Friday, 3 July 2009

Centre Court: Celebrity Sanctum

Wimbledon’s Centre Court is as much a British establishment as Pimm’s or talking about the weather, and it has recently proved to be the centre of attention for more than tennis reasons alone.

As well as boasting the most talked about roof since Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel (or maybe the ceiling on which Lionel Richie danced and sang about), the venue has also become a celebrity attraction during the past fortnight.

Andy Murray’s progress has been enlivened not only by his imperious serving and cheeky drop shots but by the legion of stars present at his matches.

Ewan McGregor, Miss Scotland and Clive Woodward have all been spotted, but perhaps the most eye-catching spectator was the young supporter sporting a Hassidic Jewish hat and synthetic curls during Murray’s win over Stanislas Wawrinka.

From Bruce Forsyth appearance in the opening round to Kate Winslet at the quarter-finals, there seems to be a gradual rise in stardom at Centre Court as the tournament nears its climax. We wait with bated breath for today’s attendees but it has been rumoured that the Queen will be present if Murray reaches Sunday’s final.

Kate Winslet applauds Andy Murray's, erm, 'Titanic' quarter-final win

Wimbledon, with traditionally glitzy visitors such as Cliff Richard and, er, Jimmy Tarbuck, is far from being sport’s only star attraction. Away from the baseline rallies and strawberries and cream, other sports pride themselves on their glamorous clienteles.

Football can now even be considered chic. A far cry from meat and potato pies on crumbling old terraces, Flavio Briatore, QPR’s wealthy and vibrantly orange owner, has pledged to introduce ‘boutique football’ to Championship crowds.

Whether Briatore can attract friends such as Naomi Campbell to a home match against Scunthorpe remains to be seen, but his plans are certainly lavish enough to make Roy Keane choke on his prawn sandwiches when he takes his Ipswich Town side to Loftus Road next season.

While the hardened fans of sides outside the Premier League may need some convincing, Briatore can count on a growing number of fair-weather supporters to subscribe to his new brand of the game.

Sylvester Stallone famously paraded an Everton scarf before seeing them play Reading, Tom Hanks is supposedly an Aston Villa fan, Dr Dre has been rumoured to respect Liverpool as ‘cool cats’, and the late Michael Jackson once attended an Exeter City match with Uri Geller.

On a par with the aforementioned names in terms of fame but on a different scale entirely of commitment is Jack Nicholson, who is a partisan fixture at LA Lakers games. NBA courtside seats are as likely to excite the readers of Heat as they are basketball followers, with Ben Affleck and Denzel Washington among the spectators at the recent play-offs.

If the pomp of major US sport is matched by its audience’s star-quality, so too are the social and cultural traditions of the UK’s other main sports. In England, rugby union is as synonymous with public school as games of ‘soggy biscuit’ and boys’ names like Oscar, and matches at Twickenham are often attended by Prince Harry.

Somewhat differently in Wales, where rugby’s origins are rooted in mining communities, you’re likelier to see Joe Calzaghe or a former Big Brother contestant cheer the national team.

Like rugby, cricket’s fanbase has a more regal feel, and its stiff-upper-lip reputation is amplified by the prominence of former Conservative leader John Major at test matches played at the Oval.

Even with their aristocratic traits, however, both these former symbols of imperial Britain trail in Wimbledon’s wake, where an invitation might be issued to Buckingham Palace should Murray overcome Andy Roddick later today.

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