Eric Bristow: The crafty cockney who won hearts everywhere
Five-time world champion died suddenly on Thursday after suffering a heart attack
Five-time world champion Eric Bristow has died at the age of 60 after suffering a heart attack, the Professional Darts Corporation has announced. Photo: Adam Butler/PA Wire
Eric Bristow was just 11 when his father bought him a dartboard and, with it, a ticket to a life he could only have dreamed of.
Bristow, who died on Thursday after a heart attack, went on to become a five-time world champion, a household name beyond the oche and an unlikely reality television star in his later years but might easily have pursued a different path.
Born on April 25 1957 to plasterer George and telephonist Pamela, he grew up in Stoke Newington and found himself attracted to the area’s more roguish elements.
In retirement he cheerfully admitted to some low-level gang crime in his youth - car theft and burglaries — was given the cane on his third day at Hackney Grammar School 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 he was from his first paying job as 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, though it never lasted long 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.
Throughout his rivalries with Jocky Wilson and John Lowe he lived up, and played up, to his nickname ‘the Crafty Cockney’ — a sobriquet he lifted from a bar he frequented in Santa Monica.
Having spent most of his 20s as the world’s number one player the only way was down and a long battle with dartitis — an inability to release the arrow and a near cousin of golf’s ‘yips’ — ensured it would not be an easy ride.
He found relief in his personal life, marrying wife Jane in 1989 and becoming father to Louise and James over the next four years. His family later grew to include a half-brother, Kevin, whose existence had been a well-kept secret until he was 45.
Despite being a founder member of the breakaway PDC (World Darts Council) in 1993, he was no longer an elite performer, a semi-final run in the 1997 PDC World Championship a stirring but isolated return to form.
He was beaten on the day by Phil ‘the Power’ Taylor, whom he had first met as a gifted young player in his adopted home of Stoke. Taylor benefited from the older man’s financial support, name recognition and mentorship in his early years, long before becoming the star he is today.
In nurturing the most decorated champion in the sport’s, even losing to him in as he landed his first world crown in 1990, Bristow’s already distinguished CV gains added legacy.
Bristow transitioned comfortably into life away from competitive darts, working for Sky television as both commentator and spotter, working the exhibition and autobiography circuit before being cast in ratings hit 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.