I love going back to England to see my family and visit all the places that meant so much to me growing up. My mother still lives in Wimbledon in the same house where I was raised, very close to the Wimbledon Tennis Championship grounds. Tennis was a big deal in my family and my father turned us all into reasonable players from an early age. I ended up playing for my university and was quickly named ‘The Slammer’- I hit very hard but the ball wasn’t always that well controlled. My mother asked me once to play with her regular ladies four but I nearly took one of her friends’ heads off with an awe-inspiring cross court backhand and was never asked to play again.
Living so close to Wimbledon, I was able to watch world class players warming up before their games on the practice courts situated right behind my parents’ back yard. I saw everyone from Bjorn Borg to John McEnroe practice without realizing how lucky I was to be in such a privileged position. During the Wimbledon tournament it was always a thrill to go to the Centre Court. My father knew everyone who worked at the grounds so we would often get in for free finding any seat available to watch the stars play. Things have changed so much now and the grounds are almost unrecognizable from when I was young, but those memories of watching tennis with my father on the most famous court in the world, are very special. As I grew older I worked at the championship as a chauffer, driving players from their hotels to the stadium and during my final year at university I did personal security for all the tennis players including my idols, Navratilova and the great Steffi Graf. I had been given the job because at that point in my life I was interested in either becoming a police officer or going into personal protection, but that was before theatre and dogs really came into my life and changed my path forever.
My father died in 2003 and I miss him every day. My mother had a tree planted for him in one of his favorite places, the Hurlingham Club, of which he was a member for 50 years. Hurlingham is an old private sports club that has a waiting list as long as your arm to become a member and is a slice of old, genteel England. Quiet and refined, it was the place that we would spend the weekend and while my parents played tennis, my sister and I would take off and explore the vast grounds right next to the River Thames. Again we had no idea how privileged we were to play in such an environment, but it was an important part of our protected world. Hurlingham is where I attended grand dances along with sons of lords and boys from Eton – the school for princes. I think my mother was secretly hoping that I would meet a prince or the son of a wealthy land owner, but even though there were a few hopefuls, I never really fit in with that social set and much preferred to get into my muck boots and walk my clients’ dogs on Wimbledon common. If I had become Lady Victoria in my vast manor house, no doubt I would have surrounded myself with dogs and horses, but then I would probably never have become a trainer and had the opportunities I now have to help dogs and their humans world wide.
I’m writing this because I have just returned from England again, visiting many places of my youth. Although so much has changed, these places remain important to me. My father’s tree stands on the side of a small lake, in front of some tennis courts, with a plaque at the bottom to honor his memory. As I stand in front of his tree with my head full of memories I can see him playing tennis on the court behind me, intense and competitive, in his element and loving this sport that was so much part of his life. I miss you, Dad, and hope that wherever you may be, you are executing the perfect forehand or making your opponents crazy with the drop shots that you were so famous for.