Dave Gemmell ? Freelance writer & author » About
Tanya’s boyfriend, ‘whatshisname…’
“I’ve been through it with a toothcomb and he doesn’t mention you, “ John Robbie said gloatingly as he handed me John McEnroe’s Biography, “
Starting in 1974, I attended eight Wimbledons in a row. This was by virtue of my relationship with SA’s then No 1 woman tennis player, Tanya Harford. I was her boyfriend known as, “whatshisname”. As her official partner, I was accorded, ’All Area Access’ at the Championships. Because of this, I got to meet a lot of famous people.
In the beginning, they were mainly tennis players. Amongst others,Yannik Noah, Bjorn Borg, John McEnroe, Roscoe Tanner and Vitas Gerulaitis were all, at some time or other, my drinking buddies. They apparently enjoyed being with an anonymous individual, who didn’t play tennis. Of them, I got to know John McEnroe best. We would endlessly discuss politics, girls, South Africa, tennis, girls (we liked girls), movies and more often than not, guitars. Like me, John was an aspiring guitarist.
On one of my trips, we saw the Rolling Stones in concert at Wembley. McEnroe also went; not with us, but as a guest in the VIP box. When next I saw him I asked if he enjoyed the concert. He said it was OK, but not very good from a box – no atmosphere. However, he was thrilled that he actually got to meet the band. I asked him what they were like. He said polite, but generally disinterested in him; except for lead guitarist Keith Richards. “Well that’s a win “, I said, “did you ask him to show you a couple of guitar licks?” There was a long silence. Then John said, “That would be like you asking me for a tennis lesson… ”
After he lost to Borg in that epic tiebreak match, Tanya and I partied with him at his flat. There were only about ten people, but we had a good time. The next year he beat Borg and again Tanya and I joined him afterwards for, in his words, “a kick-ass”
party. A good, drunken time was had by all.
So, because I told the abovementioned John Robbie some of these stories, he just assumed I was bound to feature in McEnroe’ s biography. Given that, “Serious” doesn’t talk about a completely wasted, coke snorting James Honey-Man Scott, lead guitarist of The Pretenders being at the parties. Or that there were huge quantities of hash floating around and virtually everyone was stoned out of their heads; its not surprising he doesn’t mention Tanya’s boyfriend, ‘Whatshisname’.
Eventually I met famous people who weren’t tennis players. One morning a friend arrived at the courts, accompanied by a tired looking blonde. He introduced her as Chris. Then saying, “I’ll be back in a moment”, he promptly disappeared. I studied her weather-beaten face and thought, “Nice one, what am I supposed to do with this old bag?” I was planning an escape when one of the Wimbledon ballgirls walked into the player’s pub we had adjourned to.
As her eyes alighted on Chris, she went into a complete state. “Ooh, can I have your autograph?” she cooed, “loved your last album…” before fleeing in great delight with a signed napkin. Autograph? Album? Chris who? With a newfound respect I offered her a drink. When I got to the bar I asked the barman if he recognised the girl I was with. “Oh that’s easy”, he smiled, “Christine McVie of Fleetwood Mac”. Of course.
One day in the player’s restaurant, someone tapped me on the shoulder. I turned around to be confronted by the smiling face of the girl I had been totally in love with, since I was ten years old. I had seen all her movies. I had cut out every picture of her I found; wasted hours daydreaming about meeting her and suddenly there she was. Tapping me on the shoulder and asking me to pass her a knife and fork. Like a rabbit caught in the headlights, I just stared at Susan George as she mouthed the words KNIFE and FORK. Then, as if dealing with a young child, she mimed using cutlery. Presumably deciding from my catotonic state, I must be foreign.
On another occasion, standing on the player’s balcony watching a match on an outside court, I felt someone squash in alongside me. As I idly glanced at the newcomer he said, “What’s the score?” Jack Nicolson is quite startling in the flesh. More so than he ever was in the movies. Anyway this time, fortunately, I managed a reply. When he asked me, “Whatsyourname?” and I said, “That’s almost it…” and explained how no-one ever remembered my name, he laughed and became my new best friend.
During that time, I met people like formula one world champion, James Hunt; Joan Collins’ lover, Bungalow Bill Wiggens; Oscar winning lyricist, Sir Tim Rice; lead guitarist of Genesis, Mike Rutherford; legendary New Zealand No 8, Murray Mexted; Small Faces drummer, Kenny Jones; captain of the all conquering 1974 Lions, Willie John McBride and lead singer of UB40, Ali Campbell.
The problem with having a famous person as your new best friend; is you tend to name drop and not everyone enjoys that. Nor quite often, do they believe you.
At least, that’s what Sir Mick Jagger told me.
[Postscript: Gemmell and Harford wed and later divorced]