Tall boy: Height of fame for Wimbledon groundsman

Lydon with his mum Shirley Sutcliffe. Picture: Ross Parry Agency
Lydon with his mum Shirley Sutcliffe. Picture: Ross Parry Agency
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IT IS not just the giants of world tennis who are attracting the attention of the rich and famous at Wimbledon this year.

The glittering array of celebrities who flock to the tournament are as commonplace as strawberries and cream, and this summer they are all hankering to get up close to one strapping young Yorkshireman.

Taller-than-average Wimbledon worker Lydon Sutcliffe, 26, has found himself inundated with requests from athletes and A-listers alike in awe of his 7ft 1in frame.

Since starting work at the spiritual home of tennis, the Halifax-born groundsman has been accosted by the likes of Bill Gates, Sir Cliff Richard, Olympics legend Linford Christie and TV presenter Holly Willoughby – not to mention some of the biggest names in the sport.

And this year his popularity is at its height.

Mr Sutcliffe said: “Celebrities just spot me in the crowd and come over and ask for a picture with ‘the tallest man in Wimbledon’.”

Others who have lured Mr Sutcliffe away from his to pose for a picture include Sir Richard Branson, comedian Michael McIntyre and pint-sized TV presenter Georgie Tomlinson. At just who is just 5ft 2in tall, the pair became Wimbledon’s very own odd couple when they stood side-by-side.

“I remember feeling like she barely reached my knee,” joked Mr Sutcliffe.

But it is the tennis stars of past and present – including Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Pat Cash and John McEnroe – which are the most treasured among the collection of celebrity snaps he has amassed.

“I love meeting all different kinds of people and it’s great to talk to any celebrity but my favourites are athletes. I absolutely love sport and I have so much respect for people who play professionally.

“No matter what sport it is, I know I’m so lucky to be able to stand and chat with them, especially because most of them actually approach me.

“I’m quite friendly with a few of the tennis players now. Roger Federer always asks to have a photo with me and John Isner, who played the longest professional tennis match in 2010, always chats to me, as we are both into wrestling.

“Last time, he left me his size 14 trainers, which fit me perfectly.”

While fending off the attentions of a host of celebrities might seem like a tall order, Mr Sutcliffe takes it all in his stride. Rubbing shoulders, or in his case shoulders with heads, with the stars forms only a tiny part of his work. He spends six months every year preparing the courts with pain-staking precision.

“I’ve heard them all countless times but I still find it funny,” he said. “They also say ‘can I just ask...’ and before they have finished speaking, I reply ‘7ft 1in.’ They say ‘how did you know what I was going to ask?’

“It amazes me because everyone asks the same things.”

Another frequently asked question, he says, is ‘what’s the weather like up there?’.

Backhanded compliments and jibes are something Mr Sutcliffe, who now lives in Lancaster, has grown accustomed to. The 20-stone former sports turf management student was 6ft 3ins by the age of 12, and when he turned 14, his age matched his shoe size.

“For me it’s just normal, everyday life,” he said.

“I’ve always had strangers chatting to me about my height so I don’t see it as any different when it’s famous people. I suppose it is a bit strange. If you saw a really fat person you wouldn’t stare and ask them to pose for a picture but I see the funny side.

“I wouldn’t get to meet all the people I do if I was normal height.

“There’s definitely a positive side of being a giant.”