Andrew Castle on house-hunting in Surrey, tennis at Wimbledon and one of the greatest sporting stories of all time
PUBLISHED: 15:47 19 July 2017
Always happy to tackle the issues of the day, it’s no surprise that Andrew Castle’s smooth tones have led him to become a talk radio staple. Tennis, however, is the former British number one’s first love and Wimbledon is his second home
Originally published in Surrey Life magazine July 2017
As the world of tennis spins its gaze towards Wimbledon, former British number one turned commentator, Andrew Castle, has been doing his best not to be distracted from the sport he loves...
“Wimbledon is my ‘second home’ and Wandsworth is our current one but my wife, Sophia, and I have spent so much time house hunting in Surrey recently, that I feel like I know every road in Oxshott, Esher and Cobham,” he laughs, as we catch-up in the weeks leading up to the prestigious The Championships.
“It’s a very well trodden path down the A3 into Surrey, and we’re looking forward to taking it. Our two kids are all grown up and, well, it’s all just rather lovely, isn’t it? You can actually hear the birds singing, you look up and you can see some sky rather than buildings… all these funny things that happen to you in your 50s. We might even get a dog!”
“The only problem is we’d have Andy Murray as a neighbour, which might be a mistake. You like to be the best player in your neighbourhood, hey?”
The effervescent 53-year-old is no stranger to Surrey, having been born in Epsom, and he talks with the engaging gusto that has suited him so well in the media career he’s followed, since hanging up his racket in 1992.
“I’ve commentated on 15 finals now but before the very first one my boss came up to me, knowing I was nervous, and said ‘don’t mess it up’,” he says, recalling how he came to be as much of a fixture of the BBC’s coverage of The Championships as Sue Barker, Singing in the Rain and strawberries and cream.
“Having covered heavy subjects occasionally on GMTV, like the invasion of Iraq and talking with families that had lost their children, chatting about the sport I love came very naturally to me. I found it joyous then and I still do now. I have a love affair with Wimbledon and it does help the commentary.”
He starts his ritual in the run-in to the tournament by popping in to watch the groundsman make the place bloom, the restaurants sharpen their lines, this ‘whole other world’ take shape. He visits on the Sunday before the public descends - and the action starts - to drink in the ambience.
“There’s hardly a player, current or retired, who doesn’t still get inspired by it,” he says. “During the tournament I ride my motorbike up there each day and do what I have to do, but I don’t hang around and always leave as soon as the job is done to stay fresh.
“There’s a great camaraderie in the BBC team and sometimes, with the incredible main courts, the green grass, the white outfits etc, it’s more about what you don’t say – visually it’s very evocative anyway. The internal voice does have its ‘shut up, Andrew!’ moments.”
His path to tennis and TV was an unorthodox one. Born to Lavinia and Frank Castle and with four older siblings, the family moved from Surrey to Somerset when he was eight. Times were tough and his parent’s divorced when he was 15, but he says it was their support and a bit of luck that made him.
“Without the support of mum and dad or having an older brother to play against, I’d have never got into tennis and travelled the world,” he says. “Sometimes you need a charitable hand from people, even if you don’t realise it at the time. I’m so grateful.
“There wasn’t a pathway to the professional game back then, and I was just lucky. I had the ability to play, I had parents, who supported me and I was lucky that someone decided to give me a scholarship to play in the States when I was 17. I’d been pretty much written off over here.”
One of the reasons he enjoys playing Devil’s advocate so much when wearing one of his many hats on LBC radio, is that he still finds people make presumptions about his background because of his tennis career.
“So many people still think I must be a bit of a snobby guy, but it’s not where I’m from at all,” he explains. “I’ve lived in council houses, given blood to pay my rent in America and, yes, eventually I’ve enjoyed the VIP treatment of Wimbledon etc. I’ve seen all sides.”
This helps to explain why he’s pleased to see the nation starting to recognise that “an academic country full of league tables” can only go so far. He’s a keen advocate of sport as a way to shape character.
“It sounds a bit strange, but one of the problems we have had in tennis in this country is that our education system is actually too good,” he says, with an integrity that doesn’t make that statement sound strange at all.
“Nothing will make you understand yourself better than learning to cope with the winning and losing that comes with sport. You find your strengths and confront your frailties. To make it now-a-days, you have to commit to being a tennis player at a very, very early age though and people worry so much that that could be at the expense of a ‘proper’ education – it doesn’t have to be like that at all.”
Andrew recognises that there has been a slow change in culture in recent years but feels that too often the money heads to certain ‘podium’ sports for the wrong reasons.
“While money has been pumped into cycling, rowing, rugby etc because we know we have a chance of glory, I think it’s a national disgrace that, for instance, basketball isn’t better supported.
“It’s a global game and you can see park courts full of people playing and, as a generalisation, many of them are from relatively poor backgrounds. It should be a perfect opportunity to aid social cohesion in this country, but we don’t back it because there’s not much chance of winning gold. That’s madness.”
He worries that sometimes The Championships can shape people’s image of tennis to such an extent that they forget about the young kids trying to get involved.
“Fundamentally, if you can grab a cheap racket, some tennis balls and a bit of open space you should be able to play tennis. Then, if the local park has free courts, you can shape your game. Unfortunately a lot of local authorities started to charge amounts that even some adults shy away from, let alone kids. Then people moan about what the kids are getting up to! To be fair, the LTA (Lawn Tennis Association) are on to this in a big way and supporting Tennis For Free, which is run by Tony Hawks, who is a mate of mine, and there’s going to be a big announcement during Wimbledon about that, so that’s cool.”
As a long-time friend of Kim Murray’s family (Andrew’s known her ‘pretty much since birth’) and with Oxshott resident Andy the reigning men’s champion, you might think that there’s only one winner marked on his card – but that’s not so…
“Look, I’d love Andy to win as much as anyone but the main story this year is clearly Roger Federer. It’s one of the greatest sporting stories of all time that’s quietly developing here. This is a bloke, who didn’t play for six months and who many thought was bringing his career to a quiet close at 35, and then he suddenly wins the Australian Open at the start of the year, beating Nadal in the final. That’s incredible. So a dream men’s final would be Andy Murray v Roger Federer, but I hope Nadal does well too – he’s been through a lot.
“Whisper it quietly, but I really think Jo Konta (the current British number one ladies player) has a good chance of going far in the tournament too, which would be fantastic. Fingers crossed.”
Watching from his perch in the heights of Centre Court, it’s safe to say that in his mind Andrew Castle will be down there on the court hitting every ball with them – along with ticking off the pros and cons of each potential new Surrey neighbourhood, of course…
With thanks to...
The Private Travel Company and First4Tennis are hosting the Mauritius Tennis Week with Andrew Castle from Monday September 25 to Tuesday October 3. Guests will enjoy a week of professional tennis coaching at the award-winning Shandrani Beachcomber Resort & Spa. Prices from £2,399 per person for tennis players and £1,899 per person for non-tennis players, based on two people sharing on an all-inclusive basis. Visit tennis-abroad.com for more information.
Did you know?
Wimbledon is the largest single annual sporting catering operation carried out in Europe.
Over the two weeks, spectators will get through 190,000 sandwiches, 27 tons of fresh English strawberries and 1,539 gallons of fresh cream.
They’ll also consume 200,000 glasses of Pimm’s, 100,000 pints of draught beer and 150,000 glasses of bubbly.