AN EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH ANNABEL CROFT

Annabel Croft

AN INTERVIEW WITH ANNABEL CROFT

AN INTERVIEW WITH ANNABEL CROFT

Added 9 days ago. 8 July 2024

We caught up with tennis ace, sports presenter and ‘Strictly’ superstar Annabel Croft about her incredible career, from Grand Slams to grand ballrooms!

Annabel’s tennis career all started with a family holiday in Spain. 

It was a typical family holiday. They had some tennis courts at the hotel and my parents signed me up for the group lessons. That was the first time I picked up a racket and I absolutely loved it. I was nine, which by today’s standards would be quite late to be getting started. Back then, it was a bit more normal! 

Annabel Croft playing at Wimbledon in 1895

Lessons took things further... 

I really wanted to carry on playing, so my mum signed me up for more group lessons at a local tennis club. It was 50p per lesson, which I went off with in my pocket. They gave out wristbands if you were doing well and I was so excited trying to win them! Then, one of the coaches picked me out and said to my mum, “I think that this girl has got a little bit of talent and you should think about extra lessons.” And it went from there. 

It meant she had a very atypical childhood. 

I didn’t know at that point I was going to be a professional. I just started practising every day, entering lots of tournaments and went on to win the Nationals at twelve. Then I got a letter saying, “You’re invited to national training”, and that’s when life changed. Suddenly, every weekend was taken up with training in Buckinghamshire, which was quite far away from home. My dad used to drive me up and I’d stay the weekend, or whole weeks. Before I knew it, I was travelling abroad representing Great Britain against Sweden, France, Germany, Holland, Israel. I got swept along on this big wave of excitement and opportunities. 

Annabel’s tennis career went from strength to strength.

I played my first Wimbledon at fifteen - the youngest Brit to play for 95 years. Then, I went to train in Houston, USA, with my coach. Coming from Sevenoaks in Kent, training with leg warmers over my wrists to keep my hands warm in winter - I was wilting when I first went over! But I had to get used to competing in hot climates. This was from nearly sixteen until I was twenty-one. 

At that point, Annabel made the very difficult decision to retire from tennis. 

I’d been round the globe about seven times, and I just thought, I’m not sure that this is the future that I want, where I have no social life. It’s like a travelling circus. I had a very strong instinct that I didn’t want to keep competing at that level and I followed it. It was 100% the right decision at the time - I’ve never looked back. 

She loves commentating – and learned on the job!

She loves commentating – and learned on the job! You’ve just got to pick up the microphone and get started. There’s no point saying: “That was a great shot.” You have to tell people why it was a good shot. Having played tennis at a professional level, I understand what the players are going through and can bring that to my commentary and punditry. I’ve interviewed so many icons. The biggest job I did was doing the Wimbledon finals last year - interviewing all the competitors. 

Last year Annabel stole the heart of the nation on ‘Strictly Come Dancing’, finishing an amazing 4th. 

I’ve always loved the show. It’s so magical - good old-fashioned family television. It was honestly life changing. It came at the right time for me, and it was just wonderful every morning to learn new steps and skills. It took me back to my childhood, those ballet classes aged five or six. I just couldn’t get enough of it. 

Last year Annabel stole the heart of the nation on ‘Strictly Come Dancing’, finishing an amazing 4th. 

There was a day when everybody met and danced with everybody else, and they look at chemistries and heights. There were only about three men I wasn’t taller than. I was so incredibly fortunate that I was with Johannes – he’s such a special dancer and a special person. We did thirteen dances together, so it’s a lot of time spent together. It’s terrifying dancing live in front of nine or ten million people - and the judges - but he used to say to me,“We’re not dancing for other people, we’re dancing for us. It’s just you and me out there.” 

And she hasn’t stopped since

It would have been a shock going back to reality after the ‘Strictly’ whirlwind, but I’ve had so much on! I do miss it though. Dancing is something I’d really like to keep up - but I’ll have to work out how I can fit it in!
I’m currently sifting through all the opportunities that have come my way since Strictly, working out what I want to do. I’d like to do more things than just tennis, that’s for sure. 

 

Annabel Croft with Strictly Come Dancing partner, Johannes

On the topic of all things History, we've also caught up with Sir Tony Robinson on his passion for history and role as Blackadder's hilarious sidekick, Baldrick. To read more, click here.

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