Sue Barker — things you didn’t know about the Wimbledon presenter

Sue Barker at Wimbledon
(Image credit: BBC)

Wimbledon is back, and serving up all the action from the world’s most prestigious tennis tournament is broadcasting legend, Sue Barker. 

Sue and Wimbledon go together like strawberries and cream, and for thirty years she’s been the smiling face of the BBC’s SW19 coverage. But all good things must come to end, and Sue will be hanging up her mic at the end of Wimbldeon 2022

Speaking of her decision to call game, set and match on her presenting role, she said: “I just feel the time is right. It has been my dream job and I have loved every minute of it. I’m very happy to be leaving with no regrets.”

When it comes to tennis, Sue certainly knows her overhead smash from her slice backhand, having been a previous Grand Slam champion of the sport. During her 11-year professional career, which spanned from 1973 to 1984, she scooped 15 WTA singles titles, including the French Open, won 12 doubles trophies and achieved a ranking high of number three in the world.

But what else is there to discover about the tennis ace? 

She started playing tennis as a young girl

Susan Barker was born on 19th April 1956, and grew up in Paignton, Devon, where she was educated at a school run by nuns. She began playing tennis from an early age, and in 1966, 10-year-old Sue was selected as one of two girls to receive coaching from renowned tennis mentor, Arthur Roberts. Under his watchful eye, Sue honed her game and developed her famous forehand — a shot that would become her lethal weapon on the court. 

But despite Sue’s incredible racket skills, Arthur was tough on his talented protegee and would enter her into tournaments, providing her with a one-way ticket there and instructing she had to earn the money to get home. Yikes! The bond between Sue and Arthur was clearly a very strong one, and he remained her advisor throughout her professional career.

Sue Barker

Sue Barker on the tennis court. (Image credit: Alamy)

She’s the last British woman to win the French Open

By the age of 16, Sue was already number 21 in the WTA rankings, when she made the move to the US to further her development at the John Wayne Tennis Club. Three years later, she won her first top-level singles title and reached the Grand Slam semi-final at the Australian Open. 

Then at 20 came the biggest victory of Sue’s career when she triumphed at the French Open, defeating Czechoslovakian player Renáta Tomanová in the final 6–3, 6–1. Sue remains the last British woman to have won at Roland Garros, but sadly she was not able to repeat the success at her beloved Wimbledon. In 1977, Sue looked on course to make the final at SW19, but suffered a shock defeat in the semi-finals to Betty Stöve of The Netherlands. She later described the loss as the ‘biggest disappointment of her career’ and was too upset to watch the final, which was won by her fellow Brit rival, Virginia Wade. 

She made a seamless transition from tennis player to TV broadcaster

After battling several injuries, Sue retired from playing professional tennis in 1984. But she wasn’t out of work for very long. Less than a year later, she was offered a job as a commentator and sports reporter for Australia’s Channel 7, then went on to present tennis coverage for British Sky Broadcasting. Her new career went from strength to strength, and in 1993, Sue joined the BBC, appearing as a regular guest on Today at Wimbledon.

A hit with viewers, she was the obvious choice to take over as lead presenter of Wimbledon when Des Lynam stepped down. During the last 30 years of sunshine and showers on Centre Court, Sue’s witnessed some of the most magical moments in tennis history, including the epic 2008 final between Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer, and Andy Murray’s victory in 2013, which ended Britain’s 77-year wait for a men’s champion.

She’s been a trailblazer for female TV presenters

During her 37-year broadcasting career, Sue has been at the top of her game, achieving great success in a field that’s historically been dominated by men. As well as Wimbledon, she’s probably best known as being the longest-serving chair of A Question of Sport. Sue joined the BBC quiz show in 1997, which she described as her ‘dream job’ and retired in September 2020, following the BBC’s decision to give the program a shakeup. 

She was also the host of the BBC Sports Personality of the Year awards ceremony for 18 years, from 1994 until 2012. Sue covered the 2012 London Olympics and has broadcast from the Commonwealth Games, World Athletics Championships, the London Marathon, Royal Ascot and the Grand National. And in a change from her normal genre of presenting, in June 1999, Sue and co-host Michael Buerk covered the royal wedding of Prince Edward to Sophie Rhys-Jones.

Sue Barker

Sue has loved tennis all her life.  (Image credit: Alamy)

She dated Sir Cliff Richard

Sue was the envy of many when she struck up a romance with fifties heartthrob Sir Cliff Richard. The famous pair were introduced by Liverpudlian vicar, Alan Godson, in 1982 and bonded over their mutual love of tennis and Christian beliefs. Their relationship attracted a lot of media attention, and pictures of Sue and Cliff cozying up at Wimbledon were splashed across the national papers. 

Despite Cliff later admitting he came very close to asking Sue to marry him, the couple ended up going their separate ways, but have remained on friendly terms. Self-proclaimed ‘bachelor boy’ Cliff is still single, while Sue tied the knot with policeman turned landscape gardener, Lance Tankard in 1988. The couple met in Portugal, where Sue was working as a tennis coach and Lance was on holiday, and have recently celebrated 34 years of marriage.

Sue Barker and Cliff Richard

Sue Barker and Cliff Richard at a Celebrity Tennis Tournament in December 1983. (Image credit: Getty Images)

She adopted a stray dog

Away from the TV studios, down-to-earth Sue lives a quiet life in the picturesque Cotswolds with her husband Lance and their two pet dogs — cocker spaniel Charlie who the couple adopted from a shelter in Romania when he was eight years old —
and Baiatu, a beautiful black and brown crossbreed who was rescued by UK-based charity K-9 Angels.

In an interview with The Daily Mail, Sue spoke of the joy Baiatu has brought to their lives saying: “Welcoming Baiatu, or Batty as we call him, into our home has been the most amazing experience. He hasn't put a paw wrong. Every time I look at Batty cuddled up on the sofa, I know I'd rescue him all over again.”

She almost lost her eyesight

Sue’s tennis career nearly came to an untimely end in 1980 when she was temporarily blinded in her right eye after being attacked by a dog in Spain. The freak incident caused Sue to lose her vision for a number of hours and she feared her injury would force her into early retirement. As well as being quarantined for rabies, Sue received 25 stitches around her eye, cheek and inside her mouth and had to undergo reconstructive surgery. Thankfully she went on to make a full recovery, and regained her confidence around the four-legged friends she loves so dearly.

She was nervous to receive her CBE

Having already been made an MBE in 2000, and an OBE in 2016, Sue was awarded a CBE in the 2021 Queen’s Birthday Honours for her services to sport, broadcasting and charity. In February 2022 she made the journey to Windsor Castle, where the Duke of Cambridge presented her with the accolade. 

Speaking after the ceremony, Sue was beaming with pride but admitted she found it a nerve-wracking experience. She said: “It’s just been amazing to be recognised in this way. This morning I was absolutely terrified. I would much rather walk on Centre Court and interview the winner or even the loser of Wimbledon than be here. But His Royal Highness was absolutely delightful and made you feel so much at ease.” 

Sue and William chatted about their shared love of Wimbledon, as well as her charity work, and afterwards, Sue couldn’t wait to telephone her 100-year-old mum, Betty, who has since sadly passed away, to tell her all about her special day.

Sue Barker

Sue Barker receiving her CBE. (Image credit: Getty Images)

Sue Barker’s fact file

Frequently asked questions about the presenter…

How old is Sue Barker?

Sue Barker is 66, she was born on 19th April 1956.

Is Sue Barker married?

Sue married landscape gardener and former policeman, Lance Tankard in 1988. The couple live together in the pretty village of Stanton in the Cotswolds.

Does Sue Barker have any children?

Sue Barker does not have any children.

Where was Sue Barker born?

Sue was born in Paignton, Devon.

How tall is Sue Barker?

Sue Barker is 5 foot 5.

We work hard to ensure that all information is correct. Facts that change over time, such as age, will be correct, to the best of our knowledge, at the time of the last article update.

Laura Morgan
Freelance writer

Laura has been a journalist for over a decade, writing about soaps, TV entertainment, fashion, beauty, and food. After graduating from university, she started her career working at a national soap and TV magazine. During her seven-year stint there she joined the cast of Emmerdale for a tour around the famous village, partied with soap stars at awards bashes, interviewed her acting idol David Suchet, and sat in the front row of Strictly Come Dancing

Her heart lies with the soaps, and her all-time favourite character has to be EastEnders' Pat Butcher - no one rocked a big earring quite like her. She's also a huge fan of detective crime dramas, particularly old school Inspector Morse, Endeavour, and adaptations of Agatha Christie's Marple and Poirot. When she's not writing, she loves a spot of second-hand shopping and going on adventures with her young son.