It felt like getting up to go to Silverstone for the British Grand Prix as I always used to at this time of year as a kid. I awoke at 3:15 and left my flat by Richmond Park at 3:30, by which time there was already a faint bit of light in the sky what with this being a mere week after the summer solstice. I had investigated public transport options but at that time walking was just as quick so I got my march on and headed for SW19.
I didn’t bring a jumper as it was forecast to be a scorcher but at half three it was chilly so while I warmed up from briskly walking I wore the blanket I’d been advised to bring for the queue on wet grass. Inevitably a policeman driving past stopped me and said verbatim: ‘bit odd isn’t it a man walking down the street at half three in the morning wrapped in a blanket?’ Fortunately when I said the words ‘Wimbledon Queue’ he gave me a knowing nod and drove off – clearly the Queue has a reputation of attracting nutters.
Only in England would they print a leaflet entitled ‘Guide to Queueing’. I arrived at 4:30, was handed ticket number 01808 and told to be back in my spot at 6:30. I returned to my spot every half hour anyway as I heard this was the etiquette to prove one is not a queue jumper, heaven forbid. In between I hung out with my friends a short distance further up the queue and enjoyed the bizarre sense of camaraderie and achievement shared by those who had made it there so early.
More queue lines emerged as more and more folk arrived and to confuse matters the queue for the coffee was a separate queue, but it was a brilliantly run operation. The stewards were super friendly and helpful even during the unsociable hours.
Sunrise was a great moment and it was warm by half six. People from all over the world had gathered and far from being the nightmare experience I had feared, it felt like an insanely polite international festival of queuing. There were toilets and burger vans on site and those camping could even order takeaway pizza in the evenings apparently.
How early to queue
The first 500 tickets get Centre Court (that’s those who have camped for at least one night), the next 500 get Court 1 and the next 500 get Court 2. I was in the NEXT batch of 500 so got no show court but was almost guaranteed general admission.
By 7:15 I was seeing people with ticket numbers in the 7000s – over 5000 people had turned up in less than three hours since I had arrived. At 7:20 we packed up our blankets and walked round to a new queue. It was all jolly exciting. We were told we would be in our new spot for a while but we actually creeped forward quite quickly. By 07:30 people were starting a new queue for centre court THE NEXT DAY. Mental. A steward informed me that all 500 who were at Centre Court the day I went were camping by 10am the day before. Indeed many were ‘pre-camping’ on the pavement the weekend before the championship even began. The delineation between being committed and crazy is a fine line indeed…
Total queuing time: five and a half hours.
The day itself was magnificent – blazing hot sunshine, several Brits in action, champagne on Henman Hill, great matches on Court 3 and all rounded off by being in the audience for Claire Balding’s show!
Tips for How to Queue for Wimbledon
- Bring a blanket as the grass is wet and chilly early and it is very useful to mark out your spot in the queue.
- The people who camped overnight were not much further ahead of us in the queue – I would recommend getting there at 4:30am unless you are desperate for show court tickets in which case you probably need to get there the night before.
- Don’t bring flasks – they are prohibited.
- Do bring snacks, lunch and drinks. Up to a bottle of wine or two beer cans or equivalent is allowed per person.
- When you join the line introduce yourself to the people next to you in queue so they remember you. That way when you disappear to go to the toilet/get coffee/meet friends elsewhere in the queue, nobody will think you are queue jumping when you return to your spot.
- Hand backs from people leaving early go on sale from mid afternoon so this is an option if you don’t want to get up early. They are usually cheap and proceeds go to charity although obviously this is a popular option so queues will be lengthy.
- Obviously it is a queue so the earlier you get there the more chance you have of getting in early. My friends arrived ten minutes before me at 4:20 and managed to get the last show court tickets for Court 2.
- Night buses do run from Roehampton, Putney and surrounding areas but are fairy infrequent.
- There are some freebies handed out in the queue like coffee and robinson’s squash. I even got a ticket to be in the audience later that day for Wimbledon 2day on BBC Two with Claire Balding.
- When everyone gets let in about 10am the queues for the toilets will be horrendous. Just an FYI, not much to be done about that!
- Once inside queues for Court 3 (the largest non-show court) are in excess of an hour very quickly.
- Re-entry is easy as long as you return by 5pm. Go to Gate 5 where you will be issued a red wristband. I popped back to the office for a couple of hours and returned in the evening for the BBC Two show but it was after 5pm – fortunately the show was filmed outwith the venue perimeter!