Jocky Wilson: World champion darts player famed for drinking and his unhealthy lifestyle


Jocky Wilson was a legend as a darts player, as a television character and because of the legendarily large amounts of lager and vodka he knocked back during tournaments.

In the 1980s, large TV audiences watched in fascination at the talent of the diminutive Scot – pudgy, toothless, wreathed in cigarette smoke and sometimes visibly swaying as he tossed his darts.

No one could have looked or acted less like a sporting figure, yet he won two world championships and a host of other competitions. In the process he became something close to a national figure, regarded with affection for the incongruity of his successes and his exceptionally unhealthy lifestyle.

He made a lot of money but lost it through financial misfortune, announcing his withdrawal with the words, "I'm all washed up and finished with darts. There's only one person to blame for the situation I'm in, and that's me."

At that point he returned to his home town of Kirkcaldy, Fife, becoming a recluse in a small council flat.

He was only 62 when he died, after years of suffering from the lung disorder chronic pulmonary obstructive disease and other ailments.

In addition to his harmful adult lifestyle, he had a bad start in health terms, as a boy eating many sweets but refusing to brush his teeth. "My gran told me the English poison the water," he maintained.

He became a manual worker, with spells as a miner and coal delivery man. It was during a spell of unemployment that he discovered he could make money from winning darts tournaments and, after turning professional in 1979, he made his way into the sport's top 10 players.

His rise coincided with the televising of darts and the emergence of a number of characters. One of these was Eric Bristow, known as the Crafty Cockney, who was darts' number one; but Wilson captured the public imagination as the most unathletic player on show. An admiring Scots poet wrote proudly of him: "He's sixteen stain of fat and pain."

In 1983 Wilson, who had he nickname Gumsy, produced his autobiography, Jocky. Having no teeth was not a problem, he insisted: "I can manage just about anything with my gums," he wrote. "I can chew a steak provided it's well done. I can even eat apples. Great Yarmouth rock and nuts are the only two things that defeat me."

In the early years of televised darts, players were shown smoking and drinking pints of beer, even during important matches, something that helped create a pub-like atmosphere for the cameras. Wilson was probably among the top 10 drinkers as well as the top 10 players, saying he needed seven or eight vodkas before a match "to keep my nerves in a proper state". He once fell off the stage at the end of a game.

Darts commentator Sid Waddell remembered: "Jocky would drink four or five pints of lager and then, fatally, what he called the magic Coke. He would take off the top of a litre bottle of Coke and then top it up with half a litre of vodka and pass it round."

Despite, or perhaps because of, such excessive consumption, Wilson won the world championship in 1982. In 1989 he won it a second time, beating Bristow in the final: without the cockney's dominance of the game, the Scotsman would probably have won more tournaments.

He was certainly competitive, especially with Bristow, who once described a violent piece of Wilson gamesmanship before one televised match.

"As I climbed up [on stage], Jocky kicked me straight on the shin," he recalled. "The officials pulled us apart and I had to climb up, live on TV, even though I could feel my leg bleeding under my trousers. Jocky came up behind and I had to shake hands in front of the cameras and smile at him. All I wanted to do was strangle him."

Wilson's money drained away in a sorry tale of legal battles and unpaid tax, and he retired in 1996 at the age of 45. According to Waddell: "He couldn't be Jocky Wilson without a lot of drink. He couldn't be the player he was. Unfortunately, the 10 pints of lager and the three or four vodkas are going to kill you, if you do it every night."

Wilson himself partly agreed with this assessment in the rare occasions during his retirement when reporters were able to snatch hurried interviews with him at his front door.

"The drink came into it," he said, "but I wouldn't say it was just the drink. I just wasn't able to do it. I didn't have the energy. I'm glad I'm out of it, because of the way my mind was at the time.

"I just didn't have it in me. Maybe my mind wasn't right, but I just couldn't get out of there quick enough. I didn't have any go in me.

"I said to myself, 'I'll just have to get out of this because I can't handle it any more'." In retirement, he continued to drink and smoke heavily, so that by recent times his ailments included diabetes, depression and arthritis. He rarely left his flat, saying: "I don't even go out – only to the doctor."

He is survived by his Argentinian-born wife, Malvina, and their three children, daughter Anne Marie and sons John and William.

John Thomas Wilson, darts player: born Kirkcaldy 22 March 1950; married Malvina (two sons, one daughter); died Kirkcaldy 24 March 2012.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£30 - 35k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

Guru Careers: Software Engineer / Software Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software Engineer / Softw...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before