In a just world, the camera lens would be prosecuted for doing grievous bodily harm to Judy Murray. Mention her name and the overwhelming pejorative response from people who don’t know her hinges on fleeting glimpses of her sitting courtside, watching her son Andy reach for the greatest prizes in tennis.
For committing such crimes as grimacing and clenching her fists – actions replicated by countless viewers at the same moment – she is pronounced a “dragon”, a “terrible mother” or, as she puts it, “the worst thing since sliced bread”.
Such judgements are at odds with the petite, stylish woman, noticeably pretty at 54, who arrives for our interview at a Paris hotel. It is a rainy June morning during the latter stages of the French Open at Roland Garros, where Andy will turn out to exceed expectations (although not his own) by reaching the semi-finals, before heading home to defend his Wimbledon crown. That scorching summer day in SW19 a year ago was so brain-scrambling that Judy can’t actually remember it clearly.
“I would have loved to enjoy it more, because what we all felt was just relief,” she says. “It was so devastating the previous year, when he lost in the final. But his win was so important to people – far, far bigger than him winning Olympic gold and the US Open in 2012. People were coming up for months to say well done and especially to share their own experience of his win. At Sports Personality of the Year, the place was filled with sporting legends, and all of them came over to say how proud they were of Andy.”
Our conversation takes place just days before Murray announces that the 2006 Wimbledon ladies’ champion Amélie Mauresmo is to be his new coach, succeeding Ivan Lendl. Asked if she knows who is to be Andy’s coach, Judy nods although unsurprisingly declines, albeit with a smile, to reveal the name. But it’s clear that Andy is untroubled by the prospect of working with – gasp – a woman.
“There is absolutely no reason why male players shouldn’t work with a female coach,” says Judy. “In my case I always recognised my limitations and wanted to find the right person to work with Andy at the right time. That was what mattered. His new choice is great.”
Judy is, of course, mother not to one, but to two Wimbledon winners. Jamie – at 28, the elder of her two sons by 15 months – won the mixed doubles with Jelena Jankovic in 2007. Judy, who was divorced from the boys’ father Willie in 2005 after a long separation, is largely defined in the public mind as a mother, when in fact she is also captain of Great Britain’s Federation Cup team (Fed Cup is the world championship of women’s tennis) and involved with countless coaching projects.
For the past eighteen months she has been devising an ingenious programme, to be launched during Wimbledon, to introduced girls aged between five and eight to her sport.
“Girls taking up tennis in that age bracket are outnumbered four to one by boys. We researched what was putting them off – the weather, noisy boys, big blokey coaches, all kinds of things. So we’ve created an indoor course incorporating all the stuff research shows girls like – dancing, music, being with their friends, doing girly things with nail stickers, bows in their hair, colouring in – and also subtly including very basic aspects of tennis, just to get them interested. Some will take it forward, some won’t. But if we are to get more women players to be high achievers at a senior level, we have to find a way to get more girls interested at a very young age.”
To see her encouraging players of all ages is to appreciate how bizarre it is that Judy could be perceived as the kind of toxic parent so common in tennis. Throughout our conversation (to which she gives twice as much time as scheduled), she smiles often, laughs at herself frequently and speaks so softly I’m concerned my recorder won’t register her voice. Of the alleged dragon, there is no sign.
“I think if I were the dad of sons, I wouldn’t have been noticed,” she sighs. “There’s something about a competitive mum, especially when the children are male. Boris Becker had a go at me a couple of years ago, saying Andy wouldn’t win a Slam until he got rid of me. I thought: ‘I’ve never met you. You don’t know Andy. You don’t know anything about us.’ But because Boris was saying it, I thought people would think, ‘She must be an absolute nightmare’.
“I have my own life and I’m always busy. If I want to see my children, watching them play is often the easiest way. I don’t smile when I watch Andy because I’m totally focused. If he looks up, he doesn’t want to see me laughing. But if you ask anyone else I work with, I love having fun.”
Persuasive evidence of this is her great rapport with Andy’s girlfriend of eight years, Kim Sears. They bake, go shopping and to the theatre together.
“She’s fabulous,” agrees Judy, who is not currently in a relationship herself. “I tell Andy how lucky he is. She makes amazing red velvet cupcakes. I’m serious about cake. A Victoria sponge with jam in the middle and icing on top is heaven.”
Judy also praises Kim’s gift for interior design, as seen in the renovation of Andy’s luxury hotel venture, Cromlix House, near the small town of Dunblane in Perthshire where Judy has lived for much of her life and where the boys grew up. Andy bought the hotel last year for £1.8 million, announcing how pleased he was to “give something back to the community I grew up in”.
He has said he “did not like it” when Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond unfurled the saltire at Wimbledon after his 2013 victory, and has “no idea” who he would play for in a future Olympics if Scotland votes for independence. For her part, Judy says she will definitely vote, but chooses to keep private which way.
There is no mistaking the family’s bond with Scotland, however, or their commitment to Dunblane. They are part of a community that experienced unimaginable horror in March 1996 when a local man, Thomas Hamilton, entered the gymnasium at Dunblane Primary School, carrying four licensed handguns and more than 700 rounds of ammunition. In three minutes he shot dead 15 children aged five and six, and their teacher. Twelve more children (one of whom died later in hospital) and two more teachers were injured before Hamilton killed himself. Both Jamie, then just ten, and Andy, eight, were at school that day as usual.
“At that time my mother had a toy shop in the town, which I ran with her,” remembers Judy. “I was working with a girl in the shop and her daughter phoned because she’d heard something on the radio. My colleague in the shop turned to me and said, ‘There’s been a shooting at the primary school.’ And I replied, ‘Don’t be silly.’ Then my mum ran in saying, ‘There’s been a shooting at the school. You need to go.’ I picked up my car keys – didn’t take my bag or jacket or anything – and just ran out.
“I was driving there, thinking I might not see my children again. There were too many cars on the road – everyone was trying to get there. I got angry, shouting, ‘Get out of the way!’ About a quarter of a mile away I just got out and ran.
But the school gates were closed. There were ambulances and police cars. I was standing with the other parents outside, just waiting. We couldn’t go in. People weren’t frantic. They were shocked, quiet. It was before mobile phones. Nobody knew anything. It was much later before we knew that even one person had died.
“We were moved to a room and then waited for absolutely hours before we knew what had happened or which class it was. There were 50 or 60of us so many that I was sharing a chair with a girl I had gone to school with, who lived opposite me when we were growing up.
A policeman came in and said that the parents of children from Mrs Mayor’s class were to leave with him. The girl sharing my chair said, ‘That’s my daughter’s class.’ I don’t know if I have survivor’s guilt, but I had an awful moment then when I was so relieved it wasn’t my kids. And then feeling terrible. She lost her daughter.
“I can’t really remember when I first saw Jamie and Andy again. All they had been told was that there was a man in the school with a gun. Jamie’s class was in a prefab building, and he told me they thought someone was knocking on the roof with a hammer. They could hear the noise, but you’d never think of gunfire.
“Andy’s class had been on their way to the gym. That’s how close he was to what happened.
They heard the noise and someone went ahead to investigate. They came back and told all the kids to go to the headmaster’s study and the deputy head’s study. They were told to sit down below the windows and they were singing songs. The teachers and dinner ladies did an amazing job, containing all these children, feeding them, and getting them out without them being aware of what had happened. I don’t know how they managed it.
On the drive home I knew I had to stop the car to tell Jamie and Andy what had happened – they didn’t know and it was clearly going to be everywhere. It was an impossible thing to explain to children. I’m very glad they were too young to understand the enormity of it.
“It turned out they knew the guy. They had been to the boys’ clubs he ran locally at the high school. I knew him, too – I’d given him lifts from the boys’ clubs to the station. He was a bit of an odd bod, but I wouldn’t have thought he was dangerous. So he’d been in my car.
“For days afterwards Dunblane was a ghost town. No one went out. I had friends who had lost children, so I went to the funerals. It was impossible to believe something like that could happen in your little town. Sometimes it still is.”
She looks up. Her eyes are bright, and her voice is not quite steady.
“The only time I get emotional about Jamie and Andy’s Wimbledon wins is when I’m in Dunblane. If I give a little speech at a kids’ tournament or something, I find it very emotional. I did one the other day and I was really struggling. When you’ve gone through a really dark, tragic time, and then come to a real high, I hope it helps people to feel something really positive about the town. Everything that Andy and Jamie have achieved… the excitement it brings to the town – you’ve gone from one end of the scale to the other. When Andy is home, you really feel that.”
She looks away again and says, “What it definitely does is make you appreciate what you’ve got. I could have been…”
She does not finish the sentence.
Judy Murray is Kirsty Young’s guest on
Desert Island Discs on Sunday (11.15am Radio 4 FM)