An email conversation with Bobby George: 'Being on that stage is better than making love'

Representing America at darts in 1978; Which stars had to fight off groupies; Why Phil Taylor still plays second fiddle

The Lakeside World Professional Darts Championships get under way on Saturday. Who's your tip for the top this year and why?

It is difficult but, going on performance over the past year, I would have to go for Michael van Gerwen, the No 3 seed. He is the reigning Winmau World Master and, at 17 years old, has the ability and, more importantly, the temperament, to take the pressure on a big stage.

You got pretty close to getting through the qualification process for the championships yourself this year. It must have been disappointing to have got so near and yet so far.

I got beat in the final of my group - I was gutted. I had so many chances but I'll be back!

You'll be behind the microphone again for the BBC this year. How does commentating compare to being up there on the oche and what's it like being in front of a world championships crowd at the Lakeside?

Being on that stage in front of the crowds is a feeling you just can't buy - it's better than making love! I also get a buzz working for the BBC and still get to go on that stage and do a walk-on by popular demand!

The British Darts Organisation, which runs the championships, suffered a major setback this year with the defection of four-times world champion Raymond van Barneveld to the rival Professional Darts Corporation. How much of a blow was that?

I don't think it was too much of a blow - Jelle Klaasen was absolutely superb last year and a worthy champion. One man doesn't make a championships, there are loads of players in the world federation of darts who are all capable of being world champion.

The PDC's world championship finishes tonight and now we have the BDO's version. Isn't it a bit self-defeating to have two different world champions?

No.

Isn't it a problem that,when one championship has a player who is seen by the majority of fans as the dominant player of his generation, such as Phil Taylor, then the winner of the other tournament is seen almost as a second-string champion?

Phil Taylor is, of course, the dominant player in his world championship. As far as I am concerned he plays second fiddle to the BDO world championship, who have over 60 countries competing to be world champion, which is the world, not a club! As it happens, Phil Taylor got beat by the reigning BDO world champion this year in a televised tournament in Holland.

Wouldn't the best thing be for there to be a unified championship? Do you think this will ever happen or do the wounds from the big split in the 1990s still cut too deep?

I don't think this will ever happen. It's like a messy divorce, although the players on both sides do get on OK and I am friends with most of them and with Phil Taylor. I personally think that the commentators on the PDC don't help the situation. Prior to Raymond van Barneveld going to the PDC, the commentators never rated him as a top-class player, saying he was just average! Now he is the best thing since sliced bread!

You've got your new book (Bobby Dazzler My Story) out. You must have a few tales to tell.

I have 30 years of Robert George and 31 years of Bobby George so, yes, you could say I have a few.

You were part of what many people still regard as the golden era of darts. What was it like being part of that scene along with the likes of Eric Bristow, Jocky Wilson et al?

We were there at the right time, at the start of televised darts. Most of us were the musketeers, "one for all and all for one", but a few were like the sheriff of Nottingham, "all for one!" We paved the way for today's players.

You were a pretty late starter, though, at 30. Tell us the story of how you first took up the arrows in 1976.

I went fishing in Ireland with some friends. The sea was rough so we decided to adjourn to a pub for the day. People were playing darts so my mate, Malcolm Ellis (who played the game), said "Let's pair up and join in". I was able to hit whatever target he told me to go for and he tried to persuade me to take the game up. It wasn't until a few weeks later I decided to take the game up to shut up a guy who was bullying people on the dartboard!

You must have seen a few changes in the sport over the years. These days players even talk about going to the gym. How different is it today?

They say they go to the gym but I don't believe most of them! The changes, I feel, are playing from 8ft on a wooden board to 7' 6" on a bristle board and now 7' 9". The format of games is much longer nowadays. From best of three legs 501 to best of five legs.

You're renowned for your grand entrances, wearing a crown and cape, and your use of large amounts of jewellery. How did all that come about?

I'd just qualified for the world championships in 1980 and was thinking about doing something different to make the game more showbiz. I saw a guy in cabaret dressed in a yellow catsuit trying to take off Elvis and I said to some girls, "That bloke is a terrible singer", and they said, "Yes, but he looks the part!" They suggested I wear a sequinned shirt - when I walked on stage wearing the shirt, a BDO official, Billy Skipsey, handed me a candelabra for a joke as he said I was like Liberace. The rest is history!

Did all that bling ever cause you any problems?

I almost tripped going up the stairs with the cape, which is why my wife, Marie, always follows behind me!

With your flamboyant image, did you ever get targeted by any darts groupies?

We all got targeted, especially in the early days when I was young and good-looking!

What's the strangest thing that ever happened to you during your career?

I won the North American Open in 1978 and the winner would represent America in the World Masters, so I represented America in 1978, which I thought was strange, being an Englishman.

What was your greatest success and biggest disappointment?

My greatest success was winning the News of the World Championship in 1979 and my biggest disappointment was having to withdraw from the World Cup team of 1981 due to a ruptured spleen.

Do you still harbour your dream to be world champion?

I always say I will be the oldest man to win the world championships - "who dares wins!"

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