As Wimbledon 2012 races towards a close, Rufus the celebrity hawk 'speaks' tongue firmly in cheek, about his disappearance which made headlines and how he was found, in a sensational chapter of the Championships
Rufus, the celebrity hawk who prevents pigeons from creating a nuisance on the perfectly manicured tennis courts in Wimbledon, made headlines across the world last week when he was “lost and found”.
Rather than let the media tell his story, he has decided to write his autobiography himself and reveal what really happened in those missing hours: “No pun intended but in the last few days, some unscrupulous agents have been knocking on the doors of newspapers, trying to hawk my story. A little bird tells me some serious money was being demanded in exchange for an “authentic” account of my life. These accounts contained some flights of fancy, I can tell you.
But who better to tell the true story of my life than yours truly? I must say I am gratified to note that Hawk Eye has climbed immediately to the top of the bestseller lists. To be sure, there are some people who are not convinced that this book is all my work.
“Don’t be silly, how can a hawk put pen to paper?” they say.
It’s a reasonable question but a relative of mine has helped me with a voice synthesizer so that when I have a lofty thought —and at a height of 1,000 feet all my thoughts tend to be lofty — it is transformed as though by magic into words on a computer screen. My relative is a higher flyer, too, in his own field. He dabbles with dark matter in Cambridge. Oh, my relative? Well, the family is proud that Stephen Hawk(ing), author of A Brief History of Hawking, has done quite well for himself as a physicist.
Cricket fans also often accost me: “Excuse me but that Hawk Eye that shows Sachin is out lbw — is it anything to do with you?” The answer is: “Yes, in a way. I have diversified and this is a sort of franchise.”
To begin at the beginning, my name is Rufus, which is quite a nice name for an American Harris Hawk. I am four-and-a-half years old, which means I have had a reasonable bird’s eye view of life, especially for the first two weeks in June every year when people come from all over the world to the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club.
They feign an interest in tennis but most of the men, at any rate, are more exercised by the sight of young blonde women in increasingly tight shorts. Sadly for them, Maria Sharapova has been knocked out this year.
But I digress. My job is a straightforward one. There are millions of pigeons in London. It’s to keep them from creating a mess on the lovely tennis courts in Wimbledon. This year I can’t take it easy after Wimbledon because of the Olympics starting on July 27. I also maintain a no fly zone for pigeons over Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament.
Like Marlon Brando in The Godfather, I have made an offer to the pigeons, which they have not been able to refuse. If they keep off my turf, my beak will keep off their delicate necks. It works a charm. Between you and me, I am, at heart, a softie.
I let Wayne Davis and his daughter, Imogen; go round telling everyone they own me. I humour them by letting them think they do. They have even set up a company called Avian Environmental Consultants.
Wayne is 49, Imogen is 25 and they keep me in the style to which I have become accustomed. Once you have tasted fresh quail, pigeon is definitely off the menu. I am sorry that Wayne and Imogen were very upset last week when they thought I had been "stolen".
What really happened cannot yet be told in detail because the matter is a bit too personal. When you are an A-list celebrity like me with the paparazzi following my every move, it becomes nearly impossible to have much privacy. To be blunt, a sex life is out of the question.
So last Thursday when Wayne and Imogen left me overnight in a car parked on a private drive in Dunstall Road, Wimbledon, I took my chance when I saw the rear window had been kept open for ventilation.
After a couple of nights out on the tiles, sowing my wild oats as it were, I would be back and no one would notice my absence. Or so I thought. Unfortunately, Wayne and Imogen panicked and told the media and the news about my being “stolen” was flashed around the world. Seeing their distress, I saw to it I was “found” on Wimbledon Common but by then the damage had been done.
I made top billing on all the news bulletins on television, something not recommended if you are on a romantic date.
Poor Imogen, who is a gentle soul, did appear to be dreadfully upset. When I saw her in tears, I knew my love life was over before it had started.
“It’s really, really sad,” she told the gathering crowd of reporters as Britain was gripped by a deepening national crisis.
“He was taken in his travelling box, which is where he sleeps because it’s nice and dark and cool and he can fall asleep in there,” she wept. “We’re very, very shocked, we just want to know he’s okay.”
“He’s the head hawk,” Imogen explained. “The chief, if you like. He is very tolerant and attentive, and is great around people. At Wimbledon, he has become part of the furniture, really — so much so that people now think it’s tradition for a hawk to fly over Centre Court every morning before play starts.”
“We work as a team together,” she continued. “To have him taken away like that is just horrible. It’s a family business; the birds are brought up around us. They’re part of the family. It’s just the way it is.”
She said she originally thought it was a prank, but later feared I had been kidnapped. “Initially I was almost hoping that it was a prank because there was more possibility of us getting him back, and somebody would realise it was a stupid thing to do. But because the hood and the glove were taken, I’m not sure. I suppose at least it means he’s been looked after.”
Meanwhile, her dad commented: “It’s all a bit bizarre, I’ve never ever had anything stolen before. It’s certainly been a saga. It’s like someone stealing your dog, it's horrible.”
What’s horrible, I will have to tell Wayne, is being compared to a dog. Sometimes when I spot ladies take out their small “handbag” dogs for a walk on Wimbledon Common, I do feel tempted — especially if I am feeling a trifle peckish.
When Wayne and Imogen were told I had been “discovered” — what else could I do but come back home—their response was touching.
“We were just absolutely gutted,” Imogen cried with happiness. “We couldn’t believe it. And then last night at about 7 pm we had a call from someone saying they had heard a hawk had been handed in to Putney Hospital. He had apparently gone there on Saturday but we didn’t have any information until last night. I didn’t want to get too excited and I was trying to keep myself calm. We were trying to plan for getting a different bird in and different things so we were just trying not to be too excited. We couldn’t believe it when it was Rufus. We’re just so relieved and overwhelmed and grateful to everyone for all their help.”
“He’s fine actually, we haven’t flown him today, we’ve given him a bit of a rest,” she added. “But he’s really good and he seems to be himself. We just think he needs to chill out for the time being.”
The next morning I had to address the massed ranks of the world press. Secretly, I confess I rather enjoyed the occasion even though it’s back to a celibate life for me.
Imogen told the media I had been rubbed down in a warm bath, that I didn’t much care for bubbles and that I had feasted on quails.
“He has very refined, expensive tastes,” she laughed. “Only the best for Rufus.”
I am not a great one for Twittering which I leave to lesser birds but I was persuaded to put out a Tweet, telling the world all was well and it was back to business at Wimbledon.
What of the future? Wayne tells me that the Indian Air Force has had trouble with bird strikes and would like me to travel to India and do my thing. Wayne also says the pavements of India are full of hawkers so I will feel at home.
May be I was Indian in a previous life. Though I am not really the religious sort, I do like to begin the day — like most businessmen in India — by preying.”
(Rufus was speaking to Amit Roy in London)