Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s emotional meeting with tennis star Sir Andy Murray

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Andy Murray (@andy_murray)
Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Andy Murray (@andy_murray)

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has recalled watching Sir Andy Murray win Wimbledon from solitary confinement in an Iranian prison, during an emotional meeting with the British tennis star.

The 44-year-old British-Iranian dual national said Sir Andy offered a “connection” to her life outside prison and an “escape” from her six-year detention.

Sir Andy’s voice cracked with emotion and he paused to gather himself when they met at the Lawn Tennis Association in Roehampton for her stint as guest editor of BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

Sir Andy described Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s story about watching him win his second Wimbledon title in 2016 from her prison cell as “by far the strangest, most incredible story I’ve been told” about someone viewing him play tennis.

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Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who was freed in March, used the programme to raise the plight of others suffering at the hands of the Iranian regime, amid widespread protests in the country.

She also spent time cooking with Yotam Ottolenghi and spoke to Stella Assange, wife of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, about the impact on children of visiting family members in prison.

Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe was joined in the BBC studios by her husband Richard and eight-year-old daughter Gabriella.

In her interview with Sir Andy, Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe said: “When I was first arrested I was in Evin prison in solitary confinement, and for about five months they didn’t allow me to have any books or newspapers.

“There was a TV in the cell I was in but it was off the entire time, and then at some point they decided to let me use the TV but it only had two channels.

“One of them was rubbish Iranian-made soap opera all the time, which was very low quality.

“The other one was a sports channel, which they thought, this was probably a way to just give them something but not quite something.

They had no idea what they had given me because I was always a big fan of you, but also there I was in solitary confinement watching the match you actually won in the end

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe

“Then I put it on, the first thing that was on was Wimbledon that day and that year, 2016.

“They had no idea what they had given me because I was always a big fan of you, but also there I was in solitary confinement watching the match you actually won in the end.”

Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe said Sir Andy’s win left her feeling “ecstatic” and she had hoped shortly afterwards to email him to express how proud she was and explain where she watched it, saying she was denied her hope of watching him the following year due to her detention.

Sir Andy, 35, replied: “That makes me quite emotional hearing you speaking about that, so I appreciate you telling that to me.”

Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe recalled playing an Iranian version of charades when held in a hospital ward, explaining: “My friends knew that on my list there had to be Andy Murray.

“The people who were with me in that period, they knew you even though they’d probably never heard your name before – they knew who you were, which game you won and that was quite something for me – it felt like a connection, it felt like escape.

“I was close to home all of a sudden and that was through sport, and through something that probably the Iranian government never thought that I would have that way of finding my way and connection to the life I had outside prison.”

Sir Andy later asked Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe for more information about her “incredible” story, and had to pause as he said: “I find myself getting quite emotional that someone could be treated in that way and just, sorry, yeah, I’d be interested to hear it from your side, how you feel about it all.

Listening to you and speaking to you I'll certainly make sure I'm a lot more grateful for everything that I've got

Sir Andy Murray

“You seem absolutely fine now, but I’m thinking if I was in that situation or someone that I knew was in that situation I’d feel angry about that, but you seem well.”

Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe replied: “At times I do feel very, very angry, but I guess there was a point that I decided that I should put the anger away because otherwise it will eat me up for the rest of my life.”

She said she was “disappointed more than anything else” that it took so long to be reunited with her daughter.

Sir Andy said: “It makes all of the things I would complain about on a daily basis – my knee hurts or my back hurts or whatever – we all have our own problems, but listening to you and speaking to you I’ll certainly make sure I’m a lot more grateful for everything that I’ve got.”

Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe later said she felt the recent protests and turmoil in Iran had set her back in her recovery.

She said: “I guess I can safely say I felt I was beginning to settle down a bit over the summer, but then in September the whole uprisings happened in Iran and I felt like I was going backwards.

“I resonated very much with what was happening in Iran because there were so many arrests and imprisonments and court cases, which basically threw me back to what I have been through.

“So I think I’m a lot behind than what I would have thought and imagined I would be.”