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Interview Sue Barker: Lucky in life, lucky in love . . it's a dream; THE REAL, REAL ME WIMBLEDON SPECIAL: SUE BARKER; TV'S GOLDEN GIRL reveals all to NINA MYSKOW.

AS BRITAIN'S No 1 woman tennis player, Sue was in the world Top Ten for eight years and won a Grand Slam title at a very early age. She now presents Grandstand and A Question Of Sport for BBC1. Last week she interviewed Edward and Sophie and will be co-presenting the Royal Wedding programme for BBC1 tomorrow, and Wimbledon from Monday. Sue is married to designer Lance Tankard. They live near a village on the Surrey-Sussex border. Sweet, sunny and thoroughly decent, her petite and pretty looks mask self-discipline and determination that are not to be dismissed.

I CAN'T imagine being fat. No. No, I couldn't. I think I'd hate it. Oh, I WOULD. I'm sure I would.

And I really don't understand it when people say: "I've tried every diet and I just can't lose." I can go for days without food. I don't ever feel hungry. So I've never had a weight problem.

Sometimes, you know, if my husband's working evenings and I'll phone my mum up at about 9.30, and she'll suddenly say: "Oh, all right then, what did you have for dinner?" And I sort of think, "Oh, I haven't had anything yet." I've forgotten.

And when I'm working, I'm known as Nil By Mouth, you know. On Grandstand that's my nickname. Nil By Mouth. If I get the old adrenalin going, I just don't want to eat.

I used to FAST. Years ago, when I was on the tennis circuit. I was far too impressionable, and saw this documentary in the States about cleansing your body.

Being a tax exile I couldn't come home here, and sometimes on my way to Australia, I'd stop over in Tahiti. Sitting in a restaurant on your own on holiday is not particularly nice. Fasting, I didn't have that embarrassment.

It worked brilliantly, I'd have nice, fresh fruit juice and feel awful for the first 48 hours. And then I'd feel absolutely fantastic. I had so much energy. I did it for a week at a time, for about three or four years. And then I probably saw another documentary that said it wasn't good for you!

I never had weight problems as a teenager, either way. I was very skinny and tomboyish, I don't consider myself slender now. Not really, I'm a size 12, not an 8 or a 10.

I'm heavier now than I was when I was playing tennis. I'd probably ideally be about five or six pounds lighter, but I'm not paranoid about that. I'm about 8 stone 9lbs or so. But I'm not weighing myself all the time.

I'm 5ft 5ins - and a bit. The bit's important, especially when all the players these days seem to be 5ft 10 and over! Pretty tall. It's funny, because when I see Chrissie Evert at Wimbledon, we're the same sort of height, we ask ourselves, "What would it be like playing now?"

With Wimbledon coming up now, I just know I'll lose pounds, because that's one of my Nil By Mouths almost. I sometimes go in and have a cheese omelette and chips. And people look at me and, "My God! How do you do that? And then I won't eat for days. Which is just as well. I snapped my Achilles' tendon in my right leg in April. I got off crutches a week ago and can only walk very slowly in flat shoes. I had to be filmed walking for the Royal interview, and the only shoes I could get into were a pair of black boots with the zip undone. I won't be back jogging for three months.

I did it playing tennis with my husband Lance, so I at least had somebody to carry me to the car! As soon as I hit the ground I thought: "Oh, NO!" I knew it was an operation and nine weeks in plaster.

They operated that night, and I recorded Question Of Sport the next day. Mind you, I was probably still flying on the anaesthetic!

FOR the first two-and-a-half weeks I couldn't do anything until the stitches came out. And all I was doing was sitting at home watching daytime telly.

It was always tennis for me, I was besotted with the game. I started playing when I was seven, in Paignton, and won my first tournament when I was 10, a pounds 3 voucher! There's no better thing than success to make you hungry for more.

I was in the Top 20 in the world by the time I was 16 (I'm 43 now) and the next year left for California, because I found it increasingly difficult to play people that could compete with me. I just thought I'd died and gone to heaven. It was my base.

From there I travelled the world for 14 years, I can't believe how lucky I was. I won the French Open when I was 19, in 1976. It was brilliant, but I thought: "No big deal, I've got another 10 years, this'll be the first of many."

If I'd known it was going to be the only one, I would have, you know, grabbed a lock of hair off the umpire, the net post, dirt off the court and taken pictures of everyone in the crowd! All I have is one picture of me with the trophy!

It was a disappointment that it was the only Grand Slam I won, and it hurt me when I lost in the semi-finals at Wimbledon the year Virginia Wade won in 1977. But I laugh about it now, because I think it would have ruined me.

When I quit, it made me get a job, rather than live off my name. And I enjoy doing what I'm doing much more, and the challenge of doing something I can get my teeth into - rather than shaking hands at a corporate event.

Having said that, the first morning I woke up in my empty flat in Wimbledon in a sleeping bag, because I had no furniture, nothing, I'd rented in the States, it was a real shock to the system. All my friends were abroad, I didn't have anything to do, and nothing to look forward to. It was not the happiest time of my life. It had always been the case that there never were enough hours, and now I was trying to FILL hours. Luckily my family were fantastic.

I went and worked for David Lloyd and his tennis clubs, running corporate days, at least I was RUNNING them - although I didn't have any financial worries.

Even in the Seventies, I was earning over $100,000 a year, and I'd invested it well.

And it was then that I met my husband, at the club. He'd been on a tennis holiday in Portugal where I was coaching, but I was too knackered at night to check out the talent!

But back in England, I was having a new kitchen done, and he was having a new kitchen done in his flat, and we were both eating dinner at the club. He was sitting on another table and I said: "Oh hi, how are you?". And the next night he was there, and I said: "Come and join me."

So it was more friends first, although it only took a few days to develop! Not long... ha, ha, ha!" We've been married 10-and-a- half years, I can't believe it. I was sacked just a few weeks before we got married, thank YOU very much, in 1988.

But then Sky TV rang up and said: "Do you want to try in front of the camera?" I'd done sports presenting in Australia for Channel 7 for five years and loved it.

IN 1993 I did my first Wimbledon for the BBC and it went really well. After five days, the Head of Sport said: "We want to sign you up to do Grandstand as well."

I thought: "My word, I'm going up in the world."

And then two years ago I got A Question Of Sport, which is the best fun. A lovely programme to work on.

I'm so happy with the job. I'm looking forward to Wimbledon, I love it. And then when the phone rang the other week and they said: "Do Edward and Sophie. And THEY would like you to do it," I thought: "Are you sure you've got the right number?" I know Steffi Graf, not royalty.

And now there's tomorrow! I wasn't sure, but the BBC said, "It'll be a real challenge for you." And it was that word "challenge" - DO-DO-DO - that did it! I thought, "How could I not?"

Actually, Edward, Prince Edward, knew more about it than me. He said: "I hear you're going to be stuck in a perspex studio on top of the Guardhouse." And I went: "Ha, ha!," thinking, "What a laugh!"

Turns out he's right. If I have my way I'll be in there wearing some smart but simple trouser suit, because of my injury. I've told the BBC I've got to be comfortable. So if you see me in a tiara, you'll know I've lost the battle.

A tiara and trainers!And I'm just off to the hairdresser now, so who knows? I might end up with a radical chop.

I've just been really, really lucky that I've had two great jobs. Lucky with Lance, too. We spend hours in the garden together. We've got 26 acres, lovely views, three dogs and all sorts of wildlife. I'm settled, I'd never have thought it.

I've got a lovely life. And I've got a life coming up. Things just can't GET any better, to be honest. How could they?

Just wish me luck for tomorrow.

MY BIGGEST TREAT

WHEN I'm doing an early Grandstand, it's a bacon roll or a sausage sandwich with lashings of ketchup and mustard. I love it.

For my Last Supper, I want to be at Doyle's in Sydney, with my BYO bottle of wine, watching the sunset.

ALL ex-sports people have that look from being in the sun a lot. You get the lines, but I'm not paranoid about ageing even if they say: "Des looks very distinguished, it doesn't quite work for you". Fine.

I'm flattered that people mistake Carol Barnes for me. We laugh about it. She goes: "If I get asked about Pete Sampras one more time...!"

WHEN I first went to California, they're so body-conscious I lost so much weight. I went down to 7 stone 2lbs. I got to the point where I almost couldn't eat, it was a form of anorexia. My coach talked me out of it.

NORMALLY I go to the gym three days a week. I hate aerobics classes and I don't need a personal trainer as I've been training all my life.

I haven't been able to do anything since April because of my injury. One great side effect of being on crutches is that my arms have had a great workout.

I HAVE a deal with Escada, who lend me loads of clothes.

The trouble is, we live in an old farmhouse with not enough wardrobe space, so I've filled an entire bedroom with racks. It's like a fabulous walk-in wardrobe.

GOLF. It's sad, I don't enjoy tennis now. I never thought I'd say that. I can only get worse. With golf I can see myself improving.

MY MIRROR IMAGE

MY DIETING DISASTER
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Title Annotation:Features
Author:Myskow, Nina
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Jun 18, 1999
Words:1908
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