Eric Bristow, who has died at 60, was a five-times world darts champion and a household name far beyond the oche, but he but might easily have pursued a different path.
He was just 11 when his father, George, a plasterer in the east London district of Stoke Newington, bought him first dartboard. Had he not, as he admitted in retirement, he would probably have fallen in with the area’s more roguish elements.
As it was, he became involved in low-level car theft and burglaries, was given the cane on his third day at Hackney Grammar and admitted carrying a claw hammer in his trousers “in case of trouble”.
That such exploits became a hazy memory rather than a way of life owed much to his mastery of the arrows.
George Bristow, who believed there was a sport for everyone, exposed his son to golf, snooker and pool before he struck gold with darts.
By 14 Eric was an active member of a local team and by 15 he was making more from tournament prize money than from his real job as a proofreader for an advertising agency.
Bristow’s technique – pinkie finger outstretched in the manner of a refined tea party – initially marked him out for mockery, but it turned to envy as he outflanked all comers.
At 30 he had done it all: a quintet of world crowns between 1980 and 1986, countless other trophies and trinkets, an MBE on the way and a heavy dose of mainstream popularity, fed by his regular triumphant appearances on the small screen.
He revelled in the lifestyle it afforded him, and appropriated the nickname Crafty Cockney from a bar he frequented in Santa Monica.
But the only way from the top was down, and a battle with “dartitis”, an inability to release the arrow and a cousin of the “yips” in golf, put him on the slide. He found relief in his personal life, marrying Jane in 1989 and becoming father to Louise and James over the next four years. His family later grew to include a half-brother, whose existence he discovered at 45.
But despite helping to found the breakaway World Darts Council in 1993, he was no longer an elite performer. In the 1997 championships he was beaten by Phil ‘the Power’ Taylor, whom he had met as a gifted young player in his adopted home of Stoke. Taylor had benefited from Bristow’s financial support, name recognition and mentorship in his early years.
Bristow, meanwhile, transitioned comfortably into life away from competitive darts, working for Sky TV as commentator, traversing the exhibition and autobiography circuit and eventually being cast on ITV’s reality show, I’m A Celebrity...Get Me Out of Here.
The Australian outback was a change from his usual holiday haunts of Tenerife and Las Vegas but he charmed viewers sufficiently to finish fourth in the show, striking up an unlikely bond with Made in Chelsea’s Hugo Taylor along the way.
The lustre of his public persona was dulled somewhat in 2016 by an ill-advised tweet relating the sex abuse scandal in football, an episode for which he apologised but still cost him his Sky job.
Reflecting on the career, he noted: “Hopefully I’ve given something back to darts. It’s been brilliant to me.”