Sir Cliff Richard has spoken of his ‘sheer elation and joy’ following the news that his 17-year Wimbledon ban has finally been lifted by the Lawn Tennis Association. The ban, which stretches back to 1996, was imposed on the ageing pop star after his painful rendition of ‘Singing in the Rain’ on Centre Court left spectators traumatised and unable to enjoy the rest of the tennis.
‘I’ve been apologising for that impromptu performance for years,’ said Sir Cliff today. ‘I got a little carried away after one too many strawberry schnapps. I understand that some people are still receiving therapy, but I’m delighted that the ban has been over-turned and I’m on my way to SW19 today.’
Some are not so thrilled with the news, however. American legend Andre Agassi, who publically blamed Sir Cliff Richard for his early exit from the 1996 tournament, said: ‘This guy nearly ruined my career. As if playing Pete Samprass wasn’t tough enough, I had to sit in the rain, getting serenaded by Cliff telling me it was raining. It was from that point on that I became reliant on crack cocaine.’
Sir Cliff has since admitted that on several occasions in 2001 he attempted to defy the ban and purchase a day ticket using the alias ‘Richard Cliff’, but was repeatedly foiled by advanced face-recognition technology, despite wearing large novelty glasses and a bushy wig.
Roger Draper, head of the LTA, explained the reasons behind the sudden change of heart. ‘Sir Cliff was put on the banned-list back in 1996 for a public order offence, and as such we were obliged to fulfil our commitment to providing tennis fans with a safe and noise-free environment in which to enjoy the sport they love. No notable Cliff Richard albums have since been released, and his public profile has remained satisfyingly low, so we believe we’ve done our job.’
Although Sir Cliff is now free to attend any Grand Slam, Mike Stamp, head of security at Wimbledon, has insisted that there are conditions to his return. ‘Sir Cliff must not sing, hum or indeed speak during any tennis match, and any suggestive winks or pelvic-thrusts in the direction of tennis fans will not be tolerated. As a precaution, we advise spectators to refrain from talking about their summer holidays.’