Candelabra in the Wind

By Paul Woodage 21/04/2021

"SCORING for show, doubles for dough.” Arguably the most famous phrase spoken in the history of darts. Those memorable words emanated from darting royalty and one of the characters that truly encapsulated the birth of the game. That man is of course the enigmatic Bobby George.

Also recognised for his flamboyant entrances and well known catchphrases, the iconic ‘King Of Bling’ is undoubtedly one of the biggest personalities the sport has ever produced. In a time when players would simply just stride out to the stage with darts in hand, it was George who was the first to break that mould. When he walked out to a match at the 1994 Embassy World Championships, he changed the entire way darts players make their grand entrances onto the stage.

George beamed: “Before the event began, I was chatting with a cameraman called Bob Wilson. He had these great images of players strolling up the oche but there was something missing so he suggested perhaps adding a bit of music. I knew the BDO probably wouldn’t like it but when I asked the BBC they thought it was a great idea. A few players moaned at the time, especially John Lowe who said this wasn’t a circus and didn’t like all the razzmatazz - he loves it all now!

“As far as the whole look goes, that dates back to my Embassy debut in 1980. The glittery shirt was actually an idea inspired by ice skaters who often dressed that way. During a trip to Spain for a tournament, I was having a few drinks in a bar and watched an Elvis impersonator perform in a shiny shirt and bright yellow catsuit. I turned to the bar owner and commented that he was a dreadful singer but really looked the part. The gaffer’s missus did a bit of embroidery so agreed to make me a similar shirt if I agreed to wear it at the World Championships the following month. They also bet me £25 I wouldn’t, so come the event I didn’t want to lose that wager.

“Two BDO officials called Bill Skipsey and Fred Harwood gave me a candelabra they got from the hotel just before I walked on against Dave Whitcombe so there I was, in this loud glittery shirt holding a big candle thing.”

It’s hard to believe that the man who won the famous News of the World tournament in 1979 only really began chucking arrows properly a few years earlier. It was during a fishing trip with friends to Kinsale in County Cork, Ireland that Bobby first recognised he had a talent for the game when he began playing with mates in the pub one evening. Within a few years he was racking up the tournament wins. He said:

“One of my early pals in darts was Paul Durrant who owned Durro Darts. A very decent player who wasn’t short of a few bob so paid for me to go to America as long as I gave him the $250 airfare back if won a tournament. So in 1978, I went over and cleaned up including winning the North American Open. That victory alone was a nice couple of grand so when I got home I gave Durro his money back.”

Reminiscing about some special times he spent with his long time friend, the late great Eric Bristow, George recalls with fondness: “I’d known Eric for donkeys years. When I began playing properly we would often go on what was known as ‘money racers’. We’d travel around to different pubs in East London and try to win a few bob at the darts. “It was like an apprenticeship back then, it’s how we made a few quid. We had an arrangement that whatever we won we would share. A lot were only a £50 prize purse but it soon added up if we managed to do a few tournaments each night in different bars. Essentially it was like getting paid to go on a pub crawl.”

That was George’s big break. After his initial rise to fame, fast forward a few years away from the bright lights of the BDO World Championships, he returned in 1993 and went all the way to the semi final where John Lowe put an end to the dream. Twelve months on during a match at the Lakeside, the cost from years of intensive labour finally caught up on him.

He added:

“All my life I had worked hard physically; digging tunnels, laying floors and so much more. It had all taken its toll on my body but I always used to just get on with it and battle through the pain. After my 1994 Embassy World Championships quarter final win against Kevin Kenny, I jumped up in delight and heard my back go the second I landed. It was sheer agony and knew immediately I was in trouble so went straight to the hospital."

Of course the BBC were there with cameras on me as I was lifted on some kind of human crane and taken for x-rays. “The surgeon basically said that I had broken my back and there wasn’t a hope I could play the semi-final. They refused to give me painkillers or an injection in case I sustained permanent damage but did suggest a steel corset. If the pain got too much my body would let me know and I would simply collapse so I went along with the corset idea. As soon as I arrived at the venue and strapped it on I could barely walk or turn meaning every time I threw a dart at a double that wasn’t tops it missed by a mile. “Against the odds and probably science, I somehow managed to scrape a win against Magnus Caris. The next day in the final against John Part I could barely move.

The Embassy and BBC were really putting pressure on me to play. Eventually I decided to give it my best shot but Part battered me 6-0. Afterwards I hobbled back to the changing room where my driver Stretch helped me take off my shoes and socks. They were wringing wet with the sweat from the pain, I felt like someone had shoved thousands of razor blades in my body.”

It’s a very different game now to how it used to be. The PDC have changed the landscape for darts completely and turned it into a global sport allowing players to make a very lucrative living from it. George added:
“I have to say what the PDC have done is marvellous. I’ve known Barry Hearn a very long time and he has always been a smart, shrewd businessman. It was frustrating to see the demise of the BDO as they had it all - a magnificent ship sat in the harbour, a great crew but no wind to sail it. “

All the chairman, Ollie Croft had to do was ask the 25,000 or so BDO members an annual fee which could go towards production. But he was too soft and let the counties dictate to him when it should have been the other way around. I once stood up in front of all the county leaders and tried to talk sense into them but they didn’t want their players putting their hands in their pocket to pay a subscription fee. If they had listened things could have been very different.”

For now he enjoys the quiet life with wife Marie on his self-built mansion in Essex aptly named ‘George Hall’. It boasts 17 bedrooms, a workshop where he used to make dartboards and even it’s own pub which hasn’t been forced to close. If you love all the stories of yesteryear, the brilliant anecdotes and want to listen to some of George’s fond memories then you will regularly find him on the exhibition circuit reminiscing. A definite entry of the bucket list of any true darts fan.

-------ENDS-------

Original Article appears in Issue 573 of Darts World Magazine.
Bobby George has agreed ( April 2021) to be an ambassador, presenter, and pundit for World Seniors darts.

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