Queen Elizabeth II, 2010
For the first time since her silver jubilee in 1977, the Queen made the trip to Wimbledon, swapping her beloved horses for a bit of tennis and afternoon tea in the Royal Box. She watched Andy Murray’s defeat of Jarkko Nieminen.
Bill Clinton, 2001
Glitz and glamour does not come much bigger than when a US president comes to town. Though Clinton had left office by this time, his arrival in the Royal Box during a rain delay in 2001 was a star turn though he said he was as thrilled to be at Wimbledon for the first time as the crowd was to hear him speak. Clinton further endeared himself to the Centre Court faithful as he revealed that he liked playing, but that he was always a bit slow around the court.
Melissa Johnson (aka the streaker), 1996
Richard Krajicek and Malivai Washington were warming up for the final of the men’s singles when Johnson, a 23-year-old London student, sporting only a small apron, dashed across Centre Court. It was the first streaking incident on Centre Court and while it seemed to relax Krajicek, it had the opposite effect on Washington. “I got flustered, and three sets later I was gone,” the American said Washington. Former champion John McEnroe, working for American TV, said: “Let’s get replays from all angles”.
People’s Sunday, 1991
For the first time in the tournament’s history, after horrendous first-week weather, Wimbledon opened its gates on the middle Sunday. The queue for the £10 Centre Court and Court No 1 tickets was a mile and a half long and the crowd was louder and livelier than anything the Championships had seen before. The players loved it.
Umbrella man, 1974
Romania’s talented Ilie Nastase was playing American Dick Stockton in a fourth-round match in 1974 when a few raindrops began to fall. Ever the showman, Nastase looked around for a prop and thankfully, a member of the crowd offered him an umbrella, which he then held as he got ready to return serve.
The Duchess of Kent
As a big tennis fan, the Duchess presented the trophies for many years, so was witness to plenty of on-court drama. None more so than in 1993 when she consoled Jana Novotna after the Czech threw away a leading position against Steffi Graf. After losing again to Martina Hingis in 1997, the Duchess reportedly told Novotna: “The third final will be the third time lucky” and when she won the title the following year, she said: “I was right.”
Cliff Richard, 1996
Until the roof was built more than a decade later, rain was always the biggest problem as officials tried to keep fans informed and later, amused. Running out of ideas, officials asked Cliff Richard to sing. “I started with Summer Holiday, as a bit of a joke. It was totally acapella, which has its advantages – it’s impossible to stay out of key for a start,” Richard said. But the real star turn came when Pam Shriver rallied her fellow players, including Martina Navratilova, to act as backing singers.
The Bjorn Borg fanatics, 1973
When a young Borg arrived at Wimbledon for the first time, with his long blond hair, hysteria erupted. “There were girls everywhere,” the Swede recalled. “There were girls on the way to the practice court, girls by the match court, and girls in the lobby of my hotel.” It got so bad that the following year the secretary of the All England Club wrote to the heads of the local girls’ schools asking them to keep their pupils under closer control.
The Royal Box celebrity love-in
In recent years, the Royal Box, which was established in 1922 and was generally reserved for royals and dignitaries, has opened its seats to the celebrity culture. The country’s best sportsmen and women are often invited together on one day, while on other occasions the great and the good from stage and screen can be found gazing out. Times may have changed but the rule about women not wearing hats because they obscure the vision of others behind, still stands.
Former James Bond actor Pierce Brosnan enjoys tennis and was in the crowd during the 2007 semi-final between Justine Henin and Marion Bartoli. His presence was spotted by Bartoli, who was a big fan and after her upset win over Henin, she invited him back to watch the final against Venus Willams. Unfortunately, he couldn’t make it and Bartoli lost, but Brosnan did send flowers and a letter to the locker room.