x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 29 July 2017

Sir Cliff can raise the roof no longer

Over the years, the Super Bowl has attracted the likes of Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross and the Rolling Stones to entertain the fans.

Over the years, the Super Bowl has attracted the likes of Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross and the Rolling Stones to entertain the fans; it was just my luck, therefore, to be at Wimbledon on July 3 1996 when the rains came and Sir Cliff Richard grabbed a conveniently placed microphone and burst into song. Now perhaps you are one of the many that actually enjoys the ageing crooner's warbling, but my immediate thought was: "Why don't they build a roof over the damn place?" I like to think that it was Sir Cliff's "performance" which led the All-England Club to do just that in time for this year's Championships.

Backed by a quintet of Virginia Wade, Martina Navratilova, Pam Shriver, Gigi Fernandez and Conchita Martinez - all would remain confirmed Bachelor Girls except Shriver who got to marry James Bond in the shape of Australian actor George Lazenby - Sir Cliff treated us to his version of "Singing In The Rain" from his perch in the Royal Box. I am reliably informed that the "show" went on for some time, but I had long since repaired to a nearby water-hole.

"I'm told his voice isn't what it used to be," expressed the sympathetic waitress when I related the event taking place on the Centre Court. "That's the problem," I replied. "His voice is exactly as it used to be." Thirteen years on and having fully recovered from the trauma, I can now look back on Sir Cliff Richard Live at Wimbledon! with something approaching fondness because there was something quintessentially British about the rain-sodden affair.

I have often thought that any foreigner who wants to comprehend the British should catch a District Line tube and alight at Southfields station during Wimbledon fortnight. The first thing they will notice is the queue; the British love a queue, any queue; and they do not come any better than the famous Wimbledon miles-long queue in which the unfortunate ticketless hordes cheerfully wait for anything up to seven hours.

Some start queuing the night before, sleeping in every variety of accommodation from mini-marquees to makeshift "tents" fashioned out of plastic bin-liners. A few come prepared with Harrods' hampers crammed with champagne and patie de foie gras but for the general masses the local fish and chip restaurant provides a delivery service. Once through the gates, the Wimbledon faithful have a choice; either join the mad dash to the outside court where they might just be able to catch glimpses of Miss Hittitova of Slovenia playing Miss Cantgetitova of Slovakia in a first-round girls' singles match through the press of bodies gathered, or join the queue for strawberries and cream before joining the queue at the Pimm's Garden from where it is but a short stroll to Murray Mount (formerly Henman Hill) from where they can watch the Centre Court action on the giant screen.

What is that I hear you mutter? "They might as well have stayed at home and watched it all on the telly?" Perish the thought. This is Wimbledon we are talking about, the place to see and be seen. It is all so very different, of course, behind the Virginia Creepered walls of the Centre court where those tennis fans who have secured a treasured ticket can join the debenture holders, club members, VIPs and the dukes and duchesses in the Royal Box.

Oh, yes, you can easily spot the Royal Box. When play begins at 1pm - only the finals start an hour later - it will invariably be a swathe of empty seats - for that is when the roast beef and Yorkshire pud is being served. 'Tis a great British tradition, after all. @Email:rphilip@thenational.ae