Andy Richardson: Winners take it all for tennis tournament
Wimbledon isn’t just a celebration of sporting brilliance. It’s also an opportunity to enjoy two weeks of quintessential Englishness.
From strawberries and cream to The Royal Box, from Edmund Hill (I’m getting in first with that one) to Cliff Richard, and from men in bowler hats (are there really men in bowler hats at Wimbledon or am I making that bit up?) to ladies in summer dresses; the nation enjoys a proverbial Summer Holiday as Sue Barker, Tim Henman and the famous Central African Republic diplomat Boris Becker report on Britain’s underachievement in the ladies’ singles, overachievement in the men’s doubles and Kyle Edmund’s march to the, erm, third round. Probably.
Wimbledon creates a feel-good factor – or, when Brits crash out, a feelbad factor – that extends far beyond Wimbledon fortnight. It also get tills ringing like a mini Christmas as we splash out on strawberries, Bollinger (not in my house, we keep it real with fizzy elderflower) and pork scratchings (that’s just the members of the Telford and Tipton Tennis Club) while immersing ourselves in all things tennis.
In London, there are winners and winners as hotels, restaurants and famous Central African Republic diplomats cash in. Celebrated chefs cook for the likes of Federer and Williams, de rigueur outfitters make garments for the winners ball and black cab drivers are able to collect a whole new raft of ‘you’ll never guess who I had in the back of my cab’ stories. During a glitzy two weeks, they collect such characters as David Beckham, Mick Jagger, Pixie Geldof, Niall Horan, Drake and Harry Styles and share an intimate 45 minutes as they whisk them from somewhere posh and exclusive to somewhere equally posh and exclusive: SW19.
It’s not just London cabbies, however, who enjoy a brush with celebrity by virtue of annual events that are all about strawberries and cream. Here in England’s quietest and most beautiful county (that’s Shropshire, not Willenhall – though I hear Willenhall is particularly fine at this time of year), we find ourselves tripping over household names when strawberries come into harvest.
Last weekend, it was the turn of DIY SOS and National Lottery star Nick Knowles, who popped into spend time with mates who live in the county. Nick is famously flexitarian – which is to say, he combines a mostly vegan diet with the occasional boom boom steak. And that, as every meat eater knows, is eminently sensible.
When Nick made his most recent trip to the county, he thoughtfully agreed to raise money for Self Help Africa by making a visit to Shrewsbury Food Festival – which veritably teemed with strawberries and cream – to talk about his love of healthy food.
He explained his dislike for militant vegans – the sort who send chefs hate mail because they cook duck – and talked about beautiful, healthy, non-militant food to an appreciative and engaged audience. It generated a few bob for people in Africa, helped to promote an ethically-sound style of eating and sprinkled a little stardust on an absurdly enjoyable weekend at which 25,000 people had gathered.
Nick’s appearance at Shrewsbury Food Festival almost came unstuck, however. He was staying at his favourite hotel but when he tried to call a taxi to get to the event found they were all fully booked – the exact thing that never happens in London with its never-ending supply of black cabs.
And so Lord Transit of Van (that’s meeeee) came to the rescue.
“He’ll feel at home in my Transit,” I told his friend. “He is the King of the White Van.”
It was no idle boast. In May, Nick backed a white van men’s tool theft protest when a slow convoy rolled through Guildford in protest at disinterested police who failed to follow up thefts from vans. And so, unexpectedly, I found myself ferrying one of TV’s biggest names to a park in Shrewsbury in a white Transit van while playing Noel Gallagher’s Who Built The Moon? on a battered old stereo. And a thoroughly pleasant chap he was too.
But I’ve digressed and we need to return to SW19. Will it be Federer or Nadal, Cilic or Zverev; will it be del Portro or Dimitrov, Thiem or Anderson? And will the beautiful, brilliant GOAT Serena Williams make the most spectacular return of all-time by lifting the ladies crown? The next two weeks will be fascinating.
I’m hoping to get to Wimbledon for a day’s tennis this year. And if I do, I’ll travel in style in the back of a black cab. I’ll look forward to the driver’s name-dropping tales of who he’s had in the back of his taxi. And when he’s finished his story, I’ll puff out my chest and tell him this: “Yeah, yeah, yeah; that’s great. But let me tell you who I had in the front of my Transit.”