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HUW WAUCHOPE


When I wrote the tribute to Huw there was no trace of him on the web. But since then I have had a number of emails from old friends of Huw’s with their own reminiscences. They are reprinted here after my words about Huw. Thanks Mike and Anthony. Also Dave, Sam and Russell. Thanks also to Chris who sent me a photo of a very young Huw looking like a fifth member of the Beatles. Finally there’s a super reminiscence from Mandy who wrote to me recently on the anniversary of Huw’s death.
Thank you everyone.


I recently googled the name “Huw Wauchope” and nothing appeared. And this is madness, because Huw Wauchope was a legendary figure. He told me once how his father would shake hands with him as a child, having said “Let me shake the hand of a great man!” And Huw’s dad was right. Huw was indeed a great man.

I first met Huw twenty-eight years ago at a VW tournament in Clissold Park, Stoke Newington. Huw was running the tournament, an unlikely referee, and also a competitor. He had a zero rating (under a different LTA system in use at the time) and was desperate to move into the minuses. On the next run he went up a rating, but the LTA changed the system, dropping everyone back by 2, making him a +2/6 who never again reached zero. Which summed up Huw’s tennis career in some ways.

Huw was a Shropshire county player who loved tennis. He also loved life, and to party, and was, at various times, heavily into drugs. He was previously a student at Middlesex Poly where they had a college tennis programme under John Watson at the indoor courts in Tottenham. I later bought a flat nearby in Durban Road. It turned out that Huw had squatted at 3 different houses in that one street.

As long as I knew him, Huw never paid rent. He always lived in squats. He was unique in the way he transcended two universes - a squat-living drug-taking underclass and the slightly snooty (at that time) world of tennis.

Huw was a funny guy. He would bounce into a room. People loved him, and his exhuberent personality. He was a character.

We would play a lot of tennis together, hitting a minimum of twice a week. In those days it wasn’t so easy to find other players of a similar standard to hit with, and we became regular practice partners, and good friends.

Huw was reasonably straight with drugs by then, although he clearly still experimented. Once he told me the secret of a successful life - Class A drugs only at weekends. But along with his desire to improve at tennis he began to train much more seriously. Although even then, on one occasion, having lost the 1st set, he suddenly launched his racquet into the fence and began swearing loudly. He explained that he had fallen off the wagon recently and wasn’t able to concentrate, and was incredibly disappointed in himself.

Huw was a man of great enthusiasms. Tennis was his positive addiction and saved him for a while. But other demons lurked around the corner.

The Nationals were played in Telford in those days. Huw’s mum lived nearby although she was on holiday that week. This was where Huw had grown up, but a professional to the end, Huw didn’t get in touch with anyone, just went to play the tournament. Unfortunately, having lost his first match, he spent the whole night partying in his mum’s lounge with friends, doing whole piles of drugs, music blaring, whilst I tried to sleep for my match the next day.

Huw said to me once, “Tennis has caused me more pain than anything in my life.” But it wasn’t true - for a while tennis saved him. But when he didn’t achieve his ambitions in tennis, the demons reclaimed him.

Huw had a very long-term girlfriend. Clearly they had a good relationship but Huw seemed to have a casual attitude to life that was epitomised by his regular trips away, culminating in a six month trip to the hills of India in order to find himself. When he returned his girlfriend was with someone else, and Huw was inconsolable.

From here Huw went downhill fast. He had been coaching before India at a good club called Grafton, but now he didn’t do so much. The last time I saw him was at Clissold Park. I drove over and gave him some old tennis balls to use for his coaching. I remember he was extremely hyper and couldn’t stay still.

Clearly he was in a bit of trouble, but he was moving back into a different world from the one I inhabited and it seemed like I’d lost a tennis practice partner.

Someone phoned me a few weeks later - a mutual friend. Huw had been arrested in Amsterdam carrying drugs and sentenced to a month in a Dutch jail. The day before release he had been acting strangely and was transferred to the prison hospital. It was there that he hung himself.

At the time there was a rather pointless personal crisis that kept me from the funeral, but I was told that it was a truly moving event, with huge numbers from both sides of Huw’s world - the middle-class tennis world and the hippy, dope-smoking squatter - all there to celebrate a unique character.

People shouldn’t be forgotten, so I thought I’d add this here on my website. So that if anyone googles Huw’s name in future at least it won’t come up empty.

Anyway, I haven’t captured Huw’s unique personality. But he was a really good bloke, a larger than life character , someone that would make a whole room lighter just by walking into it. And if he was a troubled guy too, the Iggy Pop of tennis, then this was all just part of what he was. A great man!

So, RIP Huw Wauchope. It must be nearly twenty years now. You’re still missed.


Other reminiscences of Huwbert!
From Mike:

Greetings,

I'm writing because I'm planning to visit England soon and I ran across the name Huw Wauchope in my address book from 25 years ago. I decided to look him up online but found only your eulogy to him. I don't know for sure if it's the same guy, but it seems 99% likely. The Huw I knew shared a house with me when he lived, briefly, in California, as a student. That was around 1982-3. He was pretty jaded about most things, but not tennis. It was one thing he was really into. In 1984 I visited him in London with my girlfriend, and experienced the squatter lifestyle for a day or two. We then took the train up to Shrewsbury, where his parents lived (perhaps still do), and hung out with him, drinking heroically at night and stumbling back home in the dark. I remember he fouled his mothers' living room carpet after one such outing... quite shocking to me, and he seemed to feel miserable about it the next day, but not so much that he'd change his behaviour. His mother, Joan, was very patient with him.

While in California he had a haircut that could be described as a wide mohawk, he had a passionate hatred of shirt with collars (for some reason), and he seemed to idolize Marc Bolan of T-Rex. He was very funny, with a sense of humor so dry it could desiccate a watermelon... Once, I asked him what he thought of the group Queen and he said, "They have wide appeal", which must have been about the harshest remark he could think of for a band. He enjoyed getting stoned, but I don't recall that he was drinking so much at that point. He only stayed with us for about 5 months, and then we visited with him in England about two years later... while we were there, he couldn't help himself and stole a bottle of wine that I'd brought from California as a gift for someone, and though he paid some money for it the next day, the mood had changed and we left him to travel elsewhere.

My memory of Huw is that he was very intelligent, funny, sensitive, and unhappy. He didn't seem to know why he was unhappy (or maybe depressed), and that probably made it worse. I'm pretty sure the Huw you knew is the same guy that I knew, and I'm sad to hear of his death, especially under those circumstances. It makes me wonder what he was carrying around inside all those years...

Thanks for posting the memorial.
Regards, Mike G

From Anthony :
Good lord..

I just googled for the correct spelling to the legend that is, was and will always be Huw Wauchope and found your site.

Incredibly, it is the site run by the very man Huw sent me to as a youngster when he let me know he wouldn't be back in the UK to coach for a while. Unfortunately, if I recall, you were up in Totteridge at the time which felt like a million miles away and was a really tough journey to make for us. I remembering making the first trip but sadly the time of the squad and coming back so late at night ruled out a return for me.

Thank you for putting something online about Huw. He was THE ONLY REASON I kept playing tennis, the only reason I had a monster serve (to this day I am still asked where I got it and HUW is still the answer), the reason I played single-handed backhand and the reason I dedicated myself to play serve-volley tennis.

Never considering trying to play pro, I simply enjoyed playing a few events during the summer. I was eventually asked at the aged of 21 if I would consider making a late run for it. I decided to give it a go, got a bunch of sponsors together and got a place at Bolletierri's. After three months of them trying to force me to become a baseline player I left and worked with Pete Fischer and Vince Spadea over in L.A then moved back to Miami with Diego Dominguez (www.extremetennisacademy.com). When I eventually won my first ATP points I pointed to the sky and dedicated that long awaited moment to the man that always had that twinkle in his eye and the only person that could have convinced me to use a Pro Ace racquet as long as I did.

Back when Huw was coaching and I was watching his every move, his world outside of the court wasn't one I understood being so young. I just knew that he was a "hippy", the coolest guy I knew and the most fluid player I had ever seen. He once strode into the club with two frames and a straw hat and blew everyone away to take the title. Doing this without so much as a tie-break under his belt for more than a year sealed him as a legend for me.

When the news of his passing came through, I do remember not really understanding too much. He had called my home from India not long before checking in on me and telling me he would be back soon. That was the last we spoke. I actually made the journey to Huw's funeral with another player from our squad at Grafton but my knees fell apart when I saw the hearse arrive and I didn't make it past the bench outside the chapel. It was too much to say a final goodbye to a very, very good man and one that taught me incredible lessons on and off the court.

We all leave this world one way or another but Huw left behind a legacy and helped raise a very respectable group of kids that are all now good men. For all the troubles he had, he still managed to do brilliant job and will NEVER be forgotten.

Thanks again for putting up the page about Huw, it brought tears to my eyes this Hong Kong evening and reminded me of the very, very good old days.

I am glad to see you are doing well and the clubs you've been running have benefited greatly from your hard work. I've encountered a fair few characters on tour who Huw would have steered clear of and it's great to know a man he trusted is still giving his all to the sport.
Sincerely, Anthony

From Dave:
Hi there,

I've just come across your moving tribute To Huw Wauchope on your website. He coached me as a kid and was a real hero of mine growing up. I never really had much talent for the game but I loved playing and for years I wanted to follow in his footsteps and be a tennis coach. Quite unlikely really considering even Huw failed to teach me how to hit a decent backhand! I remember Huw showing me his racquet and telling me it was like an old friend who you could always come back to. He was right and I'm looking forward to finding tennis again when my life allows.

His death was a real shock and I think I was around 16 at the time. I went to the funeral with Anthony and found it all a bit overwhelming. I was too young to understand the other side of Huw's life and having always looked up to him, it was hard to comprehend why someone who I thought was so cool had ended his own life. I still have lots of very happy memories of Huw and am quite glad that I was too young at the time to realise that some of those slightly wacky early saturday morning coaching sessions were possibly substance induced!
Dave

From Sam
Dear Bruce,

I live on the South Coast and this afternoon played my first club tennis match after quite a few years away from the game. While reminiscing about all the tennis I played as a kid, I wondered what would appear if I googled my old coach's name - Huw Wauchope. Feels very emotional (almost 20 years later) to read the fitting tributes to a unique character.

I spent hours playing at Grafton in London around the same time as Anthony. I remember being introduced to Huw and finding him fascinating – so different to the standard club coach, so different to everyone. His playing style and movement were so fluid and graceful that we all watched and thought “I want to be able to play like that”. A lot of us were at an impressionable age, loved tennis and probably dreamed of standing out from the crowd – Huw was our inspiration. I even grew my hair long probably influenced by Huw’s dreadlocks – looking back at old photos I looked ridiculous! But they were happy days – a little group of kids, all different ages and backgrounds spending hours practising the shots and tips we’d learnt from Huw. In a group coaching session one Saturday morning he even taught us the Yoga Sun Salutation as a warm-up!

There was a lot going on in Huw’s life that I too knew little about, but I remember he once handed me a joint before walking onto the court and I knew he couldn’t play for the club team on weekends because Huw’s Friday nights usually went on til Sunday afternoon. There were a lot of negative thoughts we occasionally glimpsed but I never considered it would end in such tragedy. I was abroad when he died but heard the stories about the people who turned up to pay their respects at the funeral. Huw once tried to explain his spiritual beliefs to me, I didn’t understand them but am reassured that by ending his life he believed he would go to a happier place.

I never amounted to much more than a good club player, but those hours spent at Grafton have given me a couple of life-long friends, a long list of happy memories and a passion for sport. I am indebted to Huw because he was the person who started it all with his talent, energy and unique ability to make every kid feel so at home on the court.

Thanks for setting up the webpage – I have sent the link to a few others who I know still miss Huw.

Sam

From Russell:
Hello Bruce

I came across your website dedication last year when I was googling Huw’s name. I still think about him a lot – as you say, he was a unique and lovely character.

I married Jane in 1974, and about 7 years later Huw started going out with her sister Jacquie. They came to stay at my flat in Brighton when I was studying for a psychology PhD sometime in the early 1980s. We were all from the same hometown (Shrewsbury), and I became good friends with him. He moved to London, and we visited each other quite regularly until he started making journeys to India.

I moved to work at Liverpool University and have specialised in research and lecturing on drug use. I understand that Huw commited suicide while in prison in Copenhagen, Denmark, in the early 1990s, after being sentenced to six months custody for supplying cannabis in the city. I’ve no idea what he was doing there. None of it really makes sense.

So, when I wrote a conference paper recently about giving ‘harm reduction’ help to people who use drugs to cope with life, I dedicated it to Huw (and another guy), because there’s no way he deserved to have been sent to prison, and if he hadn’t, I guess he would still be alive. You can’t put a wild bird in a cage. Thanks for writing

Russell

From Mandy - “Our friend Mongo”

Firstly I would like to thank you for putting up this tribute to, as you say, a really great guy. Much as yourself I thought I would Google the name Huw Wauchope and to my surprise came across your page.

I, together with my husband, were for many many years I would like to think one of Huw’s best friends. In fact my husband was in the same class as him in their grammar school. Yes we too are originally from Shrewsbury and also moved to London just as Huw. His girlfriend that you refer to is to this day my best friend. We knew Huw as Mongo. Don’t ask me why that was just so. Even though it is now 18 years since his untimely death we still think of him every week. It’s hard when one of your friends commits suicide as you always ask yourself what could you have done. As already pointed out Mongo had gone to a place where his demons took over.

However let’s go back to the good times first. Indeed Huw squatted most places. We had most contact when he was living in Cresset House, Hackney. He was always jumping between partying and his love of tennis. He was a made Marc Bolan fan too. During this time he also got my husband a job as cricket coach also at Clissold Park.

In 1992 my husband and I moved to Holland. We also enjoyed smoking weed as much as Mongo did. Of course after that we lost contact a bit but still kept in touch. It was at this time that Mongo started travelling to such places as India and seem to lose himself deeper and deeper in a far away place in his head. I remember seeing him once in the UK not long after we had moved away and it just didn’t seem to be the same Mongo. However, as I say we always stayed in touch. We have far out letter sent to us from India which are very hard to understand when he is telling us about his travels.

As I have said by this time I was living with my husband in Holland. One evening very very late the phone rang and it was Huw on the line. He sounded good and said he was calling from India and was planning to visit us. He had also sent 2 large packages of Indian Hippy Clothes to us which is was going to sell in Europe which we should keep for him. Prior to coming to us he said he was going to go to Denmark and would be in touch from there to let us know when he would be with us. A week or two went by and no news from him. Then our friends started calling from the UK to see if he had been in touch with us as he was at this point considered to be missing. We told what we knew and to be honest did not think anything of it as just thought that’s Mongo he will turn up as promised. He didn’t. A few days later I got the call from the UK that he had been arrested in Denmark (not Amsterdam) and had killed himself in custody. It was indeed the day before he was due to be deported. I will never forget waiting for my husband to come home from work and having to tell him. Remember they actually went to school together and what was I to say.

Soon after this the parcels of clothing arrived from India as Mongo had said. We really do not know what happened as what he said that night on the phone were definitely his plans and intentions but he did not make it. Since this day no matter what time our telephone rings I will pick it up as you never know it may be the last chance you get to speak to the caller.

We travelled from Holland to Shrewsbury for the funeral. We actually sold the clothes to finance our fare. We guessed it is what Mongo would have wanted. The funeral was packed. Travellers from all over the place. It was of course an extremely sad sad day and a great big hole was left in our life.

On this, the eve of his death, I am of course very sad that he is not here anymore but extremely proud to say he was one of our best friends and know he still would be if he was here today.

Mandy & Paul