Sky darts presenter takes aim to fight disease at Blackpool

Dave Clark

Dave Clark

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It will take a huge measure of endurance and will power for any player to triumph at the BetVictor World Matchplay darts tournament in Blackpool.

And that sentiment assuredly applies not just to the man who emerges as number one on the Winter Gardens oche but also to Sky Sports’ principal darts presenter Dave Clark.

He pursues a successful, polished TV career, despite suffering from Parkinson’s, an illness for which he needs to take medication seven times a day.

But Clark is determined to carry on doing the job in TV that he has always craved despite such adversity, and his determination is spelled out in every utterance he makes on the subject.

He told The Gazette: “When I go up on the Winter Gardens stage on finals night to interview the winner, it will be the end of nine days’ work and I will be proud to be able to say Dave Clark 1, Parkinson’s 0.”

It is the kind of attitude that has led Clark to draw up plans to embark on a demanding 200-mile walk for the Parkinson’s charity in September, when he will trek all the way from St Bee’s in Cumbria to Robin Hood’s Bay on the east coast, with many uphill climbs.

He will joined by darts players such as Phil Taylor, John Part and Wayne Mardle, and by his Sky Sports colleague and predecessor as darts frontman Jeff Stelling.

Clark, the original presenter of Sky Sports News with Kirsty Gallagher, said: “I know that the illness is degenerative and that it will get worse, but I will make the most of it while I can.

“I am doing a job that I love, and I got to shake hands with Nelson Mandela and Muhammad Ali.”

Sadly, Parkinson’s runs in the Clark family. His father, who was also afflicted by the illness, took his own life aged 52.

Clark was 17 at the time and says he will never allow himself to go down that desperate route.

Born in Ilkley, West Yorkshire, Clark always wanted to get into TV from the age of 12.

He refused to be dissuaded, even when his careers master advised that he would be better off being an insurance man, as he laughingly recalls.

To pursue his ambition, Clark worked his way up from hospital broadcasting before joining Capital Radio in London and later getting his break with Sky.

He said: “I was the first presenter of Sky Sports News. The rest is history and it’s still going strong.”

And going just as strong is the World Matchplay, second only in importance to the world championship, and as wide open this year as it has ever been since its inception in 1994.

Clark said: “In the early days, they had to give tickets away along the Blackpool seafront to get people to come. Now the tickets are snapped up in no time.

“It is remarkable how darts has taken off.

“You see Prince Harry at big darts events, and Stephen Fry has worked in the Sky Sports commentary box.”

Clark does a week of intensive study before each tournament, so he is well prepared for his marathon presenting streak, and the Blackpool venue has a special place in his affections.

He said: “I used to come to Blackpool as a kid from my home in Yorkshire to go on the rides at the Pleasure Beach and see the Illuminations.

“It’s the history of the Winter Gardens that makes it so special.

“You can look out of the window of the studio and see the ornate surroundings and it’s a place where The Beatles have performed, where politicians like Sir Winston Churchill made speeches at party conferences and where great darts players like Phil Taylor and Michael van Gerwen now show off their skills.”

Not that Clark is prone to bragging about any precision at the dartboard.

“Three 180s is the best I’ve done,” he confessed.

Needless to say, Clark is particularly pleased that the chosen charity for this year’s World Matchplay is Parkinson’s UK.

Several fundraising events will take place throughout the duration of the Matchplay.

Sponsors BetVictor are backing Parkinson’s UK all the way and will make a charitable donation of £5,000 for every nine-dart finish.

Clark, like so many aficionados, can’t wait for the action to get under way.

And he has a sneaking fancy that an outsider could make an impact.

He said: “Simon Whitlock performed very well in the World Cup of Darts and I know from speaking to him that he goes into the World Matchplay feeling confident about his chances.

“His odds are 125-1 and he may be worth a few bob as an outsider.”

And Clark knows more than a bit about beating the odds.