There was no high school in Dunblane when I was 16 so my parents decided to send me to a private girls school in Crieff. I’ll always be grateful to them for that because the sporting opportunities there were huge and obviously sport has been a massive part of my life ever since. I played netball, hockey, swimming, badminton – my life revolved around sport. My plan was to get accepted for university then take a year off to concentrate on tennis. All through high school I thought I’d be a PE teacher. In the end I went in a different direction but my work as national coach, British Fed captain and now in grass roots coaching has kind of brought me full circle.
I think back now and think, oh, I wish I’d have been brave enough to do that
The tennis world was very different 40 years ago. There was no academy or even full-time trainers in Scotland. Only one per cent of women played tennis in Scotland. It was not a viable career. So for me then, tennis was just a hobby I got quite good at. To play in competitions I had to travel abroad myself a lot at 17 and that was tough. When I had my purse stolen from my bag in Barcelona one day – all my money, my tickets, my passport, my hotel key – I suddenly realised how alone I was. This was before ATMs or mobile phones – I had to go to the British Embassy for help. And when I got home my dad said, no, that’s enough. I hate to quit on anything but the truth is, I think I was glad he said it.
I still sometimes look back at my own life and wonder, if I’d made different choices when I was playing, if I’d been braver, how good could I have been? Probably I wasn’t good enough to make a career of it anyway but there were no opportunities in Scotland to help me find out. And I wasn’t tough or mature enough to do what I had to abroad. When I was at school I was also offered a tennis scholarship in Virginia and I didn’t go. I think back now and think, oh, I wish I’d have been brave enough to do that. It would have given me the chance to grow up, to learn so much about the sport and that kind of life.
Due to inexperience, wanting my son to have opportunities I hadn’t taken, and being flattered by the attention of people telling me how special he was, I made a mistake sending him from home too soon. [Jamie went to train in Cambridge when he was 12.] He was young and innocent, dreaming of being a tennis player. I knew he wouldn’t get the opportunities in Scotland. But it didn’t work out the way the LTA promised and six months later we brought him home. It was too early to take a child out of a comfortable, safe, caring environment, away from friends, family, trusted coaches. It damaged his confidence and his game and caused a lot of anguish. Fortunately he came out of the other side and now he’s got his Grand Slam titles and his number one ranking last year. But I waited till Andy was 15 before I let him go away.
I haven’t been able to watch Andy or Jamie on TV for years. I find it too stressful. I can’t help, I can’t do anything. I just ask someone to text me when it’s all over. I don’t go to the matches as often as I used to either, it’s just too stressful – all the expectation and the pressure. I’d love to be able to enjoy it more. But when I’m there, no matter how hard it is, I can’t get up and leave. Even if I feel like I’m having a heart attack I can’t slide under the seat or walk out. Because, just like they did when they were little, they still look up for reassurance and encouragement.
They always use pictures of me bearing my teeth or pumping my fists, looking scary
It’s hard hearing people on the media attack Andy’s personality. You just have to keep reminding yourself the people who write articles criticising him generally haven’t ever met him. They don’t know anything about him. I reassure myself with that. I only care about the opinion of people who know us, who care about us, who love us. The rest is just words.