The Battle of the Sexes – London Film Premier

Billie Jean King at the premier of the battle of the sexes
Billie Jean King at the premier of the battle of the sexes

Out of the blue I got an email at work from Helen asking if I wanted to go to a film premier in London’s Leicester Square that evening. Her sister had won a couple of tickets on Twitter and none of her friends could attend at such short notice. Never one to look a gift horse in the mouth, pondered for a short time and tried to figure out if it was possible. The event started at 18:00 so I thought it would be difficult to get there in time if I left work at the official time of 17:00, however if I left at 16:00 or soon after it should be feasible. The premier was for the film The Battle of the Sexes a documentary about tennis star and women’s rights activist Billie Jean King won a total of 39 Grand Slam titles, but the biggest match of her career took place in 1973 against former men’s champion Bobby Riggs, a self-proclaimed male chauvinist pig who declared that, even at the age of 55, he could beat any woman in the world. A rousing and hugely enjoyable documentary with a great soundtrack.

Danny Boyle at the premier of the battle of the sexes

I must admit I did not know what to expect and I did not know anything about the story, but it sounded interesting, and most of all it was one of those events you don’t want to miss because they don’t come along very often, and I just loved the idea that I had only just found about about it and would have to make a real effort to get to it. First things first check with the boss that he had not issues with me disappearing at 16:00, easier said than done he was in meetings most of the day, but we were due to talk so no problem. Next what time are the trains, Tring was probably the station of choice, there was a train at 16:34 (ideal) then one at 16:56 (OK but pushing it a bit. I never got to check with the boss but I took a flier, I had been in early for the past couple of weeks working on a big project, so the hours had been put in.

So I left work at just after 16:00, went home for changes into jeans and T-shirt (that is what you wear to a premier isn’t it?), drove to Tring station. I got to the station at 16:28 leaving me 6 minutes to get on the train. I had phoned Helen;s sister and she would probably be on the 16:34 if she rushed, so the challenge was on. Parking was easy as a space was free near the entrance, but the parking ticket proved confusing in my rush, it was not clear how much money I needed to spend, so I just fed the machine until it gave me a departure time, as it happens £4, not so bad. Next ticket I ran across the bridge  to the ticket machine but noticed that the ticket office was open and there was no queue probably the quickest route. Travel card in hand I slipped onto the train which was waiting on the platform with 20 seconds to spare, slightly out of breath.

Yvonne Goolagong at the premier of the battle of the sexes

Helen’s sister had met up with Helen;s cousin on the way to the station and she was off to London for rehearsals, in play soon to be premièred. They both made the train at Berkhamsted and I switched carriages and joined them. We were soon arriving at London Euston. It was not too busy even though the rush hour was about to start it was 17:05 ish. We jumped on the Northern line and got out at Leicester Square at was 17:22 not bad I had left work only 1:20 earlier and had been home and got changed on the way. Next job was to find the cinema the Vue, we to the main square I noticed some press photographers but thought nothing of it, then down to the bottom of the square. We could not see it, so out come Google maps turns out we had walked past it the press were outside it was at the top of the square. First we checked that we were on the list, the people at the door checked our names ,and said we were a bit early which suited us as I was hungry and needed some food. After walking through some of Chinatown we settled on Pret as it was easier, and quicker. I had a goats cheese and beetroot sandwich, and a Pain au Raisin. At about 18:00 we headed back and they let us in.

I was not sure what to expect and was surprised to see press photographers either side of the foyer as we walked though. They clearly did not recognise me as only a few of them took pictures, perhaps they were going for the natural light and had switched off their flashes? We were directed up stairs to a big room where people were milling about in suits and smart dresses, there were a few of us dressed for the occasion in jeans and T-shirts mainly staff! We grabbed a seat round the edge of the room and indulged in some people watching. Basically people arrived through the entrance and were sometimes followed clearly staff who had had to refer to a printed booklet to know who they were and whether they were important. Some of the people (most whom I did not recognise) were stopped by the photographers in the room for a photo opportunity. Other “normal” people were left alone so it was easy to tell who was famous. I spotted a few people I recognised most famous of whom was Billie Jean King, and then Danny Boyle who sat down and chatted to someone I did not recognise only 4 yards away.

The eight of the 9 at the premier of the battle of the sexes

We managed to indulge in a glass of champagne and a bag of pop corn before we were called into the screening. I suggested we go early, and it was a good job as the centre section of the cinema was reserved for Billie Jean King guests, but we managed to get some good seat on the isle, then we sat back and waited for the film to start. Before the film there was an introduction by the directors and producers followed by Billie Jean King, who bought 8 of the famous 9 down to the front of the seats. The projects then rolled and we sat back and enjoyed the film. It was well made and told a great story.

When the film finished we did not hang about, and left to go home. Back on the tube then just made the 21:04 with seconds to spare and out of breath from running. I was home at 22:00 not bad I thought for a school night. I had thoroughly enjoyed myself, days like that don’t come along too often, they must be grabbed with both hands.

Mark Webber opens Aston Clinton Tennis Courts

Mark Webber at Aston Clinton Tennis Club

I woke up this morning expecting great photography weather, but found grey skies and rain. My plans to go out and get some use out of the camera were not thwarted though. The Aston park Tennis Club were officially opening the upgraded facilities, made possible by the award from Sport England Inspired Facilities of an Olympics Legacy grant, as well as grants from Aston Clinton Parish Council and Aylesbury Vale Community Chest Fund. The upgraded facilities also include floodlighting to all three courts as well as the  provision of a new netball court which is proving very popular with up to 12 ‘Back to Netballers’ taking advantage of Netball England coach Geri every Monday evening from 6-7pm.

Why you ask would I want to take photo’s of a some local tennis courts, a sense of civic duty maybe? No the new facilities were officially be opened by Mark Webber the Red Bull Formula 1 racing driver.

I got down to the courts just in time for the official start at 11am, I made my way over to the club house with my camera gear, where I noticed that most people were out side the courts behind the fence. I realised that most likely my camera and telephoto lens had acted like a sort of “access all areas” pass I had walked straight past the officials ticking names of lists and got directly to where the action was. Luckily I noticed some good friends who are tennis club members and made out I was with them, and no one ever questioned my presence in the inner circle.

Mark Webber hist by tennis ball

The main event (Mark Webber’s presence) was not due until 11:30, the clouds looked ominous and it was just starting to rain. Some warm up acts had been arranged to fill the time, first we had a dance by five of the younger members of the tennis club which went down well, then there were a couple of speeches, by officials from the club and village. First by Barbara Wilkinson the chair of the Tennis club, who spoke about the importance of volunteers, then by the chairman of the parish council Richard Maskell.

By the time Mark Webber turned up it really was raining which was a real shame given the great weather we have had this week, with the hottest day of the year on Wednesday at 21 degrees centigrade. The compère passed the microphone to Mark Webber who spoke about how when he was young there was a tennis club similar to the Aston Park one that was kept running only thanks to the local community, following that a young club member pedalled his plastic tractor and trailer around the net to present to him life long membership of the club and a fancy bottle of wine, or grog as Mark Webber described it. With the rain still chucking it down he joined three club members on the court for a knock about.

They had planed for Mark Webber to have a knock about with the kids but instead, due to the rain, he signed some autographs, and spoke to the kids under a gazebo then made a swift exit.

You can see a slideshow of my pictures here