Clinton in place for the BBC's soft balls

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The Independent Online

If you think that the soaked, disappointed and shivering crowd at Wimbledon had it bad yesterday, think about the poor buggers who found themselves invited to the Royal Box for the afternoon. The offer of a grand four-course luncheon, followed by Henman's semi-final and the women's singles final must have looked as appetising a social event as any in the current season.

All morning, the limousines swept up bringing this choice selection of the great and the good under one roof. A scale of importance was in operation, with the Bank of England governor, Sir Edward George, obliged to walk from his limo to the Centre Court entrance, while the former United States President, Bill Clinton, was allowed to park his dark-windowed jeep smack outside.

All must have seemed well as noon approached. Then came the rain, and the gloom, and the unhelpful weather forecasts. At around the time the Royal Box guests would have moved on to the Ferrero Rocher chocolates, the awful realisation must have dawned on them that they were all stuck with each other for the afternoon with no tennis to watch whatsoever.

And what a rum crowd they were. With Justin Henin scheduled to become the first Belgian tennis player to appear in a Wimbledon final, there was a big turn-out from her home country to cheer her on – not that Royal Box guests actually do that. The etiquette of the occasion restricts them to polite applause rather than exclamations of "Yes, you little beauty! Go on, girl!"

Still, with Prince Philippe of Belgium and Princess Mathilde, the Prime Minster and Deputy Prime Minister, not forgetting the Belgian Ambassador, it would have been a good day for invading this small country, if you had that in mind.

Meanwhile, it was worth speculating just how much chit-chat Bill Clinton and Baroness Thatcher might get through, especially as Sir Denis would have been on hand to pass time with a few extra snifters. Whether it was achieved by spin-the-bottle or a show of hands, it as the former President who was sent out to "entertain" the Centre Court crowd by allowing himself to be interviewed by the BBC's Garry Richardson.

Garry proved himself to be more Freddie Starr than Kenneth Starr, lobbing up a series of soft balls for the Prez to smash back as winners. With Clinton confined to the royal luncheon room for several hours he at least could have asked him if this had been the longest period he had gone without sex while awake.

Garry might have done better with the BBC1 Controller, Lorraine Heggessy, who was also a guest in the Royal Box. The tactless question to have asked would have been "What's on Grandstand this afternoon?" The answer was music, from the Band of the Welsh Guards, and a tennis version of the The Richard and Judy Show, with Sue Barker and John Lloyd battling bravely to fill the lost hours. At one stage, they veered into Jerry Springer territory by bringing on Lloyd's ex-wife, Chris Evert, but no blows were exchanged.

As the hours ticked on without any action – other than wheelchair tennis on Court 14, watched by a grateful 200 or so spectators – it was possible to wonder whether two of the Royal Box guests might get their kit on for an indoor knockabout. There were the former Ladies' singles champions Maria Bueno and Virginia Wade, but no reports of any match, either virtual or improvised, filtered out to the starving public.

Finally, as five o'clock approached, the skies began to lighten and the prospects for at least a little play rose. The only certainty at this time was that many of those who had lunched so well in the Royal Box would have been long-gone by now, beating the crowds by leaving early in their limos.

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