26 JUNE 2002

For the last 25 years, she has been as much a key part of Wimbledon as strawberries and cream and the sport itself, but it has now been revealed that the Duchess of Kent will not be attending the tournament’s women’s final.

The Duchess, has announced that she has a “prior, private engagement” and will be unable to make the presentation of the women’s trophies. Coming just days after the event’s organisers were criticised for failing to mark the Golden Jubilee, the news has sparked rumours that the British monarch may make a surprise appearance.

It will be only the second time since 1983 that the Duchess will be absent. In 1977, to mark Silver Jubilee year, the role of presenter of the women’s prizes was undertaken by the Queen.

The Duchess’s decision has also fuelled speculation over a possible rift between her and the venerable All England Lawn Tennis Club, sparked initially by the tennis body’s refusal to allow the teenage son of murdered headmaster Philip Lawrence to sit with her in the royal box in 1999. However, a spokesperson for the Duchess said that there is “no suggestion of ill feeling”, adding: “She told organisers about this some time ago and they have accepted her explanation.”

The Lawn Tennis Club has announced: “There is absolutely no disagreement.”

The Duchess, who in recent times has informally dropped the use of her HRH title, has had a long love affair with the tournament and often provided some of its most memorable visual images. These include her consoling a weeping Jana Novotna in 1993 and sharing laughter with 1994 loser Martina Navratilova.

“It showed she was someone who cared about the sport, rather than some royals who just show their face,” said disappointed spectator Katie Stillroy, upon learning of the news. “I think it’s a shame she isn’t coming this year. I can’t imagine her husband doing the same thing.”

It is currently unclear as to whether the Duchess’ husband, the Duke of Kent – who traditionally presents the men’s trophy – will extend his duties to cover the women’s event as well, or whether her sister-in-law Princess Alexandra will step in.

Photo: © Alphapress.com
The Duchess has had a long love affair with Wimbledon and news of her impending absence has caused disappointment among fans Photo: © Alpha
Photo: © Alphapress.com
Winner Pete Sampras receives his trophy from the Duchess in 1999Photo: © Alpha
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