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Sir Gary Sobers, the Barbadian national hero and cricket’s greatest ever all-rounder, has lamented his country’s decision to cut ties with the Queen, telling The Telegraph: “It will be very sad for a lot of us.”
The Caribbean nation this week ceased to be a constitutional monarchy after nearly 400 years, by replacing Her Majesty as head of state.
For the man who is perhaps more revered than any other on the island, it is a moment of history tinged more with melancholy than excitement.
Sir Gary is widely regarded as one of the most complete cricketers to ever play the game, whose historic feats included becoming the first man to hit six sixes in an over, while playing for Nottinghamshire in 1968.
He is 85 now and still living in Bridgetown, but it is clear there are few occasions that stir greater pride in the self-described “humble man from Barbados” than his meetings with the Queen.
Reflecting at his family home on the end of an era for his country, the cricketing great said: “The Queen was very highly appreciated here. It will be very sad for a lot of us. It was a bit of a shock.”
Sir Gary had the rare distinction of being knighted for his services to cricket without having to leave his hometown, after the Queen flew to Barbados for an extraordinary open-air investiture watched by a crowd of tens of thousands in 1975, a year after he retired.
When he first heard that the monarch would be visiting the Barbadian capital, he assumed she was coming to watch the horse racing. Instead, the city’s track became the venue for the ceremony.
“It was really tremendous because I think she hadn’t really gone to any other country to confer a knighthood,” Sir Gary said.
“What a great honour it was. I couldn’t believe it. I thought it was a joke. The place was completely packed. When she took out the sword to knight me, my little boy was there and he said: ‘Don’t hit my daddy with that!’”
During his time playing in the UK, Sir Gary developed a friendly relationship with the Royal family, whose passion for horse racing he shared.
The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh would often be in attendance at Lord’s and witnessed several of his dazzling performances for the West Indies in the 1960s and 1970s.
“The Queen always turned up at Lord’s to watch the West Indies. I was very fortunate because on the occasions when they came to watch, I somehow performed,” he said.
“It was really wonderful for me to be associated with the Queen, the Duke and even Prince Charles. I knew him quite well too.”
The warmth shared between Sir Gary and the Royal family reached such an extent that he was able to repay the hospitality they had shown him when Princess Margaret came to Barbados.
“She borrowed my car,” he said. “When they arrived, people went to pick her up at the airport and I took my little girl. As they passed our way, she said: ‘Look, look, that woman’s in my daddy’s car!’”
Time has done little to diminish the high regard in which Sir Gary holds the Royal family and, according to his wife, the Prince of Wales even told him that the Queen had requested that he pass on her regards during a visit in 2019.
“We got on very well, they were wonderful people. There was lots of laughter, lots of jokes,” Sir Gary said.