The Duke of Kent, pictured with the Duchess of Cambridge at this year's Championships

Credit: Karwai Tang/WireImage

The Duke of Kent is stepping down as president of Wimbledon’s All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club after more than five decades at the helm.

The 85-year-old, a first cousin of the Queen, has led the prestigious club since 1969.

While the tennis stars have come and gone over the years, he has been a constant presence, presiding over the royal box and presenting the trophy on more than 350 occasions to champions from Rod Laver to Serena Williams.

The Duke said: "It has been an honour to serve this remarkable institution for as long as I have. 

"To have seen this tournament, and the game of tennis, grow and inspire generations over the span of five decades has been an extraordinary experience, and I am incredibly proud to have been part of it. 

"I look forward now to watching as the young players of today pursue ever higher standards of excellence, and I shall continue to cheer them on as they do.”

The Duke has opened six new courts or facilities, including the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Museum, in May 1977, and the new No 1 Court in 1997. 

The Duke of Kent with Diana, Princess of Wales, at Wimbledon

Credit:
Ken Mason

Ian Hewitt, chairman of the AELTC and the Championships, said: "We would like to thank The Duke for his extraordinary service to the club and the championships during his time as our president.

"A lot has changed at Wimbledon in the time that the Duke has been our president, from our champions to our grounds, and yet so much has stayed the same. Our traditions are at the core of what we do, and we thank the Duke most warmly for his dedication."

The Duke’s wife, the Duchess of Kent, was also a regular fixture at the Championships, often presenting the women’s trophy, until she retired from public duties in 2001.

It is not yet known who will succeed the Duke as president. The Duchess of Cambridge, an avid tennis fan, is patron of the club and stepped in to present the trophies for the first time in 2019.

The presidency has been very much a family affair for the Kents.

The Duke took over from his mother, Princess Marina, who held the role for 26 years until her death in 1968, making the presentations at the end of each tournament. She was diagnosed with a brain tumour shortly after her last appearance and died a few weeks later, aged 61.

Rod Laver of Australia is presented the Wimbledon trophy by Princess Marina, Duchess of Kent, in 1968

Credit: Allsport UK

Before her, the Duke’s father, Prince George, had been at the helm from 1929 until his death in a plane crash in 1942 when he was 39. 

The accident, in Dunbeath in the Scottish highlands, led the Duke to inherit his title when he was just six.

It was the Duke who, in 2003, oversaw the end of the longstanding tradition of players bowing or curtseying to the royal box, considering it anachronism in modern times.

“The Duke of Kent feels that during his lifetime the tradition of bowing and curtseying is pretty much on the way out," said the club’s chairman, Tim Phillips, said at the time. “To do it very publicly on the centre court at Wimbledon doesn’t seem right therefore.” 

The only exception would be if the Queen of the Prince of Wales should attend, an unlikely scenario for the former at least, who much prefers horse racing and has only been to Wimbledon four times in her reign.

The Duke, who lives with his wife at Kensington Palace, has carried out engagements on behalf of the Queen for his entire adult life. He was president of the Football Association from 1971 until 2000 and the Duke of York’s predecessor as British trade envoy, a position Prince Andrew was forced to give up in 2011 following a string of controversies.