Jocky Wilson: From filleting fish in Fife to darts & TV stardom

By Tom EnglishBBC Scotland
Watch: Wilson attempts nine-dart finish

Sid Waddell, the darts commentator to beat all darts commentators, saved some of his best lines for Jocky Wilson.

"The lad has the psychology of a claymore," said Sid when Jocky came out to play John Lowe in the 1982 World Darts final at the Jollees Cabaret Club in Stoke-on-Trent, a tournament he prepared for by upping his quota of vodkas and cokes and ordering in extra cartons of Embassy blues.

"Jocky's going like the Loch Ness Monster with a following wind," said Sid when the Scot was on the cusp of winning the title for the first time, the second coming seven years later in a classic grudge match with Eric Bristow.

Jocky Wilson Said, a documentary on his life and death, aired on BBC Scotland last year and took us to the heart of the community that produced Jocky, to the people he knew there, the people who understood him and protected him when the inevitable happened and things went wrong, when darts chewed him up.

They could all see it, but were powerless to do anything about it. They tried. How they tried. The glare of the lights, the heat of the media, his once ordinary life turned on its head and in its place an existence he wasn't cut out for. From an upbringing in a children's home to a working life spent labouring, filleting fish, in the army, down the pit and out on the fields picking potatoes, to appearances on Terry Wogan and Russell Harty and spreads in the tabloid press and sponsorship deals and exhibition nights.

Money? When Jocky went to the Scottish Championships in Edinburgh early in his career he had a piece of string holding up his trousers. He described his younger self: "A bit scruffy, no money, hardly any teeth, long hair, you know. I was a bit untidy an' that..."

That changed when he finished off Lowe with the double 16. Suddenly there was cash, but suddenly, also, there was pressure and attention and a life lived out of a suitcase. To a shy and homesick and insecure man with a penchant for darkness when the drink took hold, no good was going to come of it.

Jocky Wilson saved my life - Bobby George

He was asked what he did for relaxation. "Just drink pints of vodka, that'll do me," he said. In Jocky Wilson Said, the great showman Bobby George recounts a tale of rooming with Jocky and being constantly woken by the sound of a newly struck match. George said that Jocky used to have 20 fags in his sleep. It's said that, at his worst, he burned through 200 a day.

He had the money, but it soon went. He wasted some, got ripped off for some more, fought the taxman, fought a former manager. It all ran out. The fame thing? "I didn't have it in me," he said. "I couldn't handle it."

The savage irony is that by being so painfully uncomfortable with the attention, he guaranteed that more of it would come his way. Our fascination with the man and the community he came from, then left and then returned to, remains strong.

Jocky Wilson died in 2012, aged 62, the last decade and a half of his life spent behind forever closed doors at home in Kirkcaldy with his wife, Malvina. He suffered from diabetes, arthritis and depression, but it was chronic lung disease that got him in the end. In those latter years he couldn't leave the house even if he'd wanted to, which he didn't.

He couldn't, or wouldn't, come to the door for Jimmy Skirving or Willie Burness or Rab Smith or any of the other boys from down the Lister Bar (now a Co-op), where many of his happiest, carefree days and nights in darts took place. The same when Bobby George came calling to Kirkcaldy. The same for Bristow. The lads say that poor health was part of his incapacitation. The largest part. But embarrassment was a factor, too. From obscurity to fame to obscurity. He came from nothing and went back to nothing.

Nervous and sweating, he was transported to another dimension the second he threw that double 16. We've been fascinated with him ever since. Before his death, many journalists attempted to interview him, but the closest anybody got was a short chat through a crack in the door. There's been a stage play and a short film, there have been numerous 'In Search of Jocky Wilson' newspaper articles and talk of a book and a movie, and then an hour-long documentary.

You don't have to be from Kirkcaldy or Scotland to be gripped by his story. You don't have to have experience of, or fondness for, darts to be drawn in by the tale of a folk hero whose talent was almost too big. His talent for throwing arrows, in the most unconventional way, took him out of his comfort zone and sent him spinning into a new world. The road to ruin, some would say.

All Jocky Wilson wanted was a quiet life and new teeth. "I just want to be left alone," he said towards the end.

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