The Duchess of Kent, Wimbledon’s Fair Lady
|The Duke and Duchess of Kent in 2013. Image: Wikimedia Commons|
In 1968, the Queen’s cousin, Prince Edward, Duke of Kent succeeded his mother Princess Marina as president of the All England Lawn Tennis Association. Since then, he and the Duchess of Kent attended the championships during many days of the Wimbledon. The Duchess, born Katharine Worsley, eventually became a familiar figure, and was seen awarding the prizes at the end of the competition. However, she ceased presenting trophies after 2001 – when she handed a trophy to Venus Williams – following her retirement from royal duties.
But during her prime, the Duchess, a Yorkshire baronet’s daughter, was praised for her sincerity and good nature. One of her most endearing acts of kindness was when she helped Martina Navratilova obtain a UK visa for her parents who were living in the former communist state of Czechoslovakia so they could see their daughter get the title. In 1993, she also touched the hearts of many after she hugged Jana Novotna, who cried after her defeat to Steffi Graf. The Duchess was also praised for keeping herself in high spirit as she presented trophies one time while having a cast on her foot.
However, all good things must come to an end, so they say. The Duchess had a fallout with Wimbledon’s chairman, John Curry, after he refused to let the son of murdered headmaster Philip Lawrence join her in the royal box in 1999. A “curt letter” was sent to the Duchess, explaining that only royal children are allowed inside the box. For the Duchess, this seemed to be a snobbish response who was apparently dismayed by such an obstinate attitude. After the incident, the Duchess was rarely seen on Wimbledon. However, sources close to her insist she did not boycott the event. She hinted on withdrawing from royal engagements when she ceased using ‘ Her Royal Highness’ title, preferring a life away from limelight while quietly pursuing her causes, like becoming a teacher at a school in Hull, where she was called “Mrs Kent.” Not one of the children she taught had a clue that their teacher was a royal lady.
Perhaps, the Duchess hasn’t really forgotten Wimbledon. On July 13, 2017, now in her 80s, she made a surprise appearance as she joined the Duke of York and Princess Michael of Kent in the royal box. She seemed to enjoy watching Roger Federer, who beat Tomas Berdych on Centre Court.
The Royal Family Today by Trevor Hall, 1984. Book Club Associates