Leader reporter Claire Gallagher meets darts champion Phil Taylor during a visit to Chester and finds out how he manages to keep a steady hand in front of 10,000 people.

IT takes nerves of steel to keep a steady hand in front of 10,000 people but having ‘bottle’ is something Phil ‘The Power’ Taylor is used to, having won a record 15 world darts championships.

For competition winners getting a rare chance to play the legend the mood on the oche is one of nerves and apprehension.

Phil is in Chester for the official launch of new Darts Zones at Rileys.

Ushered into a small room where the Stoke-born sportsman is donning his playing shirt, I don’t know what to expect of this true master of the game.

But when I shake his hand and say hello, I immediately feel welcome by Phil’s friendly face and jokey manner.

“I have been playing darts for 25 years and the Darts Zones are a new innovation,” says Phil, who lives in Nantwich with his wife Yvonne and children. “I think it’s great for the sport. These halls have big screens, pool, snooker and are dead modern.”
You would expect a darts champ to have a good eye, and Phil is certainly an observant interviewee.

He takes a moment to look at my notebook and informs me I have written some longhand in my shorthand.

I inform him the longhand is for more complicated words, and he laughs.
Since Phil began his illustrious career, the darts world has changed a lot – not least in terms of the money on offer. “Darts players are getting paid as much as a Premiership footballer – and more,” he says.

In 1990 Phil qualified to play in the world championship for the first time and he quickly rose up the ranks.

“I can remember many special games and there have been many close calls,” he says.

Phil is now friends with superstar Robbie Williams and Robbie’s dad Peter, and is hoping to go out to Los Angeles to stay with Robbie in June.

But for someone who keeps celebrity company and is a sporting legend himself, he is certainly down to earth.

I ask him his age, to which he replies: ”Well, how old are you?”

“How old do you think I am?’ I dare to ask. Maybe Phil is too polite to respond, but after a pause he says: “49.”

There’s a horrified moment of silence when I think he means I’m 49. Then we laugh, and I realise that’s his age.

He jokes that I’ve gone red and that I won’t be needing a holiday this year with my colour.

So what is the secret to his success?

“Hard work, dedication and natural ability,” he says. “You also have to have bottle if you’re going to be playing in front of 10,000 people.”

Phil then breaks off to sign a darts magazine, which he also has a quick flick through, and poses for a couple of photos.

The interview over, Rileys ambassador Phil heads off to play the competition winners.

Rileys is the UK’s largest pool and snooker operator and has introduced Darts Zones at most of its 120 clubs nationwide.

The Zone at Centurion Point, Victoria Road, includes a new six-lane playing area, fitted with championship-quality boards, electronic scoring and specially-focused lighting.

Winners take it in turns to play Phil and former ladies’ world champion Anastasia Dobromyslova, based in Ellesmere Port, who is also launching the zones.
Originally from Russia, Anastasia now plays in a Frodsham darts league.

“It’s really hard work and I’m practising in my house all the time,” she says.

“Sometimes you get fed up with it. Then you remember the first time you played and you can’t wait to play again.”

Warehouse worker Gareth Owen, 25, from Queensferry, won a Leader competition to play Phil.

“He’s my sporting hero and I really enjoyed playing him,” he says. “The facilities here are first class. It’s nice to have a large, dedicated area for darts, rather than just the corner in a pub.”

Another lucky challenger was Mark Ephgrave, 29, from Lache. He said: “It was brilliant to play against such a true sporting legend. He was so friendly and full of banter, it was a great game.”

In a speech after the event, Phil says that playing darts means making friends and tells the crowd that anyone could try to make it as a professional player.

“The rise of darts is phenomenal,” says Rileys chief executive Maurice Kelly. “The game has seen a massive increase in people not only following, but participating as well. Our facilities reflect the new and rapidly improving world of darts.”

And Phil ‘The Power’ Taylor?

“I’m just going to continue going from tournament to tournament and just go from one day to the next,” he says. “One day I’ll get out of bed and know it’s the right time to retire.”