steep slopes of An Stùc. I think Mabel's cost more.'
© Iain Cameron

When sporting events including Tokyo 2020 started dropping off the calendar back in March, you filmed Olive and Mabel and added commentary to create The Dog's Breakfast Grand Final. 'I was bored' you wrote on Twitter. What was going through your head when you decided to do it, and then when the likes and comments started pouring in?

I don't suppose I really was bored — there was an element of that, but it was really just supposed to be a humorous text to accompany the video because the whole Tweet was supposed to read like: 'This guy's so bored with no sports broadcasting work that he's commentating on his dogs!' I was actually slightly concerned because my job disappeared. I'm a self-employed sports broadcaster and I did about 12 days of work between March and the end of the year, so it was a real concern at the time. But that's not why I started doing the videos, the videos were just to entertain myself or maybe entertain a few other people. I didn't expect it to go viral and I certainly didn't expect a book to come out of it, but once you've done one, then people say, 'Oh, where's the next video?' and you say, 'Well, OK.' So you make another one and it goes even bigger and then they just kept on going as people kept on enjoying them. The serious side of it was people saying 'These videos have really cheered me up!' During this time I've had about 90,000 messages on Twitter and thousands of emails and it's all people just expressing what we're all feeling, the stress of the situation and people actually getting a little bit depressed about things. That's been the overriding feeling of the messages, people saying they've laughed and they needed it. If they've laughed for 90 seconds of watching Olive and Mabel being ridiculous, then it's actually pretty important and I feel pretty proud of it.

You write that you're used to 'a reasonable amount of attention' through your work, but the amount you received online and when recognised outside - during a time when you couldn't really escape via the 'release valve' of the mountains and away from the Internet - was considerable. How did you deal with this, as someone who isn't big on self-promotion but who keenly felt the need to please celebrity fans?

Sport is a sort of bubble that you exist in whereby lots of people will know you as a sports broadcaster, but when something like this happens you realise just how much bigger the world is. It picked up a lot more people, and there were genuinely people saying, after seeing me commentate on my dogs, 'Oh you should try being a sports commentator!' so I'd go 'Yeah, maybe I'll try that one day.' What I really appreciated was not whether people were famous or not, but actually seeing some people whom I really respected as comedians saying they really liked it, then you think 'Maybe I'm doing something right,' whether it's Dawn French or Armando Ianucci, or Hugh Laurie, people like that retweeting or commenting. It was a nice diversion for me because I kept my mind occupied and if I hadn't had the dogs and the videos and the book, with no sports broadcasting work it would have been a very strange year. Forget about the income, it kept me busy so that's why I'm pleased that I did it.

'There is no doubt that over these recent cursed months, dogs have helped considerably. They are quite clearly the morale officers of the animal world.' What do you think dogs give us that humans can't in this kind of situation?

They give us an escape because they are totally oblivious to it all, so they just carry on doing dog things, asking for food or asking for a walk or demanding or giving affection, so they're a little window into normal life that we've kind of left behind for now. We're sitting there furrowing our brows thinking about COVID-19 or whatever political problems and wondering about when things might get back on an even keel, whereas they're still on that even keel just being dogs. When you have that little bit of normality padding around your room it's a very important thing because—without being too dramatic about it—I've been very stressed at times over the past year, so what I do is just go over and scratch Olive and Mabel's ears and suddenly everything's OK for a few seconds. I think that's been the case for a lot of people. That's why many have been getting dogs and it's not necessarily a good thing. Obviously, it's totally understandable and if it's done properly —and there are people who realise how much care and attention dogs require—then it's a great journey they're starting on. You don't just buy them and they're not simply these cheery things that exist quite easily in your house — they need a bit of work.

Skis and spindrift on Chno Dearg.   © Iain Cameron
Skis and spindrift on Chno Dearg.
© Iain Cameron

Olive and Mabel seem very different in character; Olive is more reserved and pensive, while Mabel is more excitable and scatterbrained, especially in the hills where she becomes 'Mountain Mabel'! You write that you have a strong connection with Olive as you have 'a similar outlook on life' of cynicism and restraint, while Mabel is more Panglossian, as you wrote in your Times column! People say that dogs resemble their owners, but is there also a case for owners and dogs 'taking on' each other's character traits and personalities?

I think we invest in dogs lots of things that we want to see in them, so I say 'Oh she's just like me.' She might not be at all, but I do think they take on some of our moods. They're quite empathetic creatures, so if we're down they will be a little bit subdued. Certainly, if I'm laughing at something they'll start wagging their tails and I'll think 'Ah we're all having a good time are we, great.' We definitely inject into our dogs too many human characteristics and say 'Oh look, she's thinking that'; 'She's saying that.' No she's not, she's probably just thinking about a biscuit again. But dogs do obviously have very different personalities in the same way that humans do and you're right, of the two Olive is a little bit more serious at times and sometimes she just shuts out the world and puts a paw over her face and says 'Look, I don't want any more of this nonsense,' whereas Mabel is always about wanting the nonsense and the attention so yeah, different dogs.

What is 'Mountain Mabel'?

She worries about a few things, Mabel, but when we're in the mountains, I think it's because it's such a strange environment, she loves it, but then she occasionally looks at me and goes 'What, where are we, what's going on here?' But Olive just plods on or bounds on. They both absolutely love it; the smells and the sensory perception that they get out there. I don't think they take from it the same things that we do. We'll stand, look at a view and go 'Oh God that's incredible.' But while I'm looking at the view Olive will be thinking, 'Can I find any food around here?' I'm up at the summit cairn and lots of people have been there. I know I'll be looking at the views and Olive will be looking for anything that hillwalkers have left there moments or days before. I was up on Beinn a' Ghlo three years ago, it was one of Mabel's first climbs and it was the most stunning day doing the three Munros of Beinn a' Ghlo in the snow and the sunshine as we got onto the third one. It was fantastic and I realised that Olive wasn't there. She was 200 yards down the slope eating a dead crow, so that was her priority at the time. She wasn't really appreciating it.

During the pandemic, it seems that for many people their appreciation of both dogs and being in the outdoors has grown. Do you think this plays a role in the success of the videos and your book, as people spend more time with their own dogs, both indoors and out?

I think people reacted to the videos because it was capturing something of the time. Unfortunately we've all gone a little bit mad, so talking to our dogs doesn't seem a big stretch at all. Not many of the videos involve being out and about, but some of them do, when they're on the beach or they're in the mountains and people are longing for that kind of escape again, there's no doubt about it. But I think the videos overall have just been about something funny. It's just an escape into a silly video for a moment and the fact that they involve dogs is all the better because there are so many people who have that connection to dogs. The book, I think, has been successful because hopefully it's humorous as well, but also it's an escape. You read it and you might be on Mount Fuji or you might be in the Monadhliath or you might be on Braeriach. I wanted to give the feeling to people that even if they weren't into mountains, they could somehow experience what it's like to be up there in a whistling wind of -20°C wind chill, traipsing through the snow with a couple of dogs behind you and think 'Yeah. that's what you want to do.'

The original idea for the book was 'Olive, Mabel, the Mountains & Me' because the publisher was going by my Instagram account before all this happened and it was largely mountains with dogs thrown in and since then it's become entirely dogs because I haven't been able to get into them. But all you need to do is trawl through the Instagram account and you'll see it's all about the mountains, whether it's An Teallach or  Braeriach. On any of the great peaks I've done, I've always taken a video or photos. There was going to be even more mountain stuff, but then we realised that it wouldn't appeal to as many people, so it ended up being more about the dogs with some mountains thrown in.

'In my experience people of the outdoors tend to be people of dogs as well.' You also write about some amazing feats achieved in the mountains by other dogs and their owners. How do mountains accentuate our relationship with our dogs and how do dogs enhance our appreciation of the mountains, in your opinion?

The connection I feel with both of them in the mountains is far stronger. The connection I feel with dogs in day to day life is that they trust you and they follow you and they depend on you for their food and for their walk, so when you're on a mountain they depend on you even more because you're the pack leader, and you're taking care of them and they'll follow you to the ends of the earth. When I was doing the enormous walk that's in the book on  Braeriach and Sgor an Lochain Uaine, that was a long day starting in the dark and finishing in the dark. It was 25 miles and 8000 feet in the snow and towards the end we were all absolutely shattered, but then you'd turn around in the dark and you'd see these four eyes just plodding along behind you, because they love you and trust you and follow you and know that you're going to get them to the back to their beds or back to the fire. When I get them into the car at the end of the day, I just feel such a bond. You tousle their ears and you say 'That was a good walk', and they say, 'Christ I'm tired.'

What's your all-time favourite experience that you've enjoyed with your dogs in the hills and what are your favourite locations to walk and climb in, with or without dogs?

It probably would be that walk in the Cairngorms because it was a stunning day in early winter. Snow conditions weren't great, but from 2000 feet or so there was snow and obviously, when you're up on the high plateaus in the Cairngorms there's snow throughout. Going through the Chalamain Gap at the start in the dark; it was eery and then the day breaks and you're out into the wide expanses with a feeling of openness and freedom. In the whole day we saw two other people and it's just you and two dogs and the wide world and it was very special. But I would say every walk I've done in the mountains with the dogs has been extraordinary. The very first walk I did with Olive in the mountains on the Black Mount was quite something and Mabel's first one was in the Drumochter Munros, which was special too because it was a stunning day looking out to  Ben Alder and Loch Ericht and Mabel experienced proper snow for the first time. So, all of them, but some of my best days in the mountains have been without the dogs whether in the Cuillin doing  Sgurr nan Gillean or the Inaccessible Pinnacle. Curved Ridge and Buachaille Etive Mor, I've done that four or five times just because I love going back there to do it. Tower Ridge on Ben Nevis was probably one of the most memorable as well because that was an extraordinary day. Too many, but not enough in the past 12 months.

So you're not taking them up the InPinn anytime soon?

Dogs have been hauled up. I wrote about Genghis the spaniel. I did get a bit stressed-out there so I wouldn't want to do that with them. I did do  Bla Bheinn with Olive, you could do  Bruach na Frithe, but the gabbro there is so coarse that I really wouldn't want to put a dog through it, and you're climbing over pretty loose scree as well.

During lockdown you perhaps couldn't spend as much time on the hills with the dogs as before, but you had more time with them at home as you weren't travelling for work and you write about missing them deeply when away for months. Has this time strengthened your bond with them, despite the craziness of what you ended up doing together?

We've had our artistic differences. I think dogs love us being home all the time, but I don't think it's necessarily good for them because then when you go away they start to wonder 'Well, this isn't normal!' as they're so used to you being at home, whereas I'm usually either away for a week or two or sometimes even six or seven weeks in the summer doing long stretches away, but the dogs' lives are short and I'll be glad at the end of their days that I've had this whole year with them effectively every single day. I just wish that in this year, I'd have been able to do more stuff in the mountains with them, more escapes with the dogs. I'm glad I've been with them but I'd rather be with them somewhere else rather than in our house.

You write that you wanted to 'avoid using the dogs as earners' and haven't 'sold-out' to brands wanting to use them as dog influencers, and you largely missed the boat for monetising the videos. A lot of celebrity dogs on social media are dressed-up and made to act human to entertain, whereas you put a more distanced "human" slant on normal dog actions through commentary. Was it important to you to let them each 'be a dog'?

People have choices. As long as those dogs are happy, that's the main thing. I wouldn't blame anybody for doing that, but I've had so many offers for dog food sponsorship and to do calendars, T-shirts and all kinds of merchandise. Part of the charm for me is that it's been an escape from the human world into a really innocent dog world and as soon as you bring any sort of monetisation into it, then it becomes something different. If I were there doing a video wearing an Olive and Mabel T-shirt, or saying 'Hey, Olive and Mabel are enjoying this particular brand of dog food', then it just loses all its charm. Sometimes when I've looked at my bank balance this year I've been tempted, but no, I'm avoiding it.

You wrote that 'for a couple of years [you] had been wondering if [you] should try something else' and that at 47 you were at a crossroads. You wanted to do something creative, such as comedy or writing. Your job requires that you show high levels of professionalism and restraint (I imagine!) Do you think making these videos provided you with an outlet to show your true sense of humour and creativity?

Yeah, I think so, but lots of people in different jobs will think that they would like to do something else. You might be an accountant who thinks 'I'd like to write comedy', but it's the same situation when you get into a job that you enjoy that pays the bills and you find that lots of years have passed and suddenly that idea of doing something else becomes more distant. There's a fork in the road when you reach adulthood and you take one road and the other road goes further away, so it took a very strange situation for me to be able to go down the other road or even find a way to the other road. Whether it's doing these videos—which is in its own small way writing comedy—or whether it's writing a book, that's something different, so I'd like to carry on doing these as a twin career to sports broadcasting.

Des Lynam was also quite prophetic about your dog commentary videos and book in that 2011 interview, perhaps! '[...] apart from commentary I have noticed his skill in writing and narrating filmed items, with his style sometimes bordering on the poetic.' What do you make of that?!

At the end of major events, I'm sometimes asked to write a montage to sum them up and it does get a bit flowery, a bit poetic and I try to stay on the on the right side of full-on American syrup. I have always enjoyed writing. It's about finding a balance, so when I was writing the book, I wanted it to be funny and I would hope that 95% of it is just about the humour in dogs. I also tried writing—not in a poetic fashion as such—but about the elements of owning dogs that are quite sad. There are elements of being up in the mountains that are just stunningly beautiful, so I tried to convey that too. It's about light and shade; it's not always about the humorous observations and sometimes I was describing what it's like being on top of Mount Fuji on your own, looking down over this carpet of white clouds rolling out to the Pacific and then I could go back to saying what it's like when Olive is eating deer shit, or something like that.

Your work has taken you to some amazing locations and you 'will always try and find a peak to scale'. You climbed Mount Fuji before covering the Rugby World Cup in Japan, and Pedra da Gávea during your stay for the Rio 2016 Olympics. Broadcasting must mean spending a lot of time around people, and you write that mountains are key for you in finding quiet, 'because it's there and the rest of the world is not,' to paraphrase Mallory. Are these trips out crucial to help you find a balance during busy work periods?

Yeah, absolutely. The job is always very busy and you're often surrounded by lots of people. When you're in Japan during the Rugby World Cup, you're in stadiums with 80,000 people and it's noisy and busy and it's a crush and Tokyo is overwhelming in terms of sensory experience; it's just so busy and so full on and I'm not a city person and most of the time I'm not really a people person. I like people, but sometimes the whole experience of being enclosed and surrounded by others is just too much. Everyone needs a bit of an escape. I was going to go to the Minami Alps, but I didn't have time, so I thought I'd just do Fuji. i had the whole mountain to myself because technically it was closed at the time. I had to stress in the book that it's not against the law. I did so much research into this; it's just a recommendation that you don't. There's no such thing as an off season, as far as I'm concerned, for climbing mountains. When you look at the tourist paths up Snowdon or Ben Nevis in the summer or at weekends and on Fuji in particular, it's extraordinary: people just queueing to get up there. I have no interest in doing that whatsoever, it absolutely defeats the whole purpose of going into the mountains for me. You might as well stand on an escalator in the Trafford Centre as it's just a procession of people. I'd rather be on a quiet, empty 500 foot hill than a crowded Mount Fuji. It's just a total escape into the peace and quiet for me.

You say you are a 6b climber. Sport Climbing is (maybe!) making its Olympic debut in Tokyo this year. Do you do much indoor and rock climbing?

No, I went through a phase when I got quite into it but the trouble with climbing, especially outdoors—this is terrible—is that I can't be bothered with all the gear, a rack and a harness and helmet and 60 metre ropes. I like to be free and easy and travelling light and fast in the mountains. In the winter, it's quite difficult as I still have to put a lot of gear into the rucksack, especially if the dogs are there as well. You're putting in a lot of food and dog coats if necessary. If I'm going without the dogs, I like to go to the very edge of scrambling and do routes like Tower Ridge. I would like to go up Tower Ridge without ropes, maybe roping up in a couple of pitches just for extra security, because there's an element of risk that you take in the mountains. As long as you're not putting anybody else in danger, then I think getting the heart rate rising by facing a bit of exposure is a good thing and it's fun. That's the the enjoyment and the thrill of climbing and of life, so I do love to scramble. I love doing the Cuillin. If I'm with my dogs then I'm not doing any of this stuff obviously, because I wouldn't put them through it—not even on a harness.

I went through a phase of doing a lot of indoor climbing but despite being quite light, when I look at people grabbing hold of these tiny little crimps I think 'How on Earth do you do that?' and then I got a wrist injury trying to climb. My technique was poor, so I relied on upper body strength a lot, whereas I should have been working on my footwork. I was killing my toes with the cramped shoes, too. But I do really enjoy the challenge of climbing and interestingly just before lockdown back in March last year I had just got back into going to the wall in Warrington. They've got so many more auto-belay lines now which makes it easier. You don't have to be climbing with somebody and you can climb, come down, then climb again straightaway. It's knackering but good fun. I enjoy climbing with other people as well, but I do like the freedom of not having to arrange to meet someone to climb with.

Can you see yourself branching out into climbing commentary at some point? How do you think the event will be perceived by new audiences, as it's perhaps got more jargon and complexity than some sports!

No! But I could do it. Before I started covering athletics, I did modern pentathlon, I did weightlifting, I did sprint canoe and you can do enough research to get by in most sports, definitely. I'm there to do live commentary alongside an expert and that's probably the case for Tokyo too. When you're watching the Olympics on the BBC, if people are watching Sport Climbing they don't need to hear from two diehard experts commentating on it, because that will be quite exclusive commentary. Millions will be watching on the BBC, but how many of those people do you think know about Sport Climbing? So what they need is someone who is a go-between, between the experts and the mainstream audience to be the layperson who says 'Right, what's happening here?' So yes, I could do it, but I'll be too busy with other events, the athletics and the Opening Ceremony etc., but I would quite like to.

I've watched a lot of Sport Climbing broadcasts with the music pumping etc. It's all about explaining the jargon to people and exactly what's happening. I think the key is trying to get across to people just how difficult certain moves are because if you haven't tried it, you might not know that what they're doing is just ridiculously impressive. I think that's going to be the trickiest thing, but it's becoming a more popular sport and it's great exercise as well, so I hope it does turn a few more people on to it.

On Meall Garbh in the Lawers range.  © Iain Cameron
On Meall Garbh in the Lawers range.
© Iain Cameron

Some dog owners can be anxious about taking their dog on a long walk or run in the hills for the first time, and be put off by concerns about losing their pet, livestock issues or even dog-dislikers. What are your top tips for people who'd like to stop leaving the dog behind?

Many people don't realise that yes, dogs are domesticated, but they derive from wild creatures who lived outside. There are very different breeds, so some dogs are far more used to and better equipped to deal with being outdoors, such as Labradors or Border Collies. They will very rarely get cold. The most common question I get is: 'Why don't you have boots on your dogs' paws, don't they get cold?' They don't get cold and there's a scientific reason for that in terms of the heating of their blood. People also say 'Oh your dogs are at the cliff edge!' They're not and they're never. If we're near a cornice, the dogs are on leads. I never let them go near the edge at all. Sometimes videos or photos make it look as if they're near the edge of a dreadful drop and they're not, it always looks fine. If Olive and Mabel went off the edge of one of these, they'd just roll gently down about 10 feet. Dogs aren't stupid—I mean, well they are stupid—but dogs are also very aware of danger and they will stay away from it. The only thing that I take real control over is cornices, because they would misjudge the edge and be standing over space. Labradors have amazing double coats that keep them warm. When you see people putting coats on dogs walking through a park in London... Well, maybe for a very old dog or a greyhound or a Chihuahua with barely any fur. Yes, a coat isn't a bad idea, but honestly dogs can be out in -10°C no problem.

'It is the uncertainty of the world now that shakes us, but the unknown can also be exciting. The story unwritten. The peaks unclimbed,' you write. What's next for you and Olive and Mabel?

People say 'When's the next book coming out?', like they used to say 'When's the next video?' Hopefully there will be some more videos and hopefully there will be another book, but I'm not sure. I've got a few ideas for another book, but I'm not sure what it'll be on. Olive and Mabel will continue doing stuff if I can think of ideas for videos, but I can't wait to get back out into the mountains with them and whether I film that or not, I'll just look forward to being out in the mountains with them as my two dogs and not the Internet superstars that they've become.

Quickfire - Which dog is:

Greedier Olive.

The better mountaineer Physically they are both very similar, but mentally Olive is tougher.

Better-behaved Mabel.

More vocal Olive, well it depends: Olive in terms of barking, Mabel in terms of whining when she just wants small cuddle.

More cat-averse Olive.

Dirtier after a walk/climb Mabel, or maybe you're just seeing it more on Mabel.

Lazier Both have to be joint winners of that award; they're not really lazy dogs but they do like to sleep.

The bigger diva upon rising to fame? Mabel would just lose her way and go off down a path of fragility. Olive would be a real life diva, she'd be like Shirley Bassey.

Follow Andrew, Olive and Mabel on Instagram, YouTube and Twitter.

Olive, Mabel & Me.  © UKC Articles
From the publisher: Olive, Mabel and Me is the new book from broadcaster Andrew Cotter, and his now internet famous canine companions, Olive and Mabel. Olive and Mabel went viral on social media with their sporting contests during the COVID-19 lockdown, with Andrew Cotter's unique commentary propelling the videos to over 50 million views. Now Cotter shares stories of his adventures with his loveable (and occasionally exasperating) canine companions in this beautifully written, touching and laugh-out-loud funny new book. Buy the book here.



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25 Jan

That's excellent. :-)

25 Jan

I've really enjoyed the olive and mabel video, but I'm a big softy for labs

30 Jan

Great interview and very enlightening. As the owner of Springers for over 30 years I know where he is coming from and where he has been. A walk through the Cairngorms with mine was one of the most memorable. But they do suffer in the snow what with snowball fur and cold feet. I had to retreat off y Garn when the dog refused to go on. As soon as I turned back he was happy. Yes it's all about reading your dog's language. Thanks for posting. Now to get the book...

I really enjoyed the book. It's not the rushed-out read that you might expect given the short timeframe. Andrew is a great writer and there were a lot more mountain stories than I expected. It's funny that the publishers initially wanted to make it even more of a mountain book!

30 Jan

I guess ultimately it's the dogs that are the stars! The US edition doesn't even have Andrew on the front cover.

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