‘Telling our son his daddy was in jail is the worst thing I’ve ever had to do… it’s always women who have to clean up his mess’: Despairing Lily Becker tears into fallen tennis star husband Boris who ‘had it all and blew the lot’
How do you tell your child that the father he adores is in prison? It sounds as though Lilly Becker — who is still, technically, Mrs Boris Becker — could have done with an instruction manual on the subject.
Her hands fly into the air as she admits she was reeling so much when she realised she would have to break the news to their son that she was thinking only in expletives.
‘My instinct was to say it as it is: ‘Your father is in jail. He has f***ed up’,’ admits Lilly, 45. ‘But you can’t say that to a 12-year-old child, can you? Not when you are the mother, the Tiger Mother whose job on this earth is to protect that child.’
In the event, she sought help. She asked a family friend, who happens to be a head teacher, to help her tell Amadeus that his beloved father — tennis legend Boris — had been sentenced to two years in prison over charges relating to his bankruptcy, and was at that very moment behind bars, his career and reputation in tatters.
Lilly Becker enlisted the help of a friend who happens to be a headteacher to tell her young son
Since Amadeus did not even know that his dad had been facing a jury at Southwark Crown Court last month — accused of hiding assets to avoid paying debts — this was quite a bombshell.
‘No one expected Boris to be jailed, so why would I want my child even to know about the trial?’ she asks. ‘When the sentence came, though, everyone was in shock, but I was the one who had to tell Amadeus.
‘I called my friend, who had taught in a nursery. She knew Amadeus. She also knows how to explain it in a way that wasn’t too brutal for him.
‘We told him in his play room, where he feels safe. It was one of the worst things I’ve ever had to do. I will never forget looking into his blue eyes — as blue as Boris’s — and watching them just go from left to right and back again. He was flabbergasted. He just couldn’t get a grip on it.
‘The sentencing had been on a Friday, and he’d seen his father on the Thursday, so he was saying ‘but . . . I just saw him’. You know that thing when someone dies, and you can’t believe it because they were just there? It was like that.
‘I said: ‘Do you want to cry?’ And he said, really quickly: ‘No.’ Then I said: ‘Do you want to be left alone?’ and he said ‘Yes’, and we went downstairs. He came down 20 minutes later.
Lilly, Boris and the couple’s son Amadeus pictured in a family photo in 2010
‘I know he’d been Googling. Damn Google! But I can’t stop him, can I? He needs answers. He deserves answers.’
The questions have come since and she has tried to answer them, but, as she points out repeatedly: ‘How do you?’
‘You try to downplay it. I told Amadeus his father had been ‘naughty’, but he’s a bit old for that sort of language. Then I told him Boris wasn’t a criminal.’
Which isn’t true, I say.
‘I know, but he’s not a criminal. He hasn’t murdered anyone. He hasn’t robbed a bank. I tried to keep it kind of light, sort of ‘he didn’t pay his bills, Amadeus. Let this be a lesson, you must pay your bills’, but . . .’ She slams the table. ‘But it’s not a thing you can be flippant about, is it?
‘Amadeus is doing better now. He’s asking questions — what will Papa be eating? Will he be able to watch films?
‘So I just have to answer as best I can, but no, it is not fair that I am in this position. It is not fair that Amadeus is in this position.’
Is Lilly remotely interested in what her estranged husband is eating in prison? Well, no. ‘I don’t give two s**ts what he’s eating. It won’t be steamed sea bass from Scott’s, will it?’ she says, referencing the Mayfair restaurant beloved of the rich and famous.
‘But I can’t say that to my son, can I? This is what I mean. Boris has done this, and I am the one having to clean up the mess. It’s always the women who have to clean up the mess.’
I have interviewed the second Mrs Becker before. The 45-year-old Dutch model and TV presenter is a sparky soul — ‘someone who does everything at 100 per cent,’ she admits herself.
Two years ago she was livid when her estranged husband — they separated in 2018, ‘and he hates me because I was the one who left him’ — took Amadeus on holiday with his latest girlfriend, Lilian de Carvalho Monteiro.
Pictures emerged of Becker’s new love putting sun cream on the child.
Becker appears at Southwark Crown Court in April with his new partner Lilian de Carvalho Monteiro
Lilly believed that this broke all the unwritten rules about how ‘new’ girlfriends should behave with their partner’s children.
The breaking-of-the-rules we are talking about today, though, is in a different league.
Boris was found guilty of hiding £2.5 million of assets and loans, to avoid paying debts. He was found guilty of four charges under the Insolvency Act.
Because he is not a British citizen, he could be booted out of the country on his release, his fall from grace complete.
Although he started his sentence in the Category B Wandsworth Prison, only a few miles from Lilly’s Wimbledon home, he has been moved to the Category C HMP Huntercombe in Oxfordshire. And Lilly says it feels she has been left holding the baby, so to speak, in this maelstrom.
H.M.P Huntercombe (above) is a prison near Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire, for foreign national men – and where German tennis star Boris Becker will call home for the remainder of his sentence
It’s the ‘final straw’ she says. ‘If you’d known how much I’ve had to cope with over the past four years. I say that I’ve got superpowers now. Bring it on. Throw the kitchen sink at me, too.
‘But this time, it really isn’t fair on Amadeus. He’s had years of having to cope with our split, which was nasty, and he had finally got his head around the fact that Mama and Papa weren’t together. Now this.’
How is she coping? She manages a laugh, of sorts. ‘I am cleaning like a maniac,’ she says. ‘You should see how much bleach I get through. I take it out on the Hoover, too.’ She leaps to her feet to demonstrate how cathartic it can be to pretend your ex is underfoot.
‘My poor Hoover! I have had five of them in the four years since Boris and I split up. I’ve been through them all, and none is heavy-duty enough!’.
Ultimately, you can only clean up so much. ‘Do you know what the best thing is? My son has become my best friend. Yes, we are helping each other. I think he has separation anxiety, so when I leave the house he says: ‘When will you be back?’ But he’s a great kid, so he can also see when it is all getting too much for me.
‘I tend to get angry and when I do he says: ‘Mama, don’t go Godzilla. Mama, you need a hug.’ He should not be in that position. I need to be the mother!’
Lilly was not in court to see any of Becker’s trial, nor to hear Judge Deborah Taylor eviscerate the father of her son. Judge Taylor told him: ‘You have not shown remorse, acceptance of your guilt and have sought to distance yourself from your offending and your bankruptcy. While I accept your humiliation as part of the proceedings, there has been no humility.’
Champion at 17: Boris Becker pictured left in 1985 with the Wimbledon trophy, and right during a game break in 1991
Lilly does not quibble with that summation. It’s complicated, though. She still loves him, Lilly admits, because how could you not love Boris Becker?
‘I had the best years with him — the best. And he gave me our son, so of course I still love him. But hate and love are like that.’ She twists her fingers into a tangle.
Reports have suggested that since Becker was jailed, the extended clan are rallying around.
Boris’s first wife was German-born Barbara Feltus, 55, with whom he has two grown-up sons, Noah, 28, and Elias, 22.
He married Lilly in 2009, and Amadeus was born the following year. Lilly and Barbara are in touch, she says, and have always had ‘respect’ for each other, accepting that their lives are entwined.
And what of Boris’s only daughter, Anna Ermakova, who was conceived in London restaurant Nobu in 1999 during a brief sexual encounter that came to define Becker as much as tennis ever did?
Wife No 1: Barbara Feltus, left, who Boris met at Harry’s New York bar in Munich in 1991. And pictured right Angela Ermakova with Boris’ daughter Anna Ermakova, who was the result of that notorious fling in the broom cupboard of the restaurant Nobu
Anna, 22, is now a model and seemingly has a good relationship with her father; she even wrote to the judge during his trial pleading for leniency.
‘I wrote a letter to the court to express my concern for my little half-brother, Amadeus,’ she told a German newspaper.
‘After all, he is only 12 and will now have to do without a father figure. It’s not fair to him. It’s going to be tough for Amadeus.’ How lovely that the whole family are united in their support.
Lilly snorts. ‘I am glad she is concerned for Amadeus, but Anna has never met him. There is no relationship there. He is in touch with his brothers.’
Anna has said she plans to visit her father in prison. Will Lilly allow Amadeus to do likewise?
‘I can’t answer that,’ she says. ‘My job is to protect my son. That is all. I am a single mother now.’
Lilly tells me that there are photographs of Boris ‘all over our house’. Does Amadeus hero-worship his dad?
‘No, I wouldn’t say hero-worship. He wasn’t around when Boris was playing at Wimbledon. He might see that on YouTube, but he’s not really into tennis. But he does love his father and he needs him. He’s at that age.’
Becker’s other son Noah and Becker’s partner Lilian de Carvalho Monteiro during the lunch break at Southwark Crown Court in April
Lilly never says Boris was a bad father — quite the opposite. ‘He was actually quite hands-on with his first two children. With Amadeus he’d babysit, but it was me doing the bulk, but that’s fine. It’s how it was. But at least Amadeus could see his dad.
‘Now, if I have to go away for work, I will have to take Amadeus with me. I was always a single mother, but now it’s entirely on me. I’ve just been incredibly lucky that his school have been supportive, and the other parents have, too. I worried that Amadeus would be bullied in the playground. You know what children can be like.’
Her anger is never far from the surface.
‘One day Boris will have to answer his son’s questions, to look in his eyes, just as I have done. I hope he has the answers ready. I hope he has been praying, like I have.
‘It’s about time he took responsibility for his actions. He’s got a year in jail to think about what he’s done; that’s a year of no alcohol, of getting fit, praying, meditating, whatever he needs to do. I can’t wait for him to come out and fix what he has broken. How is he going to do that? Amadeus will be 13-and-a-half when he gets out. That’s such an important age, when they change so much. He might not recognise his father.’
Maybe prison will be a wake-up call for Boris?
‘I hope that this is a wake-up call for him. I really do. Boris has never had to take responsibility for anything, but this time he has learned that there are consequences. You can’t just go through life like he does, with multiple kids all over the place . . .’
What would you say to Boris, if he were sitting here? ‘I’d say: ‘It’s not a game, Boris. You are not at bloody Wimbledon! It’s not the U.S. Open.’ My God, the man is 54. Our son has more sense than his father does!’
Is this an opportune time to ask whether Amadeus is anything like his father?
‘No!’ she says. ‘Obviously yes, in looks, but in personality no, he will not be like his father. Amadeus has grown up with women for most of his life, and he will respect women, I will make sure of that.
‘He has a little girlfriend already — he has known her from nursery — and he says: ‘Mama, I am a one-woman man. I will open doors for her. I will treat her like a Queen.’
Lilly is not in direct contact with Boris — which may be just as well for Boris. I ask whether the point of contact for him is his mother, or his girlfriend, Lilian, the political risk analyst who supported him during the trial. She is still with him, isn’t she?
‘I hope so because she is all he has left. I feel a little sorry for him in some ways. He had everything — all that money, women, fame. He had it all, and he f***ed it up.’
There is a telling moment when I ask if she is worried about Boris’s safety in prison, or his ability to cope with incarceration.
‘Boris will be fine,’ she says. ‘Of course he will be fine. He is Boris Becker — everyone will love him in there because he charms everyone. He is a storyteller. I can just imagine everyone flocking to talk to him, marvelling that Boris Becker is there. You mark my words. Boris will be fine, because he always is.’
Will their son be fine, too?
‘Yes, because it’s my job to make sure he is and, God help me, I will do it.’