Commons speaker John Bercow lends a backhand to Stratford charity

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SPEAKER of the House of Commons John Bercow left a squabbling Parliament behind him for the day to take part in a tennis fundraiser at Stratford-upon-Avon on Friday 16th November.

Local businessman and Stratford-upon-Avon Tennis Club (SOATC) stalwart Chris Onslow took on a 24-hour tennis marathon in aid of Children in Need and Welcombe Hills School, the Stratford specialist school that caters for a variety of needs and disabilities.

Chris started his mega session at 8am on Friday morning and finished 24 hours later, raising more than £3,000 so far; which will kickstart funding for a new playground at Welcombe Hills.

Joined by friends, family and enthusiastic fellow tennis club members, Chris pushed on through the night rounding off the event with a ‘pound for a point’ quick-fire challenge.

Those stepping up to the baseline to take on the worthy fundraiser included the Cardio Tennis Group, the SOATC Committee team, the Rusty Racquets group, the Junior and Senior performance squads and pupils from Welcombe Hills.

John Bercow arrived for an hour-long match early on Friday morning, having got a 6am train from London.

Describing his friendship with Chris, the jovial and friendly MP told the Herald: “We met on holiday in Turkey a couple of years ago and have been friends since. I like Chris and he puts up with me!

“Our respected wives like each other and we all get along. We have common themes: sense of humour, commitment to our kids and we like football and politics.

“My wife [Sally] saw a round-robin email from Chris about the tennis fundraiser, so she donated and then had the idea that I should come along and offer my services.”

The Bercow’s oldest son is autistic, and John has done much to support special education provision for children with special needs.

Arriving at Stratford he greeted Welcombe Hills headteacher Niki Jones enthusiastically and talked about what the school does.

He said: “It’s a great privilege to be here.

“I’ve been passionate about tennis since I was a kid so I believe in supporting local clubs.

“The main reason is to help the causes and then have fun while we are doing it.”

Asked about how he managed to take time away from the fraught Brexit debates in Parliament, he said: “Most of the week I’m beavering away at my day job, but the chamber is not sitting today – so during a quiet period I thought I would come down here.

“But I have got lots to do, so after this it’s back to London, then off to my constituency, Buckingham; then Nottingham, where I am being ‘Jeremy Paxman’ – hosting a charity quiz between town and gown. I will keep the score and pose the questions – so that my lack of knowledge is not exposed.”

Ahead of the match, Chris confessed that John – who’s hero is Roger Federer – is the better tennis player.

He said: “John is really an exceptional player. I’ll be pleased to get a few points off him – if he beats me I will be shouting out ‘Order! Order!’.”

In his youth, Mr Bercow was ranked Britain’s number one tennis player but came down with bronchial asthma and was unable to pursue a professional career.

Speaking to the Herald after he had put his racket down following the marathon, Chris said: “I am delighted to have finished. I am exhausted but there was no way I was stopping!

“The support I have received has been wonderful and generous.

“I was so grateful to see so many people come and give me support, including my good friend John Bercow and our local MP Nadhim Zahawi.

“The highlight however was playing some of the pupils from Welcome Hills School whose enthusiasm and cheerfulness gave me a much needed tonic. I am now looking forward to putting my feet up!”

To donate visit www.justgiving.com/fundraising/chris-onslow1