Billie Jean King won 39 Grand Slams and a total of 20 Wimbledon titles and is regarded as one of the greatest tennis players of all time. Born in California in 1943, she was the eldest daughter of Bill and Betty Moffitt. She discovered tennis at the age of ten: at 15 she won in her age bracket at the Southern California championships, and in 1961, she won the women's doubles at Wimbledon with Karen Hantze, the youngest pair to achieve such a victory. In 1968, when professional competitors were admitted to Grand Slam tournaments, she won Wimbledon for the third time and was paid just £750 while Rod Laver, the Men's champion, took home £2,000. So began her campaign for gender equality, which involved boycotting tournaments and setting up their own professional women's circuit. In 1973, then aged 29, she beat the 55-year-old former tennis champion Bobby Riggs in a match which became known as 'The Battle of the Sexes': it remains the most-watched tennis match ever. That year the US Open awarded the same financial reward to men and women and in 2007 Wimbledon followed suit. Billie Jean also founded the Women's Tennis Association and the Women's Sports Foundation in the 1970s. She married her husband, Larry, in 1965 but by the late 1960s, she had realised that she was gay. She was outed by a former lover who sued her for palimony in 1981, and although she won the case, she lost almost all her commercial endorsements. She has been with her partner, Ilana Kloss, for nearly 40 years and retired from singles matches in 1983 and doubles in 1990. She was awarded the Medal of Freedom by President Obama in 2009 and has continued to be an ambassador for her sport and for gender equality. Presenter: Kirsty Young Producer: Cathy Drysdale.
This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
This is the BBC hung on Kirsty young, welcome to desert island discs, where every week I'll my guests to choose the eight tracks book and luxury that they'd want with them when I caught them away? This is an extended edition of the original broadcast, although the music is shorter for rights reasons. I hope you enjoy the podcast Michael, today is the tennis player and campaigner billy jean king, with thirteen grand slam, singles, doubles and mix doubles titles to her name. She dominated the sport through the sixtys and seventys, but given her own course ear
Her struggles went just with her down. The line. Forehand in eighteen, sixty seven. She won all three wimbledon titles. For the first time. Singles doubles and mix doubles her prize a forty five percent venture, and so at a time when women, tennis player frilly knickers, do as much comment as their sporting skills. My castaway became a campaigner to fighting. Equality within her sports and going on to find the women's tennis association and the women sports foundation later, still. She stayed in the headlines by becoming one of the world's most high profile campaigners for gay lesbian right, she says I love surprising people. And soon stereotypes to the winds we all be a lot better off as a society. If we assuming people are the way we judge them to be based on their exterior and and to see things from their perspective. So welcome welcome pillaging king toilet. island uneven coming to wimbledon, since nineteen sixty one
you one here, the first time that you visited it was a lady stumbles title nowadays when you walk through these famous cakes. What are your feelings about the place? While this is my fifty gear? so I have many many memories, flood into my mind and in my heart, and I think that the first I'm here is so amateur in those days is so small, so less commercial than it is now, although I think women's captain unbelievable balance with commercial keeping the treaties, and and also having innovation as well. But when I go I think about how I used to buy bomb bonds to the right and go give them to the bar voice to the left it in heavy ball. Girls in- and I did talk to, I think, captain leaned about ball girls to say it would be nice to have both. they say he's. I hadn't thought about it. So sometimes it's just people don't think about it theres. Many ways you can try to change, and I try to hoist start nicely fact. I try
do any behind the scenes. First, we that's how we got equal prize money to yourself and I was surprised to read. You used the word about your spores. You said you describe as end attainment, given the amount of skill and discipline that goes into making a grand slam winner. How come you think of it in that way? Everything about the audio- what you give a speech or whether you are playing tennis at a professional level. First, while I think you have the passion to play, that's first, and for me I just wanted to be the best to be number one eleven years old. The second time I picked up a racket went out to the park. They gave free instruction in long beach, California, where I'm from I knew that's what I wanted to do with my life and my mom says: calm down, you have homework and piano and all that snuggling now mommy, you don't understand this is it this is it I just loved to play, but I had an epiphany at twelve years old. and I don't one near by then and
I was sitting at the los angeles tennis club been daydreaming and start thinking about my tiny little sort of tell us that everybody, you played wore white shoes, white thoughts, white clothes play with white balls and everybody who played was white and at twelve I asked myself: where is everybody else, and that was started me fight for equality, for that very moment was my moment by moment of truth. Given that you you haven't, played profession, for a long long time. Where do you put your competitive spirit? No, I mean. Are you a demon book? I'm really sorry. I dont fiction myself totally competitive, I'm much work. Perfection is like trying to always get better and learn. People there are three things I always talk about it. Commencement speeches and conversations like we're having right now to three things and edward, who used to be the president. And ceo of DU pont he's been a grey mentor to me? My later business years now we sit and talk, and I said what I need three quick things I can tell
william, actually can remember and hold onto, and maybe it'll help them make came up to these three things. relationships? Are everything keep learning keep learning how to learn and beer prompts how're, so I find it Fine people in your life that have the inner success, not just our success. Most of that today is about money. People royce one gaga with billionaires all that and I'm playing well yeah, but what kind of person are they yeah? I asked my ways my question, I'm so glad to be talking to you They too, of course, we could hear the disks cause when thousands of years now only absolutely, We are sorry about this job desert. Disk has driven. in saying that kind of torture I only wanted to, but a hundred you know how am I gonna do this chronologically or and then How about relationships? Are everything- and I thought I'd- do that people, I've known and I loved
Promote others anyway. So tell me about your first that I know Aretha a little bit when this song respect came out. You have to remember the timing was in the sixties. We just beginning the women's movement and this song respect r e s b. E c D was so important. I think I think it made us want to stand up a little straighter no more self confidence in you know. Women are taught to be perfect and boys are taught to be brave and we're not perfect. No, it's perfect, but it gave us more self, respect and com.
Finally, that was a wreath of function and miss bankes. Do you he gave a little tiny little snapshot of you'd. Already like there's, you said you were brought in law, beach in california, your dad was bill, a fire fighter. Your mother bessie was a homemaker athens getting and then she started working later. Chiselled, avon tupperware, it was in resting too, to read about
the set of values that we still human in what you have written about your early family life. It strikes me repeatedly that this was very much a kind of values based system. The very yet tell me just flesh that I forgot all about there being a fire fighter firefighters of the guys are the women. Go and when our else is running out, these really great new crisis beneath all. My parents were good citizens, their risk adverse because their depression children, my dad served in the second world war. There just basic kind, hard working, very strict, but very loving parents. They weren't perfect. They were home. of excel later in my life, that was a challenge but my brother, I go when you young, you think your parents are so tough and listen We realize now that we're very, very fortunate with the mom and dad we had and that's all it should then so dinner was on the table at five. Fifteen and you'd better, be there at five thirty and my brother and I'd be running down the hurry, hurry hurry. It's almost half past we've got to be on time. Oh yeah, very strict, very structured, but I
that helps children really when their young and depression. Your appearance who made you very aware of the importance of money of budgeting of I did they do that in a practical sent, while my dad was not as good, money is my mother, so my dad would get us check and give it to my mother and she was excellent. She could save money my mom betty men at work, even matter how much we had, and there are very good at saying no to us, I mean we never went out to eat and tell her was I eleven and she didn't. Let me have like two things: sometimes you say like a milkshake, you know I'm fries about it's really fun and sugar naked One should make us aware things which I, I can my dad was the same really. He just knew he said via the money alone, pull in my pocket. So I give the money to your mom and I think it every couple who are, as has the strength and certain areas you it's me You said a very smart thing. A moment ago before the last piece of music section of females are brought up to be perfect and boys are brought up to be brave. Were you brought up to be perfect, yet my mother,
We worry about me being a lady at all times and shoe and let me play touch football which american football. Sorry by the time I was in or alone I was furious and says. Well, I want you to always be allay me. I go what does that mean? I mean really think about that. What does that really mean? I want to be a good person I want to be anyway. Did you articulate that, at the time yeah I was upset whether I had no we get into it. I used to argue more with my dad, probably than my mom, though, because my dad was such an athlete. He'd coach me he was fantastic. Basketball is my first love. I played all teams before tenants and long beach life is a very outdoors life and we have got the where you were eighteen miles, south of los angeles on the coast. Obviously we didn't live on the cars. Could that's the rich kids know he lives on thirty six treats over thirty six blocks from the ocean.
At which made it still very easy to go. It was beautiful. I mean you do get a lot of luck. I mean, if you look at my lab, I had two parents were fantastic. We had free access free instruction for coaching. We had a very good school system at that time, so it was amazing life and for some more music billie. Jean king tell me by the second one diana ross ain't, no mountain high enough, because when the? U s t a the Everybody has a tendency, you a to be guilty. I hear in britain decided to name the entire facility of the- u s open, which is huge, like wimbledon in other grounds, at wimbledon and decided to name it after me. and the year they were doing that. For me, that was the two thousand six, the person who Saying was Diana ross, eight, no mountain high enough and then later deuce me, I used to argue with you as jail, So it's like full circle and I'll, never forget but I love diner ass. I love motown, but disrespect.
because of the moment my dad just passed away. But a law on my partner. My mother were there in an hour nieces and that night was really special,
and miss man, no one ever miss them, just what that was done in rules and in time of supervision. Can you were round about what ten or eleven, when a friend suggest to you that you might want to play tennis? Is that right? Yes, fifth grade sousa Williams, we're about ten, probably
She looked at me and she goes do you want to play tennis and I go what's tennis? She says you don't know what tennis is. I got no and I thought what do you do cause she says you get to run, jump and hit a ball. so my three favorite things and sports. I can't wait. Let's go and she belonged to a country club because her dead work for shell chemical and had a really great job, and I dunno. If I hit the ball or not, I can't remember. I know I had fun, but susan was my best friend, but I thought This will be nice to susan takes me to the club. I can't I can't afford it I should say we, my parents and in so we also on the softball team together, which is kind of like rounders the girls thing that was just girls that played that yeah boy boys play baseball. Girls play softball, that's a whole nother discussion which we're not going to get into, but I don't agree with, but we went out to play at houghton park and she told
the coach valhalla. Oh, you know. I took billy to play tennis the other day and she goes oh, they have free instruction here, every tuesday when now are talking so the first time I went out to houghton park to get instruction called clyde walker, who I adored in the first moment that's the moment when I told my mom, I know what I've I'm going to do with my life when we number one tennis player in the world. Now I've read this yeah. It was real. You said that for real, oh absolutely, for real. I was jumping up and down on the car seat, which I'm not supposed to do. That's why I remember it was it. It was just, and I love they hit the ball and there's nothing like running feeling the wind in your hair and when you hit the ball in the strings, it is this magic, alma, ata, so much fun. It just feels great and you bring all of yourself to be great and something anyway, but you have to truly bring all yourself and tenants, its upper and lower body, its footwork his hand I and do something magical about the reflexes, and you feel
the ball no strings assist my gosh, it's so much it's just the best feeling it's great I should tell us is that when you are describing that moment of that sweet hit and everybody not even terrible, please let me know if you closing your eyes in a kind of ecstasy? Do you still plea for pleasure? I might play a couple times. I have eight knee operations. I've had a foot average as I have to go work out a lot and do a lot of weights and a lot of things to be able to even play the lottery. I partner to in who was number one in the world in doubles from south africa. She still plays really well and if we go out hit, as you put it right where I need it, so it will have to run because, like it's hard tell me about the eight dollars, twenty nine in the mason jar nuclei. When all is it, I wanna play tennyson my dad says: oh, you do do and my mom says really daddy. I need we need to get a racket or some, because how we gonna do that. So I don't know I guess we'll figure it out.
My parents are always teaching my brother, nine delay gratification. I dont know if they realize it, but there are great life. Coaches, and I said really you are I'm here I know you say you really love it. You like it. Let's see how much so I went, all the neighbors there so sweet and they made up. for me and they would give me a quarter timer, nickel and I keep saying mason jar up in the covered. If I had eight dollars twenty nine cent, and I cannot wait any longer. I said please can we just go, get me rocket? so I walk into brown sporting goods nago or what would you like would like a racket? I said: what can we get for eight dollars and twenty nine cents? How can we buy for the and he started laughing. I remember this man and he says oh here come with me and we can figure this out. Of course, I love purple. I love purple. It was really purple racket with the purple strings. The purple felt I used to sleep with it.
gosh. I was so excited. Tell me this as you describe that rather brilliantly about what europeans kind of major do. They were teaching you lessons in life and also money was short. If a child these days in most households, not every household exhibits any kind of interest in anything. You know the parents will support that they'll try to get them the license if they can they'll, certainly get them the equipment which was the best way to to grow a champion. Well, I don't think any europe should grow a champion to go to fend off somebody love what they do so was given a gift or gifts and blessings on life, and then that you, your strength and life, and it really helps of usually follow that, and god gave my and I thanks mom and dad great dna for coordination, Although I wear glasses, I wouldn't I put my glasses on my eyes- were amazingly still good, so we really fortunate having our coordination. Piano was my first love and
save five years to get an upright piano for me. So when I start playing tennis, I said mama, she quit piazzas tenants exactly because now until you can actually read music, you are not giving up piano and, Walking up and down the hallway under frigates was furious with me is good furious though she was right. It's like you can t give up something after they ve at that time and effort, and I did love it it's just. I didn't have it so I early, then god had given me my talent and my sports and The teachers had written home, missus hunter and third, ray when you're one eight, she said, billy Jeanne, you know she's always shows captain cheese, loves pressure, keeper and sports, though so, sweet and teachers are so important to anybody out there if your teacher professor. Whenever thank you. We're gonna hear said disk pillaging king tell me about this was on the list. Nano hendricks is great,
and and she wrote that song and course ilona south african, so apartheid was big in No, don't I've talked about it, but she wrote this beautiful phone call winds of change, Mandela de Mandela and I just love. I don't think she gets enough attention. She's, mentored, a lot of people and music I just lover, I think she's got a great voice and that's why I chose everything's about relationships today. The winds of change You can stay in times of war, stand for something on. only time will show Adam
was numa hendricks and winds of change supervision, king by nineteen. Fifty eight you when we under fifteen southern california championships- and you were obviously you're still at school, that time, but you were beginning to go outside the area and start to play. I did you are, for that must be an expensive is very expensive. I got very fortunate. People lie each help me, the lobbies, tennis patrons just started when I started playing. They helped the top two girls, the top two boys, Susan Williams was number one I was number to. Your parents obviously saw you rise to incredible world success. When you look back on it and now what is your perspective of what it was? They gave up were you and your brother and how much they put into it. How do you see that my brother Randall and I were very clear that they were giving up a lot at the time, so we had the discussion. I think it helped that Randall to be number one in the world to basically by being in major early baseball's huge in the united states, okay and he announced
tat. You want to be a major league, baseball player, and course my family, just fainted, not you too, they said I will never forget their faces at the dinner table them going. What, paid to thirteen die. Now what on earth forget the look they put their heads down there in there hands over their face. Oh my god, it was like woe. I just knew there in for it, because we are pushing them and Like you said earlier kirsty, you know, parents can't wait to do something for their children at the child figure it out them heather journey. I think that's what I want the best things they did for us as they didn't care. How could we were? like I'd come home, losing I'd, be so furious. At my dago compound calmed down. He go. Ok! Did you try your best? Of course I tried my parents. Are you kidding? I said I I believe it is a worry practicing too much paper
oh no! No, no! No, I'm not attracted too much alright. Then you need to practice more. Yes, I mean I was crazed, my poor parents, by the time you got frank brennan, on board as your court. How did that change things for you? Well, first of all, they're on the east coast in new jersey were on the west coast, three thousand miles away, so I'm back east because everything's on the east coast, the tournaments in the old days he came up to me at the south orange long term club and we stammered termites there in the old days were amateurs. I said oh you're going to be number one in the world someday and I went whoa. No one's ever said that to me Chelsea and I've got a huge family, and so what does that mean? He says: we've got ten children. I got our nine children at that time what he says. Yet, if you need places stay in the east. Could we always needed palms? So so staying with them, and so I ve gone from us we have two children to family of nine june and soon ten children. That was a great experience for me as well, but Mr Brennan was a character. He was fun
family was wet with family life? More than thinking about coaching so much, although he would coach me, I mean obviously there would a lot of young skilled, ambitious players at the time. What do you think it was that when I saw you at that stage to see you can be number one. I know I do. I don't know he just felt that side I don't know anyway. It was nice that someone believed in me that much at that young age, because usually not considered karen answer was ahead of me, Cathy Chabot was probably right next to me, as always hovering, but you know what I did differently from a lot of young people and try to get young people to think like this and to get the parents to think like this is even harder is that it's really important. Keep developing your game. What happens in junior tennis, two kids just want to win. I didn't think about what, I think I just think children and young people should realize we all have a different journey. You get there at a different time and keep developing your game more music, billie jean king. It's your force. Tell me about this. Oh well
met Catherine jenkins, nice, welsh, beautiful sayer, opera singer at the royal box two or three years ago she and her husband, Andrew, so we it off it. When we go out to dinner and have the best time and were so much older, you know we're like laughing, so we ve got this great friendship going the very romantic couple which I always like this, I think love so important, and I asked her eyes. Could you tell me your two favorite songs and I chose world in union. She loves thing you now and so my thanks. Now, I'm even thinking here that kind of bringing people together Yes, in the the
every that was Catherine jenkins singing world in union, with the lyrics by charlie's scar back accompanied by the crouching festival course. The music text is based on hosts jupiter from the planets. Certainly legion. Can you arrived king wimbledon in nineteen? Sixty one was hit on his part. A kind has accurate hands, every looked up to care and I saw a playwright twelve. I went home and she was always our number one player. She was eighteen, you seventeen she asked me to play doubles on my faded said really are used. That, when you were twelve and you'd fall in love with
I see it already with tennis that you looked at it and you thought you know that the shoes are why the balls are white, the costumes are white and all the people are white. When you came to wimbledon in nineteen sixty one there is, there was surely nowhere more if you will tennis and proper. Then we have the man. It was this kind of an enemy but was elegant which I, like I love tradition. I found that people who create new history really create new things, and I've had an amazing appreciation of history, and I actually loved it. I love the whole pageantry and when I ninety one was a coordination of queen elizabeth nineteen. Fifty three we just and televisions in those days one We had a television set on our block and I seeing the coronation a queen Elizabeth as what ten year old or nine year old and I'll, never and it was really like snowy blurry, black and white
gosh, I just loved it and I'll. Just never forget it. I think just that is a child and then come into england. Always I used to dream about wimbledon I used to know all champion singles doubles and mixed in the old days I've used it dream about, and I used to sleep with my racket, books sweater, I mean everything and so on finally arrived muslim. You hadn't when well will only work number one in the world in the old days, but I did notice. It was all white, I was thinking I have an embryo platform of tennis, how over the years. Can we be more inclusive. Could you do one get rid of what you do? Have you just want to add to it, but just having such an appreciation of its history, the champions at came before me. I was an ah I still am
you know every sunday I used to go out before the matches start sit up in the center court and just take it all in just be thankful that I had a chance to play there. All the great names that have won. On to that centre court, that's what floods my mind when I come out and come around the corner at wimbledon, I used to think while Huth played out here. This is such a privilege to be out here So much of your story is not just bound up with all the titles he wanted it. Of course I also care methods we kind of I don't mind of nice, it's good for you resume, but it's really a journey and it's the process you go through. That makes it worth it. I got one ball at a time because I represent a results. None else, then the process than the moment my phone, big right now, you're you're, very interesting about the ephemeral nature of winning. Is that it is just a moment and then it's gone is totally got so you ve never kind of luxuriances in what way
have time. I didn't have time, because I was trying to change the game and trying to change opportunities, looking back If our render it over again of things were different. If our plane today, I would take a look, more time enjoying my victories, but we always had meetings going on which it was rough. It was a rough time to go through I always wondered how good I could have been as a player by handed and worried about helping, women get started because if you go back to the sixties, I fought for protein is, thank god. The ongoing club had a tournament. Nineteen sixty two. With eight men prose rod labour. Is that weren't loud to play it women for like years and years and Herman David, who is chairman realise we had to stop doing it. The waves doing it, let's let everybody and so Sixty eight was the first year that happened gnats fifty years ago this year, I'm like a guest of work on because of rod, laver- and I want it in sixty eight, so we finally have pro tennis, and the men rejected. Us cause one of the men and women have one association, one union and the men
said no to us. So we had to say One thing is is very trusting to me that that you credits your former huh. And lie was being the person who really began to introduce you to feminism o unabated. we were walking hand in hand at cal state of law university in LOS angeles and were walking by the tennis courts, which ethics amusing they said. Do you know why you can't get a grant to the school or a scholarship? He said you're, the best known person at this whole school of twenty thousand students or whatever, how many we had earlier. The best athlete here in he's in biochemistry says I get a tennis grant and on this I'm the guy on six man team. He was hilarious any set in you can't get any that he's your son classes and why? Because you're a girl- and that is wrong. and boy when he said that I knew in any way, but he just google just like a crystal ball sitting right. There is absolutely right,
add on, but here's a male having that enlightenment was quite unusual and I think it's still is too today time for some more music billie, jean king. Let's go to your fits, it was it on the list of voices as well. The fifth was Sarah paralysis is called if I dare- and this comes from the movie they just did about my one little sliver of my life in nineteen. Seventy three play Bobby rigs, who is it all if they were one triple granite, wimbledon. Nineteen thirty nine the battle the sexes. They wanted a song, so I met with Sarah so I went to see your movie. So let me if you wanna. Do it I'd like you to do it so she watch the movie a couple of days later she called and said: oh, my god, I love this movie. I would be a privilege that she and nick patel they wrote it together, she's beautiful, So I ask you to do to be too far
No, they don't do it. This too. More than that dude. dude you from the original motion picture centre of the battle of the sexes. That was, if idea composed by sailor, perilous and nicholas brutal and sung by Cyril. Paramus was the battle of the sexes van which course you wanted to place in nineteen. Seventy three bobby rigs. Who then was fifty five? He had been number one back in the thirties and forty
I challenge you to this match as a self confessed, male chauvinist pigs thing that he could be too. He didn't you one very decisively at the moment, the EU one. How did you feel I felt so relieved and thought we could go forward, but what happened when he jumped the net. He said I under estimated you and I think, that's what a lot of people feel about women and others and people of color, don't here s- my anybody ever ever my dad taught us that always respect your opponent. And never ever underestimate anybody in your life ever You seemed incredibly even tempered at the time about the way you were treated. For example, you don't during that match the battle of the sexes match the commons. it would say well, there's billy jean she's charging round the court like a man, a boy yeah sort where in private was that making you mad as hell
ass, probably little more angry, but I also have to understand people. where we're out, and we still have made very little progress really. But you know what, when you read, history you'll think is gone. Very fast, but when you live it, it's so slow and I We hardly made any progress. My I personally am I'm upset because I'm running out of time, but I also knows, up to the younger generations now in a voice. Keep to I been telling him that for years and years was there a moment that I'm thinking particularly of the time around about nineteen seventy three when it did appear as though huge gains were being made, have huge gains, but it just seems like it's like: let's just make everything equal for everybody, let's just get the show on the I forget. I mean, let's just go crate because, when you really think about, but you know, dominant groups now over about that non dominant groups non Dominic I know a lot about Dominic groups, and a dominant group, you dont
stem or even talking about give has you're so privileged in your life. The way You ve been socialize worthy the elbow. Network is just different: you you have the power you're born into the power to spire you're on gender, as a male and my brother notices it. He. He can't believe the difference would have. I've had to go through and he's had to go through, but that's growing up with a brother's been very helpful. I think both of us seeing both sides of everything It's when you're a non dominant group, you. Why has to struggle you're? The one has to fight this near invisible. Basically, so you were kind of invisible, the dominant groups very visible. They have the power so until they make the changes, I am the power to make the changes overnight. Are we being equal in money in an race or not, and you ve gotta put your feet to the fire. I haven't ability thinking leadership initiative now than that's really we're trying to get equality in the workplace and any place else. We can and were young still early.
For five years, but we're getting there. What do you say when I see you says to you? You know bill ici night: it is quality, don't, I know what you want to watch you reply. What do you think? I don't say anything I say: ok, I understand, because if you don t get any place with them, he might later that it's not gonna work. You ve gotta pick your spots just like us in in tennis If got to pick the time, you're gonna hit a slice or a drop shot or a heart. Yeah you've got to pick your your fights too, because you can't win em. All I have to size up a person if it's also do I have the energy that day I usually do have some music that reaching king wigan. Listen to your six. Tell me about this one: I remember listening this and thinking cardiff, actually in wales when there's a tournament after wimbledon, but I also does he springfield through the years back in the late sixties? early seventies, and I just loved her music. Anyway, I got to know her and her brother, tom dusty just has an unique voice. I think that
so recognizable. I think she's, one of the all time greats yes, since there was dusty field and you don't have to say you love me so billy jean king by nineteen, seventy one then you'd become the first female athletes ever to anyone.
A thousand dollars in prize money in a single season and the first tennis player and the first woman to be voted sports illustrated sports person crucially of the year. I didn't have to Here, though, with john wooden, who is a great bath market, you I'd door, legal did ya, think they just couldn't quite give it up from a woman to be on them now Next first do got was preserved. She got the whole. I wish I knew ever was next woman would. But for you at that moment the outer was going pretty well, the inner was a lot more conflicted sure you were married at this time you have your private life was highly. complicate. I had ass larry for divorce. Ninety sixty nine, he said no, said no forever? I almost still can get it force even than the aid and which remain good friends now, but I still loved him too. That's also shoot manages
its confusing. While that is confusing, of course, because we like to put everybody in nice negroes and would like to know who is hot and there you were struggling with the nature of your sexuality. Having come out of a home as you in your own words, several might get our homophobic ere. I guess it was just so complete. And also in those days and back in the sixties and seventies now and talked about even gay people than talk about it. you know Larry. I we are only tournaments by seventy one have any money, but we got four people we went in and we started the women's virginia tour? and that was a very scary. Time was very high risk. Oh nano, it was crazy. It was a really tumultuous in every single way the great thing about. when you play a match, is your sanctuary when I walk on a court? but to get an autograph. Nobody can bug me, but off the court. I mean it was a really rough time people have neither we're having. I dont know how good an event as a player, because I was always having meetings on the leader of my job,
their way select a mere later, even an elementary school. The bicycle committee, I was elected, the lear. I mean it. You said that a couple of times ducking do you think it is certainly the case in europe on court life that you didn't quite fulfil your potential, because you were so busy with the other stuff I'll, never know, I think, I'm still so lucky compared to most players- thirty nine grand slams while, but I dont know about being publicly unto didn't nineteen eighty one, but by baron barnett? Yes, he's all filling a movie, so this marylin barnett who had begun. As your assistant and brain you had ended up in a relationship of relationships which was entirely price. Because of the times that you have yet in in ninety. see one, she said you for parliamentary. I essentially out due to the world. Yes and I lost all my endorsements overnight and today that will not happen. That's what's good and I was thirty. Seven let's just ready to return, have these lifetime deals. So this is what I was
I'm gonna, be able to make some money from real money. I didn't make two million dollars and my whole career. Ok I played doves forty years old and I didn't I made one at one million nine hundred and sixty I should have kept playing until I got the two million, but our gender mission was brave because we actually made it happen, but, as you are coming to the end of your career as you describe it, and you had this enormous blue of the finance. The shrimp was drawn in. You also had all the personal stuff to deal with of stuff that you wanted to keep private being made public. It was terrible. How did you cope? Well, I was very difficult and you know I I've had twenty five years of psychotherapy. They said: I've literally saving life was literally ninety nine years. I was getting very, very despond,
I knew I needed help and I finally winter meaningless or a place, and you have therapy individual therapy three times a week. You have couples therapy once a week you have, he will have therapy. He really do a lot of reflection and that's where I really came to grips with my sexuality. I was only comfortable by the time I was fifty one while I think Martina navratilova, who is also, okay, she was much more comfortable but she's also thirteen years younger, and she also said to me when I spoke to her for designer distant when she was outed. She didn't lose any of her sponsorship, and that was not that long later. So I know, but with just a few months later. Actually, but the point is Martina came to me at wimbledon and said I'm going to get outed by this newspaper guy, and I It's okay and I just been through it with maryland, being outed in may. This is like now at wimbledon June July and she's. What do you? What do you think, and I said if you're comfortable,
enough. You need to control your message and I would I would come out yourself if you're ready at nobody can tell somebody else when they're ready, your body tells you Everything tells you when you're ready- and I don't know it's kind magical moment I said to Martina. If you can do that, I would control the message and come out and not let this guy out you, because that means They control the message in that's what happened? May that arose controlling messages at me I I argue with my lawyer and my publicist for forty hours straight, and I said I want a press conference. No, you cannot do that. That's no one's ever done that I argued for forty hours they finally gave in. I'll meet you were there. I walked in larry's. Are my parents came up, didn't know what was happening was terrible or they do But they didn't, I mean this was all shocking to them. I felt half them and Larry. So I said I did have an affair with Marilyn barnett and you could have heard a pin drop ever
this comes back to my parents again thy own selfish. It was my mom in my dad, always tell it to you. It's about family values. Really when you get down to a new, finally have the courage it was probably in some. is a good thing that I got out because when well, I've ever come out. I don't know so. You know what you're gonna make the best of a bad tough emotional situation. What I don't like is how it affected some of the people. I love that's the hard part, let's take a break for some music religion, and what are we going to hear know well, what's on my list is elton. It is one out of all the people that I am not even John. I met him two weeks before the king rigs manton nineteen, seventy three too shy to say hello each other, so tiny king who work for elton came up to me. This is ridiculous- he's been dying to say, hello, all nice to shine. I went I'll, never forget his. I looked up and went Detto. He said this is ridiculous.
Grabs maize's come with me says me across Montenegro's elden this. I believe the zone and start talking and, of course, Elton loves tennis, because, oh and see you on the telly move So we're often running, and he says: when are you coming to england to not until june he left a message at the hotel? I almost didn't call him, because I'm too shy, I I went okay It helps him. So it comes over as rolls royce's twenty eight speakers and we set out in the car and just listen to music and talked until like four thirty. We just hit it off. It's like boom separated is tat lily tom and said you know it won't work. Houses were little show that, since the whole nine yards with I'll would have loved a minute rock and roll star. He would have loved to have won wimbledon or been in the world cup so, got to know me and then bring the car. We have two different stuff. here he said I ask him. I would never ask him to do anything. He said I want to write a song for you and he had been watching philadelphia freedom, which is a tennis tee my plane, if he had a uniform at ted tunneling who made for him
because they made oliver outfits and cheer and go crazy. You know it's like come on in He says, I'm gonna write a song called Bertie top and he goes Bernie. I'm writing a song for Billy and I'm going to call it philadelphia freedom, because elton came up with this title in philadelphia, people don't play it all the time it is their anthem, the number one crossbowmen are being became known, one which made elton so thrilled. and and are on the elton John aids foundation board since inception. Ninety three, so we stayed friends
ever do that was a long, john and philadelphia freedom, so pillaging king, you have been with your partner alone across fur, is pushing forty years, nine plus thirty nine this year. I think it might reasonably be said that in the western world, the progression of rights and equality for gain
in people is maybe the single biggest societal shift. It is very different for young people. Now is he contemplates I'm so happy they don't? would you you know as somebody who has been instrumental every step of the way and helping it along the path of equality. How would you sum up the gains that have been made, while I think it's been the courage of the lgbt q plus community. I think it's been a one by one by one plus loss: it just getting it out there and changing legislation and. It's all about inclusion, everybody, just let her veil why they want who cares as long as they're? Good people don't break the law, so there are still countries we'd be killed in. I think there's seven still and there's about seventy two. That would be.
In jail for sure, so we have a long way to go, but as far as britain, as far as america's forest, nor in north America a lot of the world, it's so much better with marriage equality, but it's I think it's because the courage of the people in two thousand and nine the then president obama award a jew the metal of freedom, that's your country's highest honour and you were moved by what it was. He said to you on that occasion. Just explain to me why it mattered to what he said and what was the first time any press. Who's ever mentioned. The community R l, djibouti q community, ever our sexuality ever and also harvey milk posthumously. receive the metal freedom that day and that was the gay rights campaigners, a gay rights. He was assassinated in some cisco. So that meant a lot to me and also as the first woman athlete, which I find extern see. That's what gets me. It's good news, bad news.
They have awarded so many male athletes. I cannot tell you because as to the years would like baseball or they like football like basketball, So they always make sure that they got the guys that they admire their heroes It's amazing how far women still have to go in obviously women, of color, more people with disabilities, but I was thrilled that day and when I met the president few months earlier,. He was twelve years old when he watched the king rigs matt. You said that has really changed his life and how he raises two daughters and that's: what's happened from that match when I play. Bobby riggs women come up to me say I finally got more self confidence to ask for a raise, for instance, and I say more importantly, did you get the race They said. Yes, we finally got we waited ten years. We should have never waited and then come up to me and their more reflective and in blood I tears in their eyes and it always gets down to. I have a daughter now. I saw that match when I was twenty five.
Oh god, I remember that yes, ninety million people, it was so emotionally charged, so this is what came from it: Every single day my life son was brought up the king Riggs match since one thousand nine hundred and seventy three, but these are the kinds of things that can happen because of sports platform, serena Williams, who also has a daughter, is here. First leaders is way concerted in her efforts to credit what you did before her on the course and that you built a platform and two different organizations that women and as players can stand together in solidarity on no when you Look at the woman scheme. When you look at you know, equality in prize money at wimbledon in two thousand and seven, the last place of the major guns lanterns to data. Subject: venus the various. by by the way do here she met with the appalling and club and had imposed arise.
And pretend there are nine year old girls and took him through it and say how would you feel to be worth? I don't know the whole story cause. I wasn't there, but that's good influence It is an influenza but serene and and venus deafening, believin, women's rights, and now that frida has a daughter, she's gonna, think even more strongly about it, but both of them have been translated, tennis they ve been. raising and there also on the village in king leadership initiative advisory board, which were very fortunate to have them. We're going to hear your last disc of the day. Billie jean king tell me about this final one. This is we've seen macartney, lately and nancy. His wife is fantastic, but elton energies made through the beatles. Thousand years ago during the seventies, I think, and we just did the march for our lives in new york, city and Paul was there. We all did it together, So that's been on my mind and just
and through the years often on you seem so happy in Nancy. Is. Why said this guy gets up every morning? Happy He doesn't take one medication, you know it. those real positive souls, then I've just seem at all the beautiful music from the beatles through the years and how much I enjoyed them and chris out with John, was still here george but hey Jude was a song to help julian when the parents got divorced. John first five and I know how much elton love John too? I know there's a lot of connections, so that's why I know hey jude, plus the comfort Julia.
that was the beatles I'm gonna do what I do for you because, through the night billie jean king, which has I'd, give you a copy of the bible- and I give you a copy of the complete works of shakespeare heard about elton said what did he say well, that's up to you
allow I'm not going to say that. Are you kidding? I have a choice right, yeah you want them. I think that would be a privileged great while you have both of those. and on top of that I wanna get him home even well. Will them on the island for you. But on top of that you get to take one book with you to add to that was to have a library of three point: will you book b? I cannot come up at the book. I was driving insane like so many others worried it the data to be out there. I need a long long book. Another no, and I just love this book doctors zeus's. Oh places? You will go right? It's a beautiful little book in a children's book, doesn't matter what age you are. I think it's inspirational and it's lovely okay, we'll give you that you also allows, as you request two way on this island. You don't look happy luxury ice. Now, because I won't bring scrap book of my family and everybody, I can't do it because I need sunscreen worst skin in the world. Something you can, I put a blanket arrive. Tell Moreover, the council be bilby trees. I don't know
I don't know I really love that scrap book of my family, distant, look at old photos and new photos and both parents, a pathway now I'd like to look at them, and my brother and I were baby out so much fun and then Larry and, like the godchildren people visa the room when we started this interview was about relationships or everything, So that's what I really want. Don't take the sun screen till the book. I rather had a book. Ok, we can give you the book it. Finally, if you had to run save just one track from the waves which one one or two a yeah. Why I'd have do elton, I'm tightest with him. My deepest relationship is with him I for sure have all these philadelphia freedom, because I felt that it's not the songs, it's the person don't see that might be listening. it isn't. The song opening its you baby
in king. Thank you very much for letting us here. You're desert island discs. What's a privilege to be your. Thank you for having me I hope you enjoy my conversation. There was been eating. You'll find lots of guests, seated with wimbledon in the desert island discs back catalogue. You can hear kitty Godfrey who one wimbledon lady singles twice in the nineteen twenty. She was interviewed by Michael parkinson in nineteen. Eighty seven last year I spoke to John mcenroe and in twenty four in judy Marie andean Jamie's mum was my guest in twenty twelve. I was delighted to meet my tina navratilova, I asked her, but her life in czechoslovakia before she defected to the united states. You were thirteen, then, when you left czechoslovakia for the first time for a tune. in the west. What do you remember about that? First hit of the west
was in germany and big courses close to american we base. So there were a lot of old shiver, lays and automobiles and cadillacs and I've never seen a car like it. I just thought it was amazing and, and then the food, the variety and things that you ve never seen before and so fresh pineapple and did it make you think I want a bit of this. This feels good I didn't feel that I was not getting what I needed into the sakharov and was never hungry. I was ever cold, but I wanted to kind of experience at all to this day. If I go to a sharp and I see a fruit, I've never seen before a buy it. I have to check it out up to try it and in that same year than you, you would have seen. I think you did in fact literally see with your own eyes soviet tanks ruling in to check the bucket it tell me what you saw and what you remember that was the year before it was sixty eight. I think we went to germany and sixty nine okay, so the tanks came first, it was. It was extremely depressing
like your in jail and you're. Almost the other side of the wall and then boom. Another huge wall shows up any we're never going to get out of the prison and that's what it felt like. I was at a tennis tournament with my then best friend, but they had a phone and the phone rang in the morning and it was, workers, father calling saying don't go outside their tanks in the streets. So of course we would site and checked it out in vienna with throwing rocks of the tanks, but wasn't very helpful. You klingon on professional tutor in america, one nineteen, seventy five! When you sought political asylum to tell me about that. How did that work family? We were actually out at wimbledon in seventy five, the whole family, my parents and my sister was six years younger and we were talking about leaving czechoslovakia, but my father was not sure of himself. What is he going to do? How is he going to provide? He does.
I speak english, he you know, so we didn't do it and then we went back to the czech republic about a week later and there was a tennis tournament there. So we stopped because we knew some people there and we stopped at the tournament they say. Oh, my god, you back consumer headed we defected, but because of that, Won't? Let me out of the country again, the us open is coming around the corner and they said, oh, you know going to the open because we don't want you to travel anymore. It's like what so the chuck tennis federation. god behind me and they ended up giving me the visa just before the tournament, and that's when I knew I was gonna, come back because I never knew whether they were going to. Let me out again, given the conditions at home. Were you free to? Did you feel free enough to to have that conversation with your parents? Did you start out, as boggs was put on
The father did you and he said, don't tell your mother and they said if you're not going to come back, don't come back. If we ask you to if you stay stay because they may ask us to tell you to come back but don't why did he want you to not tell your mother because he knew that would just break her heart and soul. I've never spoken to anybody who sought political asylum. What actually happened What do you do? It was funny because so funny not funny ha ha ironic. I was in playing the us open and it was. I've talked to my manager and me decided after I modeled the tournament. We will do this, so he put. He knew what to do. What sort of questions did they ask him? Well, you know everything. A bunch of people asked me a bunch of questions. If I was a communist, my father was a communist and I assured him that I was not actually got thrown out of the communist party because he was not toeing the line, and you know my parents did like labour camp, not hard labor, but they did both more political kind of prisoners in a way that
era, and so I've convinced them that I really was not a communist, I want to be number one. That's all I remember saying I just want to be number one. You said that and the conversation you had with your father was that he said you know. If we ask you to come back, don't come back. We will be saying that, because pressure will be brought on, as did you have that conversation, we did speak of course, but they never asked me to come back so of almost never put in that position it was just my mom was so sad. You know cause. We never knew when we would see each other again. It turned out. It was four years before summer mother and was five years before I saw my father and my sister, and I do think that affected you at the time. having inflicted a more than me, because I was kind of a all of what I was doing, I was doing what I wanted to do, but you're at that age, where you're ready for the world. I was eighteen, nineteen years old, you go to college and if you don't see your parents for a year, it's not a big deal except it was in that big. I couldn't go back. It was difficult,
My team on average liver and you can download her programme and those of duty, Mary and Joe mechanism and a whole host of other additions with sports stars. Whatever you get your port gusts next time I guess we'll be baroness Helen. You love whose victims, commissioner and deputy speaker of the house of lords, do join us.
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Transcript generated on 2022-06-12.