I'm one of maybe four fully professional players. But there are women who take it very seriously, competing in tournaments at weekends, holding down normal jobs. This is what I did. I used to work as a self-employed carpenter and joiner sub-contracting for a joinery firm but I couldn't get as much time off as I needed to play darts. Ladies darts is bigger than ever but we get only a third of the prize money men receive. I make my money from exhibitions and sponsorship from Winmau, which manufactures darts boards.
I'm sure the people at Winmau will be delighted you've got a plug in so early. Can you tell me how you first became interested in darts?
My parents were in the pub trade. They'd play for darts teams to make up the numbers and my sister played as well. At 14 I used to watch the league games but wasn't allowed to play, but I would practise after they'd finished. I've always been a sporty person: football, cricket, tennis, table tennis and field sports like javelin. I was told I had a natural talent for darts and if I kept it up I would play for England one day. Playing for my country is my pride and joy; so far I've been selected 13 times. Every other year there is the World Cup. Two years ago it was held in Perth, Australia, and the next one is taking place in Durban, South Africa. In the years between there's a European event. Most of the time I compete as an individual in open tournaments here and on the Continent.
This weekend I'm playing in Belgium but we also play in Germany, Holland, Switzerland, Finland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, the Isle of Man, the Channel Islands as well as the home counties. But you hardly get to see any of these places - all you see is the hotel, venue, dartboard and the airport. You get ranking points from these events. I'm currently ladies number one.
So what does Mr Gulliver think of your work?
He's always been very supportive. He doesn't play darts himself. He used to be a rugby player and lived for it. But a virus that affects your nerve ends put a stop to that. He was bed-bound for six months and was unable to work for two-and-a-half years.
How do you prepare yourself for a competition?
I get up at seven, shower and have breakfast. Next I'll travel to the venue, which might be around the corner or a taxi ride away. You have to register yourself for the competition. Then I'll start practising. It's a long day so initially it's just throwing at the board and loosening your arm and wrist up. It's mentally very stressful; you need a lot of stamina and have to stay concentrated. It's very exhausting.
What happens at exhibitions?
I'm part of a show called "Beauties and the Beast". I partner Kevin Painter, who is ranked eight in the world, and there is Martin Fitzmaurice, a caller who brings in a lot of comedy. I get to play the locals. I take on the men. They expect to beat a woman and don't always like it when they don't. Funny things happen and Martin reacts to it. At exhibitions players do trick shots. Everyone has their own little thing: someone might throw darts from a kneeling position and others are able to throw a dart backwards and make it flip over in mid-air so it still hits the board point first. I can't do this to save my life.
So it's not all lager, beer bellies and fags then?
It's getting to be a bit of a myth, that old beer-belly thing. But the game did originate in pubs. A lot of darts players are slimmer and fitter than you'd expect, and many play a lot of other sports such as golf.
And finally I hear you're taking on the really good men?
That's right. Every year the top women players are entered for the qualifying rounds of the Embassy World Championships along with the men's county champions. It's a tall order. Women are closing the gap on men all the time but they are improving as well. We can get the same average as the men but we are not as consistent. Sooner or later a woman will break through and qualify for the finals. I hope it's me.Reuse content