Kettering's Sarah gets emotional standing ovation from Wimbledon crowd

She's a Centre Court guest on the opening day of the championships

Monday, 28th June 2021, 3:44 pm
Updated Monday, 28th June 2021, 3:44 pm
The standing ovation and, inset, Dame Sarah at Wimbledon.

Kettering s own Dame Sarah Gilbert received a spontaneous standing ovation from the crowd at Wimbledon's opening day today (Monday).

The Oxford University professor, who grew up in Kettering and played a leading role in the creation of the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine, is a Centre Court box guest at the prestigious tennis grand slam event.

Famous faces sitting in the box are traditionally introduced before the day's play and Covid-19 vaccine heroes were introduced by the court announcer, with Dame Sarah taking centre stage at the front of the box.

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But as they were introduced this afternoon - and before world number one Novak Djokovic and British teen Jack Draper walked onto the court - the crowd spontaneously applauded for over a minute before giving stunned Dame Sarah an emotional standing ovation.

Prof Gilbert, 59, was made a Dame in the Queen's birthday honours list for her work in designing the Covid-19 vaccine which has saved countless lives around the world.

And it was while growing up in Kettering that she realised she wanted a career in science.

The mum of triplets grew up in Mitchell Street and attended Park Road Junior School, before passing her 11+ to gain a place at the selective Kettering High School for Girls in Lewis Road in 1973, where she passed nine O-Levels and played the oboe in the school's orchestra.

She was described by former classmates as quiet but hard-working and was part of a musical family, with her mum Hazel involved with the town's operatic society. Hazel worked at Sunnylands Kindergarten, with Prof Gilbert's dad Clifford an office manager at Loake.

Dame Sarah later went to university in Norwich - becoming the first person in her family to do so - before going on to have a huge impact in the field of vaccinology.

As well as her work on the Covid-19 vaccine she also took part in important work on malaria, which has doesn't get as much attention because it's an issue in poorer countries, and led the development and testing of the universal flu vaccine.

Since her rise to fame in the past year Prof Gilbert has won the prestigious Albert Medal, putting her name alongside people such as Stephen Hawking and Marie Curie.

Her work was also marked with a stone in Kettering's historical timeline in the Market Place.

Her proud brother Tom Gilbert, who is a senior manager at Rushton Hall, previously told the Northants Telegraph: "I know that she is an Oxford professor, but to me she will always be a Kettering girl."