Today I had the opportunity to conduct a Q/A interview with Paul Michael, Managing Director at Darts GB. Paul, who turns 60 this year, has been involved in darts within some capacity for 47 years! His enthusiasm and extensive knowledge for the game is admirable and made for a fascinating interview.
Paul is heavily involved on the exhibition circuit; arranging exhibitions with a number of top darting professionals, from both past and present. Paul has worked very closely with the likes of Eric Bristow, John Lowe and Bob Anderson in Tenerife, where they frequently holiday together. Paul has also worked with Bobby George, Cliff Lazarenko, Mike Gregory, Adrian Lewis, Colin Lloyd, Rod Harrington, and Wayne Mardle amongst others.
Paul was originally a driving instructor and has run his own driving school for 39 years. As his exhibition work became more frequent, he purchased a handful of large cabinets to store his darting equipment in the back of his Driving School office. Local dart leagues became aware that he had darts- related items for sale, and within two months, his darting business was expanding!
As a result, he placed his darting equipment in the front of his shop, whilst the driving school was transferred to the back of the office. Since then, his business has gone from strength to strength. His Darts GB store currently offers 2000 different darts in the shop for customers to view and try. This is one of the largest selections of darts available within the entire country.
Paul also retains a major passion for playing the game. He has plied his trade in pub darts for decades, but at the ripe old age of 59, he decided to join the City of London Darts Association, where matches are played over the best of 14 legs. He has relished the prospect of the longer format and is enjoying tremendous success in the Silver division, as he’s won all 4 of his league matches thus far. Having dropped just 9 legs in 4 matches, he has his sights firmly set on promotion to the Gold division.
In this in-depth interview, Paul discusses the expansion of his Darts GB store and the importance of finding the right equipment for the individual. He also discusses his relationship with a number of high-profile players, whilst reminiscing about some of his fondest moments in the game.
Josh Gorton: I believe you are about to move into a new shop and expand. What do you see to be the main benefits of the new premises to both you and your customers?
Paul Michael: The new shop is 4-5 times the size of the current shop and this will give me the opportunity to display much more for customers to see. I want to make the current selection the best available anywhere in the world; hopefully I will succeed!
JG: What is your role in advising customers at Darts GB?
PM: I am usually available to advise people on exactly what darts suit them, as every dart player’s throw is different. Each player’s throw is like a fingerprint. There are never 2 identical throws! As I have played for many years, I have noticed that a very large percentage of players actually throw darts that simply do not suit their throw.
When people visit my shop, I give them 4 or 5 different shapes of dart to try and I watch the trajectory of the dart as it flies through the air, so I can see which darts suit and which darts don’t. I then ask how often they play and then advise them on the weight. In my opinion, to play with a lighter set, a player should play a lot of darts and use a heavier set if they don’t play that regularly.
JG: The different types of flights, barrels, stems etc. may seem somewhat unimportant to the occasional Dart follower, but just how big a difference do these minor details make?
PM: These are not minor details, they are very important! I have already explained that different people need different shape barrels. Generally, the longer the stem, the more the dart moves about in the air unless you can throw the darts very straight and most people can’t. So in my opinion, the ‘lesser’ player should use shorter stems.
Some people have large hands and they need longer stems otherwise the flights touch their hands.
The flights make a difference as well. The larger the flight, the more it drags through the air. It then slows down and sits up more at the back. The smaller the flight, the faster it flies through the air and sits up less at the back, sometimes even laying down at the back.
JG: Most players seem to throw with darts varying between 22-25 grams; yet Stephen Bunting for example, throws a very light 12 gram dart! How does the weight affect a player’s throw and the flight of the dart?
PM: Usually, to play with a light dart you should play very frequently but also you need to take into consideration how the player throws. The better players have mastered the art of throwing the dart and keeping the body still.
The only thing that should move is your arm. There are millions of people that move their body all over the place when they throw. When you look at the very top players, they have worked on keeping still when releasing the dart.
John Lowe is 70 years old this year and still throws with very little body movement. This must be one of the big factors in his brilliant career. It’s not luck that won him dozens of titles over the years; it is dedication, hard work and obviously having the natural talent that most of us have craved, but never had.
I must say though, the person who in my opinion is the best at keeping his body still when releasing the dart is definitely Phil Taylor. You can see a clip of Phil throwing his dart in slow motion and 33 seconds into this video you will see exactly what I mean.
I have advised hundreds of people to copy it, but it is so difficult. I have tried it so many times and failed. I video myself throwing and try desperately to keep still, just like Phil Taylor in the clip. Yet when I play it back I have moved! Perhaps that is why I have always been a pub player!
JG: Haha! Which player’s darts within your store are typically most popular? Do you believe customers purchase darts based on the profile of the player, or the quality of the actual equipment?
PM: It is difficult to say which dart is most popular as I cannot reveal any trade secrets! Sorry!
JG: Phil Taylor and Raymond van Barneveld, arguably the two best players in darting history, are renowned for tinkering with their set-up. What is your view on this? Do you think it really improves their game, or is it a mental thing?
PM: What you have to realise is that these guys have achieved so much more than most and they still want to improve. There is nothing wrong with that!
JG: As a well-known figure in darting circles, out of all dart players, old and new, which players are you closest with and why?
PM: I am not really close to any of the current crop of famous dart players; I do know quite a lot of them and they know me but it is usually a professional working relationship.
I have played golf with Eric Bristow, John Lowe and Bob Anderson, been on holiday to Tenerife with them and thoroughly enjoyed their company. Cliff Lazarenko is the perfect gentleman, as are Bob Anderson and Mike Gregory.
John Lowe is still a very professional person. He takes his sponsorship with Unicorn very seriously and is a good role model for the younger dart players who have been lucky enough to get a sponsorship deal with a major company.
I sponsor some younger players; some of whom have represented England at youth level and I have been really disappointed with some, due to their lack of respect for me as their sponsor. They should take a leaf out of John’s book and then they would keep their sponsorship as John has done for an amazing 45 years with Unicorn!
I get on really well with Eric Bristow because we are very similar, apart from the skill factor involved with darts ( I haven’t got much natural talent and I have to work very hard at it to get up to a good level of play). Eric says it how it is, as do I. Sometimes I lack a little tact, just like Eric and I know he won’t mind me saying that!
Wayne Mardle is one of the best exhibitionists in my opinion as he likes to have a good time and usually tries to make sure everyone else does as well. He is as nutty as a fruitcake, but great fun and I hope it’s not too long before we work together again!
Mike Gregory is one of the nicest people you could hope to have doing your exhibition. He bends over backwards to do everything and more to ensure your night is a great one. Also, he can still play to a good standard, so you will have to be on your best form to challenge him if you take it seriously. Mike will usually look at your ability first so he doesn’t make you look silly; that is a nice gesture. I hope to work with Mike many more times in the future.
JG: Who do you believe has the best action in the game and why? Is there such a thing as the ‘perfect throw’, or is it based on what suits the individual?
PM: The perfect throw is obviously the one that wins the most and that is Phil Taylor; BUT you couldn’t say to a young player “copy him” because his throw is his own and no one else can replicate it.
I love watching Tony O’Shea, who copied Leighton Rees’s action. Steve Beaton has a lovely throw. John Lowe makes it look so easy. Raymond van Barneveld often makes it look effortless, as do Gary Anderson and Adrian Lewis.
JG: Who do you believe is the most natural talent in the game of Darts at present and why?
PM: When I have worked with Adrian Lewis, he looks so natural, until he starts thinking about things and then his body moves a little and it doesn’t work so well. Michael van Gerwen throws at a similar speed to me and he makes it look extremely easy. Unfortunately for me, my darts don’t seem to go in the same segments as Michael’s and that’s a big shame for me isn’t it?!
JG: What has been your best/most memorable moment within Darts over the years and why?
PM: I have watched and played darts since 1968 and the most memorable game for me was most definitely the World Championship Final between Mike Gregory and Phil Taylor in 1992. Mike missed at least 6 darts at double to become World Champion and I remember jumping up and down at home, desperately urging him to win it, but he never did.
I still feel bad to this day for Mike because other players who have won the World Championship once have had a long career and regular income on the back of their win; Mike should have had the same but missed out.
I have worked with Mike quite a few times and presented him with a shirt that I made myself and I would like to add that not many players won more titles in their career than Mike.
He was 2 times back-to-back News of the World Champion, a feat only matched by 2 others, Tom Barrett in 1963/64 and Eric Bristow in 1982/83, which was the World Championship in those days.
JG: Thanks so much for your time Paul; it’s been a pleasure. All the best for your new store opening!
PM: Thanks, Josh.