WIMBLEDON, England — To be among the few who receive an invitation to watch tennis from one of the 74 seats in the royal box at Wimbledon’s Centre Court is akin to getting an acceptance letter from Hogwarts.
“There is a view, amongst those who have attended the royal box, that it is one of the most special experiences in sport,” said Alexandra Willis, head of communications for the All England Club. “It’s because of the fact that it’s by invitation only — you can’t just decide it’s something you want to attend.”
The oak-lined royal box sits right behind the south baseline of the court, clearly visible to spectators and cameras. While its placement is prominent, its perks are protected.
“Keeping some mystery and not giving away too much of what that experience is like” is important, Willis said.
“The only people who really know are those who have had it themselves,” she added.
Many who had been invited are eager to divulge details, however. They often consider the visit one of the most memorable occasions of their lives.
Invitations arrive two to three months before the tournament and read:
“The Chairman and Committee of Management of The Championships request the pleasure of the company of (name) & Guest in the Royal Box on (date).
“This invitation to the Royal Box includes lunch in the Clubhouse prior to the commencement of play, afternoon tea and drinks at the end of the day.”
There is a dress code: jackets and ties for men, and no skirts or dresses ending above the knee for women.
It is best to arrive by noon for the lunch, which is hosted by the club’s chairman, Philip Brook, and his wife, Gill, before play, which begins at 1 p.m. on most days. Brook opens with a brief talk about the tournament and the matches guests will see on Centre Court that day.
The food served is substantial and decadent; several visitors mentioned poached lobster as a favorite.
Strawberries, the traditional snack of Wimbledon, are also offered, but not merely those sold to other fans on the grounds. Royal box guests enjoy an especially exquisite variety, called a Driscoll Jubilee, which is treasured for its firmness and sweetness and reserved for their consumption.
The group adjourns to the court 10 minutes before the first match begins and stays there throughout the day. Afternoon tea is served from 3:45 to 5:15 p.m. For those wanting further nibbles, a small leather-bound bucket of candies is discreetly passed through the box during play. If it becomes chilly, as it is often cold, blankets arrive.
Guests are assigned woven-wicker seats in the box, each with its occupant’s name, a commemorative program and a small gift. This year, the gift was a small green leather zippered bag embossed with the Wimbledon logo and the words “ROYAL BOX 2017.” Guests also receive sterling silver lapel pins and a commemorative photograph of match action from that day’s play with the box visible in the background, paired with a seating chart of who sat where.
More than the amenities, what guests treasure most is the company. Ken Solomon, chairman and chief executive of Tennis Channel, called it “a cross section of the most interesting people who are in the U.K. at that moment.”
Solomon said he could compare the camaraderie of the shared experience at Wimbledon only to what he has felt as a guest of the U.S. president.
“When you meet someone at the White House, it doesn’t matter who they are — you know they are having one of the greatest days of their life as well,” Solomon said. “No matter who you are, how important, you can’t buy your way into that space, and there’s only a handful of people who are there, and it’s very special. You’re going to remember it the rest of your life, and you know they are, too.”
Donald Dell, a pioneer in the business of professional tennis, said the unexpected meetings were his favorite part. This year, he sat with golfer Ernie Els and John Witherow, editor of The Times of London.
“Every year, it’s a different group, and that’s the fun of it: who you see when you’re there,” Dell said.
Most players say they take little notice of the stars above them, but others are inspired to shine themselves. When she first reached the Wimbledon final, in 2007, Marion Bartoli of France credited her semifinal win to spotting her favorite actor in the royal box above her.
“I was focusing on Pierce Brosnan because he is so beautiful,” she said.
The titular royal presence in the box was more conspicuous years ago, when players bowed or curtsied toward the box as they entered Centre Court. The Duke of Kent scrapped the tradition in 2003, though there remains an exception if the queen or the Prince of Wales attends.
Queen Elizabeth II, never much of a tennis fan, has shown up only once since the change, fleetingly in 2010. She ate lunch, watched an Andy Murray match, and then left. Her eldest son, Charles, has similarly appeared only once, in 2012.
The most avid tennis fan among current prominent royals is Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, who this year was named patron of the All England Club. The duchess, who will succeed the Duke of Kent in presenting trophies on court, had humbler beginnings at Wimbledon, recalling to the BBC how she had waited for tickets during her days as a commoner.
“I was very fortunate that I did get through — it was quite late in the day,” she said. “But, luckily, play went on quite late in the evening.”