Sue Barker says she could have continued presenting Wimbledon coverage until she was 70, but that – after three decades – it was “the right time to go”.
The former tennis star, 66, was speaking on the red carpet at the Women In Film And TV awards, ahead of receiving a lifetime achievement gong.
She told Sky News that she had been offered another three years presenting the world-famous tennis tournament, but said: “You’ve got to know when the time is right, and the time is right for me this year.
“Thirty years of doing Wimbledon, and it was a perfect way to end.”
Barker said that her career had been a “difficult journey in some ways” and that much of her success in sports and broadcasting had been down to “luck” and “meeting the right people at the right time”.
She said: “When I started in the 70s – ancient history – women really weren’t playing.
“But then the magnificent Billie Jean King arrived and suddenly won the battle of the sexes, got us a tournament, got us sponsors, got us an association.
“She made my hobby become my career.”
Barker went on to spend 13 years working in professional tennis, ranking as high as number three in the world and reaching the semi-finals at Wimbledon in 1977.
After she quit tennis, she looked towards sports presenting – a career that was then very difficult for women to enter.
But, again, she said she was in the right place at the right time.
“I tried to get in as a pundit, but there were no vacancies.
“But there was a wonderful man, he came over to start BSkyB in 1989 – David Hill, he’s still a great friend of mine today, he phoned me up and said: ‘Sue, I want you to be a presenter’.
“I said, ‘David, I am female and I’m an athlete, you know, that’s a no-no in broadcast’.
“He said, ‘I want you to’.
“And he encouraged me to go to the BBC.
“So, without David, I wouldn’t have had that step up to even have the guts to go for it.”
In September 2020, the BBC announced that Barker would leave Question Of Sport, having hosted the show since 1997.
She said that issues around her controversial exit from the show were more about “the way it was handled” rather than any form of ageism.
She added: “We accept that we don’t own the programme and they have the right to move it on.”
It was later “refreshed” with a new presenter (Paddy McGuinness) and new team captains.
So, what is Barker going to do with her time now that she has stepped away from Wimbledon coverage too?
She smiled as she admitted: “I’m going to be watching a lot of tennis.
“I’m going to be sitting in the stands watching tennis”.
And it looks like the former Question Of Sport gang might still have a few tricks up their sleeves too, with Barker teasing: “I’m also going to be doing a few projects with Matt Dawson and Phil Tufnell from Question Of Sport, so not got rid of us quite yet.”
The Women In Film And TV awards was hosted by comedian Katherine Ryan.
Other winners included Davina McCall who won best presenter, actress Claire Rushbrook who took best performance, and actress and writer Nicole Lecky who was named the best new talent.