Pushy. Cold. Questionable dancer. Just some of the accusations that have been levelled at Judy Murray, none of which, incidentally, is true.
OK, perhaps she isn’t the most gifted dancer, as evidenced on Strictly Come Dancing in 2014. But what her appearance on the show did highlight in abundance was her work ethic, her ability to take (often harsh) criticism on the chin and her capability to laugh at herself. She tangoed her way into the nation’s hearts and was arguably crowned the people’s champion that season.
Judy, who was born in Bridge of Allan, Stirlingshire, in 1959, knows a thing or two about champions, having raised two Grand Slam-winning, number one-ranking tennis players, mainly on her own after separating from her husband Willie. An exceptional junior player herself, she studied French and business studies at Edinburgh University and worked in retail management and sales before becoming a full-time tennis coach in 1994. As the former national coach for Scotland and captain of the Great Britain Fed Cup team (the female equivalent of the Davis Cup), she is hugely respected in tennis.
Judy – petite, softly spoken, with a cheeky glint in her eye – has done wonders for women’s sport and for women full stop.
I’m hugely bloody-minded. If someone says no to me, I want to prove them wrong. At school, I wanted to be a tennis player. I was in the top eight at junior level – only in Scotland – but I wasn’t bad. However, we had no infrastructure, no coaches. It was a pipe dream. If you wanted to do something with your sport, you had to do it yourself. I think my drive stems from that experience.
My life was always going to be about sport. Not necessarily tennis. My parents were sporty, so I played everything I could and absolutely loved it. When I had my own kids,
I wanted them to enjoy sport in the same way because it had been a huge part of my life. Not just the physical side, but for the life skills you learn and the friends you make.
When I was at university, many girls went to look for a husband. Nowadays they go to look for a career. The world has changed with 70 per cent of us working, so we’re more career-minded and there are a lot more opportunities, quite rightly. But we still have some way to go.
Life is a competition. Just the other day I was competing with people trying to get on the tube. That was a sport in itself. When the boys were in primary school, I went to the sports days and discovered everyone ran around the circuit and nobody won anything. I remember thinking, ‘This is rubbish!’ What’s wrong with kids trying hard to excel at something? You have to learn to deal with the wins, the defeats, the glory, the disappointment and the victory. Kids are so overprotected now. And it’s not helping them to develop the resilience they need for adult life.
It’s not easy being a new mum. Women should never feel bad for saying that. My boys are just 15 months apart. When we moved back to Dunblane, near where I had grown up, just before Andy was born, I left behind my friends and my tennis club in Glasgow, and I felt trapped. I was just going down the high street with a double buggy and back again. I rejoined the tennis club in Dunblane and started coaching some of the juniors; having fresh air and exercise became my release.
It’s hard to believe nothing has changed in America with regard to gun laws. When Sandy Hook happened [the US elementary school shooting in 2012, when 26 children and staff were killed], it was so similar to Dunblane [the school shooting in Scotland in 1996 where 16 pupils were killed and Jamie and Andy were pupils at the time]. I felt for sure that would prompt change but it didn’t. It’s hard to understand any kind of reasoning for not banning guns. Andy has an apartment in Miami and it amazes me when I see gun shops advertised on TV. If I could say one thing to Donald Trump? Learn from what happened in Dunblane. Our government acted [banning higher-calibre handguns and tightening gun ownership] and there hasn’t been an incident like it since. In America shootings happen on a regular basis. Trump could flick the switch and change all that.
I don’t cry often. I get mad with certain situations, but never think ‘poor me’. I refocus that frustration. I didn’t even drink until six years ago when I discovered New Zealand sauvignon – now my drink of choice.
Once you’ve experienced hard times financially, it stays with you for ever. For most of my life I never had any money. Whether it was Travelodges or two-for-one pizzas, I always had a purse full of coupons. Now I have money, but I’m never frivolous. When I’m in London I use the tube. When I visit Jamie in Wimbledon, he’ll ask me when my flight gets in but I never tell him because I prefer to get the tube from Heathrow rather than a taxi. A taxi is £45, the tube is £4.60.
Your best friends are your oldest friends. I have five good friends from way back in my early teens. We have shared interests and essentially like to have fun. Over the past few years, instead of buying birthday and Christmas presents, we’ve been going on holidays. It’s great because you get quality time with each other. You’ve got to invest in your friendships.
I don’t begrudge spending money on going out with my friends. I’ve started to treat myself. My most recent was a skiing holiday but I didn’t buy the kit, I borrowed it. And as I was ill five out of the six days we were there, it’s a good job I did!
Wimbledon is a stressful time for me and the boys. For Andy and Jamie there is so much expectation. Everyone wants a piece of you, so you can’t walk anywhere quickly or in peace. My friends are good at surrounding me and acting like bodyguards. They understand that during Wimbledon I’m not listening to what they’re saying half the time.
The great thing about being a granny [to Andy’s two daughters] is that you’re not responsible 24/7, so you can be much more relaxed. Are we looking at the next generation of Murray champions [she laughs]? What they are encouraged towards is entirely up to their parents. I would rather teach them how to dance than how to play tennis. I just want those girls to feel the world is an equal playing field where they can do whatever they want.
Andy is great at speaking out about women’s sport and opportunities for women generally. When a globally recognised sportsman at the top of his game speaks out on behalf of women, it has a huge impact as it’s so rare. Andy took on Amélie Mauresmo as his coach and realised early on that if things didn’t go well, it would be much harder for her because people would say it failed because she was a woman. Thankfully it raised the profile of female coaches and led to female players taking on female ex-players as coaches. I’m very proud of that.
I cannot cook. My mantra was, ‘There’s no need to cook so long as there’s a Marks & Spencer in this life.’ But a cookery course in Italy is on my list of things to do, so there’s hope for me yet. My mum is an amazing cook and baker but it never rubbed off on me. You might see me on Celebrity Bake Off one day doing it very badly. That could be a giggle.
It’s difficult when the world’s media is criticising your child. When you’re young, you don’t realise a conversation with one journalist is a conversation with the whole world. You say something that’s taken out of context. There were a number of times when Andy found himself in those situations and, yes, I wanted to thump a few people. But helping him handle certain things was a better use of my time. Rather than get angry, I tried to find a solution.
‘Pushy mum’ is a label I had for many years. Why is it ‘pushy mum’ but ‘competitive dad’? The underlying message is that a competitive dad is perfectly acceptable. Thankfully things have changed, and certainly the sporting media knows how hard I work on the grass-roots side of the game. When I got the Fed Cup captain job [in 2011] that was the first time the media recognised I was a good coach and not just Andy and Jamie’s mum.
Over the years I’ve been bashed by many opinion pieces. Boris Becker wrote a column saying Andy wouldn’t win a Grand Slam until he ditched his mum and that one hurt the most. I never retaliated. After Andy won Wimbledon I felt I could finally speak. I came face to face with Boris on Clare Balding’s chat show. Arriving at the studio I asked Clare who the other guests were and she said, ‘Just you and Boris.’ I was hoping it was Boris Johnson. I went off and had a couple of glasses of wine and then I told Becker how he’d made me feel. But he maintained he was right and never apologised.
The older I get the less I care what people think. I read an article that said the age most women find their confidence is 52. I was 52 at the time and thought, ‘That’s me!’ Now if I want to do something, I do it; and if I don’t, I don’t.
I was always self-conscious about my teeth, so I had them fixed and it’s given me back my smile. If you see something that needs fixing, sort it yourself. Don’t wait for someone to fix it for you. It’s a good rule to live by – whether it’s the tennis system in Scotland or your teeth.
When I look in the mirror I feel good about myself. Far more than I did 20 years ago. Confidence comes from maturity and experience of life. As you age, you start to lose friends and that’s when you think, ‘I don’t know how much longer I’ve got left. I’m going to max out and enjoy myself.’ So eat the pudding! Go places. Do things. Spend money on yourself.
Would I like to come home to someone? That would be nice. As for what I’m looking for [in a man]? A nice pastry chef with a good sense of humour and great choux buns. I’ve got friends who’ve tried internet dating but I could never go near Tinder. No chance. If I was to meet someone, I would need to be set up, but no one ever tries. I find it hard to trust new people because you never quite know their agenda, so that makes meeting someone difficult for me.
Judy’s morning routine
The alarm goes off at 7am but I’m usually awake before it rings. I make myself a cup of builder’s tea, then check the news on my phone. I’m not really a breakfast person unless someone else has made it for me. I like to go over to the country club at the Gleneagles Hotel near where I live and have smashed avocado on toast with a poached egg and a rasher of streaky bacon, plus fresh juice or a smoothie. I’ll do a workout in the gym – a little bit on the treadmill, but not for long because I find it boring, then the stationary bike because I can read the paper at the same time. Afterwards I’ll have a steam and a shower before jumping on a real bike to cycle around the nearby hills and golf course before meeting an old friend for lunch.
Just for Judy
ON YOUR BEDSIDE TABLE Splinter the Silence by Val McDermid. It’s a psychological thriller; that’s the sort of thing I like to read. Oh, and dental floss.
LAST TIME YOU CRIED When I heard about the most recent school shooting [in Florida].
PERFECT SATURDAY NIGHT Going to a musical. I really want to see Hamilton but it’s so hard to get tickets.
FAVOURITE CITY Melbourne. It’s a very sporty, relaxed city with a great café culture, lots of lovely lanes to explore and it’s easy to get around. And whenever I’m there for the Australian Open the weather is great.
DESCRIBE YOURSELF IN THREE WORDS Determined, impatient, funny.
DREAM DINNER GUESTS Anton Du Beke, no question. He’s so much fun. Prince Philip because I’d quite like to grill him – The Crown is on my list of things to watch. And Samantha Jones, Kim Cattrall’s character from Sex and the City. She would get me a pastry chef who makes good choux buns.
CELEBRITY CRUSH That’s easy. George Clooney. Every time.
WHEN YOU LOOK IN THE MIRROR, WHAT DO YOU SEE? Wrinkles!
WHO WOULD PLAY YOU IN A FILM OF YOUR LIFE Jamie Lee Curtis. I’ve been likened to her, and I love A Fish Called Wanda.
Interview by James Conrad Williams