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Wimbledon • Martina, Goran, Jamie, Kim And Johnny MAC Put A Lid On No. 1 Court But Paloma Faith Gets The Prize

By Alix Ramsay


And the big news of the day was that Paloma Faith has blagged a couple of invites to the Royal Box for men’s finals day at Wimbledon. Well, she thinks she has, we think she has and the 12,500 people of the newly roofed No.1 Court think she has. Only the high heid yin of the AELTC knows the real truth.


Paloma was in SW19 for the No.1 Court test event on Sunday. Wimbledon didn’t call it a test event, mind you; they called it the ‘No.1 Court Celebration’. But it was still a test event.


Having made major alterations to the 22-year-old No.1 Court, they had to run a proper day’s play to get all their safety certificates from the local authorities. You know the sort of thing: you have a new retractable roof so we have to make sure that no small children/cute little animals/paying punters get caught in it when it closes, that it doesn’t fall down and squish any small children/cute little animals/paying punters whether it is open or closed and that everyone can still get in and out of this roofed edifice in an orderly fashion without trampling more small children/cute little animals/paying punters.


And Wimbledon passed with flying colours. Almost. The wagtail (nice wee black and white bird thing that wags its tail up and down as it nips about) that found itself trapped inside the court once the roof was shut was a tiny blemish on an otherwise spotless record for the AELTC but the wagtail didn’t seem to mind. It flew down on to the service line and then wandered around – wagging – as Paloma belted out one of her hits and the crowd thundered its applause.


Bothered? You must be joking. Our wagtail strutted and pecked and did all it could to find a seed or a worm for lunch. Good luck with that, pal. That court had been hoovered to within an inch of its life so there was not a stray seed or crumb to be found and as for worms, the AELTC does not permit them. Not unless they have been brought in specially, given temporary membership of the club (with which comes the permission to venture on to the grass) and then told to aerate the sacred lawns. Once that is done, they are told to bugger off sharpish before anyone can see them.


Paloma started the event with one of her hits (those of us of a certain age had no idea what that hit was but, still, she gave it her all) and that got everyone in a good mood. What was rather more impressive was her entrance.


A slight figure, Paloma walked on to the grass with four minions surrounding her to support the vast swathes of bright orange material that was the skirty thing in her outfit. In that alone, she could be seen from space – or she could if the roof hadn’t been shut – but combined with her hot-pink top, it was possible to read by the light of her.


While not exactly adhering to the strict Wimbledon dress code of “almost entirely white”, she certainly stood out. And what she was standing on were six-inch heels which explained the small stage that had been built for her. Heels and a grass court do not mix well.


“They’re good for planting seeds,” she said of these heels to Sue Barker (Sue was bemoaning the fact that she had been told to wear flats for her on-court, on-grass interviews. That said, in flats, she was still looking Paloma in the eye and Sue ain’t that tall). “But I don’t think they want wild flowers on this court.”


Good spot, Paloma. Good spot.


John McEnroe, who was co-presenting the beginning of this celebration, tried to join in. Did Paloma still play tennis? Er, no. Did she ever play tennis? Er, no. She confessed happily that she was rubbish at all sports but, she reckoned, she had a sportsman’s mentality. Johnny Mac was intrigued. “I’m a happy loser,” Paloma said. Johnny Mac looked confused. “I’ve made a career out of being a happy loser.” Johnny Mac looked utterly befuddled. Time for Super Sue to rescue him.


Turning the conversation to Paloma’s mum, Sue steered away from the potential Johnny Mac/Paloma-Faith-mentality car crash. And Paloma’s mum turns out to be a tennis fan. So big a fan that pop star daughter has promised to take tennis nut mum to the men’s final this year. “Oooh, Royal Box, then?” Sue asked. “That’d be nice!” And then it was Johnny Mac’s turn to turn superhero.


“You know the chairman of the club is sitting right over there,” he said, in front of 12,500 witnesses and a now a slightly excited chanteuse. Sue and John looked at Philip Brook, the club’s chairman. Phil was pleasantly poker faced. “Come on, it’s your last year in charge…” Johnny Mac said, pointedly. Phil smiled. The cameras zoomed in on high heid yin Phil. “He hasn’t given the nod,” Sue said sadly. And then Phil nodded. Nodded vigorously. Yup, Paloma and her mum had thousands of witnesses to prove that Big Phil had – literally – given her the nod that she was coming to the men’s final, with her mum, and would watch from the Royal Box.


Now that was what you might call some spectacular blagging.


But if Paloma managed to pull a nifty stunt on Sunday, it was as nothing compared to Wimbledon’s party piece. For the 142 years since the start of the Wimbledon championships, rain has plagued the event. Ten years ago, Centre Court got a roof but that still left the 18 outside courts to suffer the miseries of the English summer. So how better to show how things have improved now that No.1 Court had a roof than for it to rain? So it rained. Tipped it down. Fair enough, it stopped just before the test event started… but it still rained.


You have to give Wimbledon some major props for this – ‘we have spent a lot of money (we won’t tell you how much because we Brits don’t discuss money) to get a roof and now we will show that the investment was worth it. Heavens: we demand that you open.’ And they did. Right on cue.


In the hit-and-giggle tennis, Lleyton Hewitt and Pat Cash beat Jamie Murray and Goran Ivanisevic (who is still a fine looking fella) 6-5, Venus Williams beat Kim Clijsters 6-5 and Johnny Mac and Kim beat Jamie and Martina Navratilova 6-3.


Of more importance was the fact that Wimbledon are hoping to raise £750,000 for their “A Roof For All” project. In this venture, they have teamed up with London Community Foundation to provide grants to charities helping the homeless in the London boroughs of Merton and Wandsworth.


There are around 320,000 people sleeping on the streets in the UK and while Wimbledon has the wherewithal to spend millions putting a roof over a small bit of turf in SW19, they want to use their money spinning expertise and their public profile to help put a roof over the heads of some of those homeless people.


The ticket sales from Sunday will raise a fair proportion of that total but there is still time for everyone else to get involved.


The Wimbledon Foundation auction – offering all sorts of goodies from VIP semi-final tickets to each of the Grand Slams, a weekend in Paris, a champagne tasting tour of Reims, autographed items from Roger Federer, Serena Williams, Andy Murray and more, and the chance to play tennis with Tim Henman at Wimbledon (Goran Ivanisevic need not apply) – is open until 10pm British Summer Time on Monday, May 20. Every pound goes to helping the homeless. Just click on https://www. wimbledonfoundationauction. com/lite-ui/?controller=home

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