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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, Duchess of Kent, as president of the All England Lawn Tennis Association. He and the Duchess of Kent then started attending the championships during many days of the Wimbledon. The Duchess, born Katharine Worsley, became a familiar figure, and was seen awarding the prizes at the end of every competition.  In 2001, she handed a trophy to Venus Williams, the last time she presented at Wimbledon, following her retirement from royal duties.


During her prime, the Duchess of Kent, a Yorkshire baronet’s daughter, was praised for her sincerity and good nature.  One of her most endearing acts of kindness was helping Martina Navratilova obtain a UK visa for her parents who were living in the former communist state of Czechoslovakia. It gave the parents the chance to 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 spirits 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. Many thought that the Duchess considered Curry's letter as a snobbish response and the obstinate attitude may have dismayed her.  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 using the style of ‘Her Royal Highness.’ Instead, she preferred 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 has not really forgotten Wimbledon. On July 13, 2017, well into 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.

Edited/Revised December 16, 2017

Sources:
The Royal Family Today by Trevor Hall, 1984. Book Club Associates

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