Sunday, June 11, 2023

Squash and the royals: Prince Philip, Lisa Opie, Jahangir Khan and the mysterious tale of the missing British Open trophy

When an aide whispered to the Duke of Edinburgh that the Royal Train was waiting, he carried on chatting to players at the RAC Club and said ‘I think it will wait for me’
By ANDREW SHELLEY (Founder, World Squash Library)

The Duke of Edinburgh was an enthusiastic squash player, and didn’t need to leave home to do so, as there was a court among the 775 rooms at Buckingham Palace. Indeed, he was on court at the point when his oldest son Charles was born.

It was not surprising then that he accepted the role of Patron of the Squash Rackets Association (SRA) in 1965.

Moving forward to 1978, Prince Philip was the guest of honour at the SRA 50th anniversary dinner; a great evening held at the RAC Club in London.

After recounting his joy of playing and other stories, he spent time talking to the players and officials lined up to meet him – enjoying the informal conversation so much that he needed to be prompted that the Royal Train was waiting to take him to Exeter. ‘I think it will wait for me’, he said, and carried on chatting a while longer!

Later, in 1991, he accepted an invitation to attend the finals of the Hi-Tec British Open at the Wembley Conference Centre. Timely, as that year would produce the first home women’s winner for three decades – Lisa Opie.

Jahangir Khan receives his 10th British Open title from HRH Prince Philip in 1991 – but JK is actually holding the women’s trophy!

There was a problem, though. Jahangir Khan had misplaced the Hi-Tec men’s trophy. My subterfuge for dealing with this was to ask Lisa to come back and stand next to me after receiving hers while the near 3,000 crowd around the court were watching JK walk forward.

Thus I could hand the women’s trophy back to Prince Philip to present again with nobody noticing. Which is what happened.

HRH glanced at it again, saw it said women’s but as a pro he carried on and gave it to JK. So, if you ever look at photos from 1991 you will not see two trophies, but can spot Jahangir having carefully placed his fingers over the WO in WOMEN’S!

Then, when the Commonwealth Games were held in Melbourne in 2006 with squash and swimming in the Albert Park centre, naturally, it was Prince Philip who came to the squash while the Queen viewed the swimming events.

After watching the play and asking me various questions about the latest glass courts and scoring, I was also designated to escort him to be re-united with his wife poolside.

The route was down a long non-public corridor that ended in stairs up to the pool gallery, which we began to walk along, followed by an equerry.

Prince Philip turned to the man and asked where we were going. ‘Up those stairs’ said the flunkey, pointing at the distant flight. ‘I can see they are stairs, but where are we going?) was the Royal response.

Was he toying with his staff member? Certainly, as he turned back and winked at me after delivering the line!

When Prince Philip passed away on April 9, 2021, Queen and country lost a devoted partner and support, while squash lost a celebrated player and enthusiast too.

We mourn his passing.

The World Squash Library has a wonderful archive of material, so please click on to delve into the fascinating history of our sport.

Pictures courtesy of World Squash Library 


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