Wigs and wives: a double take on the fame game

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The Independent Online
ONE of the petty annoyances of watching the ATP World Championships (Eurosport) was the stubborn refusal of many of the continental presenters and pundits to speak English. This was not so much of a problem during the tennis matches themselves, cries of joy or frustration needing little translation, but it did rather spoil the pronouncements of the panel of "Wise Men" - the studio experts - at the end of every contest.

What a cosmopolitan bunch they were. Heinz Gunthardt, the chairman, is Swiss. Guy Forget is French, Michael Stich is German and John McEnroe, although born in Germany and a citizen of the United States, is by residence and attitude a native New Yorker.

Gunthardt asked the questions in German, and Stich naturally responded in his native tongue. So, in what has become a Eurosport trademark, their commentator Simon Reed (brother, incidentally, of the more famous and less sober Oliver) paraphrased his replies into English. This means one of three things: that Reed is a top-notch linguist, that the interviews were recorded earlier and translated, or that Stich is mighty predictable.

The last is the least likely, given that the Wise Men were discussing the price of fame and Stich seemed to digress into a monologue on the difficulties of attending peep shows on the Reeperbahn when you are an internationally known sports personality. At least that seemed to be what he was on about - Reed got the giggles at this point.

Being richer and more famous than the rest of them put together, McEnroe unsurprisingly had quite a bit to say on this topic - in English, luckily for British viewers. It seems that at the height of his fame - or notoriety - McEnroe became disenchanted with the attentions of the public. So he purchased a shaggy wig and beard, and went to try his disguise out at an art gallery.

"I asked if a particular painting was for sale," he recalled, "and the guy looked at me and said: 'Hey! You're John McEnroe!' He had recognised my voice." Apparently it did not occur to McEnroe that had he ever learned to keep his lip buttoned, this might not have been the case.

Gunthardt was tickled by this tale, and pressed McEnroe further on the exact nature of his wig. "It was black, man, and it had a big beard - like Jimi Hendrix." Appropriate that tennis's own Voodoo Child should adopt the hairstyle of another maverick left-hander, but perhaps we should be grateful that he did not try to take the impersonation any further. McEnroe may have been done for many kinds of racket abuse during his career, but at least he never simulated sex with it or set fire to it after a bad line call.

Hairpiece-related anecdotes aside, McEnroe's contributions to Eurosport's coverage over the last week have been thoroughly good value. Whatever you think about the old rogue's antics as a player, as a pundit he is articulate, opinionated and amusing. And, best of all, he has shaved off the ludicrous goatee that may well have earned him some credibility with the New York modern art set, but also made him look in constant danger of swallowing a large, hairy caterpillar.

More ruminations on the cost of sporting fame in a fascinating Cutting Edge documentary, Football Wives (Channel 4). This told the tales of Ann Lee, Suzi Walker and Sam Holdsworth, respectively espoused to Jason (then of Nottingham Forest reserves), Ian (of Tottenham Hotspur) and Dean (then of Wimbledon and tabloid headlines).

Suzi was a blonde former page three model with her own cable television show. Sam was a blonde with horses and ambitions as a pop singer. Ann, the exception in many ways, was a brunette with ambitions to take exams, look after her children, and stop moving around the country following her husband from club to club. Needless to say, Ann came across as much the most sympathetic character, largely because she lived in the real world rather than the pages of Hello! "I hate football," she revealed. "I think netball should be on telly, not football."

There was a deliciously unpleasant cameo from Suzi Walker's agent, one David Hahn, who was interviewed munching his way through a satay feast in an oriental restaurant while exotic fish circulated warily in a tank behind him, as if worried that the lurid-suited operator might any moment demand them shredded raw for his next course.

"Suzi is a good-looking girl," he declared between skewers, "she's got a great figure and she's quite talented." The first two statements had been verified by Suzi's earlier appearances in the programme, poured into a range of skimpy outfits. But the latter claim had been invalidated by her unfortunate inability, when recording clips for her TV show, to pronounce her own name.

Wealthy footballers, Hahn explained, are attracted by glitz. "They like to be seen in the right places, and they always like to be seen with good- looking people. It's very unusual that you'll see a footballer walking into a restaurant with someone who's extremely ugly." The agent, by the way, was dining alone.