When Andy burst onto the tennis scene at Wimbledon in 2005, he had just turned 18 and was still a gangly teen with hair like a burst couch.
Then suddenly, almost overnight, he was thrust into the spotlight and the whole world was watching him. John McEnroe even described him as a “major talent” and predicted he would make it into the world’s top 20.
None of us had expected everything to change so quickly.
As a family we tried to help him to deal with his new-found fame, which made him instantly recognisable everywhere he went, but we all knew life was never going to be the same again. When you are being talked about all over the globe you will never be able to just be a normal teenager, and the challenges of fame and success can come so suddenly it’s easy to get caught up and caught out. It’s only later, when you’re looking back on events, that you stop and think, “How did it get to this?”
So, when I read Svante Thunberg’s concerns for his daughter, Greta, I could certainly relate to the internal struggle of being simultaneously a proud parent and worried about their safety and their wellbeing.
Speaking to Mishal Husain for Radio 4’s Today programme, Svante spoke about how activism has provided a much-needed distraction for his daughter, who previously suffered from depression, and campaigning has allowed her to be happier and more confident. He explained: “You think she’s not ordinary now because she’s special, and she’s very famous, and all these things. But to me she’s now an ordinary child – she can do all the things like other people can.”
At just 16-years-old Greta is now a global superstar, who has gone from sitting on her own outside the Swedish parliament just 12 months ago to leading the worldwide call for action on climate change. And while fame may have helped the youngster to find a new purpose, I think it’s important to remember she is just that – so very, young.
From now on, Greta’s life will never be just her own. She will always be the climate activist who sparked a feeling of revolution within an entire generation. But should her parents now try to pull back and tone down her activism for the sake of her childhood? It’s a tough question, and one that I fear they won’t have the privilege of answering for themselves.
Greta’s fame is now a juggernaut that I’m not sure can be stopped – even if she wanted it to. The climate crisis is the hot topic on everyone’s lips, largely thanks to Greta, and that means she will now have to live with very little privacy and exposure to criticism on a massive scale.
It probably will be a few years before she starts to question whether that is really what she wants. In my experience, you often start out on a journey and have no idea where it’s going until it has snowballed, and by that point it can easily get out of control.
Although she is hugely inspiring and we should all applaud her confidence and courage, I can’t help but think Greta’s young adulthood has been taken away from her.
She should be out enjoying the same things as every other teenager – parties, music, school and friendships.
Instead, while trying to save the plant, she might be damaging her own emotional environment. Only time will tell.