When Radio Wales get that man off the Go Compare adverts to sing your name at the start of a show you can probably tell you have achieved something special. “Yeah that was a bit weird,” Gerwyn Price says with a laugh. “But otherwise it’s been extremely quiet since.”
Two weekends ago, Price, 35, won the PDC World Championship, collecting £500,000 and the status of world No 1 in the process. There were no fans allowed at Alexandra Palace, but in living rooms across Britain and, yes, throughout the world, Price’s win over two-time champion Gary Anderson it is fair to say created some noise.
In Hollywood, Matthew McConaughey expressed his delight, while several British and Irish Lions paid tribute, as did the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, and the First Minister of Wales, Mark Drakeford, in letters he received earlier this week. All were fascinated not just by The Iceman’s talent and character but his backstory, unique in this modern age of single-sport obsessives.
Here was a combustible character, who was a rugby union professional until he took flight into another career, swapping the line-outs for the oche. After turning out as hooker for teams such as Neath and Glasgow Warriors, Price became a darts pro in 2014. In six years, this former bouncer fought his way to the summit. It has been a remarkably quick rise, but only now is it emerging just how remarkable.
“I didn’t even own my own set of darts until 2012 when my mate started a team in the pub and we’d just play on a Friday night,” he says. “I’d hardly played before. But I got into it and bought a board that I put in the kitchen. I don’t think the wife was very happy with that, but when I was cooking or got bored, I was on the dartboard and I just got better and better.
“I was soon playing Super League and players who had been playing for their counties for years, just couldn’t beat me. I started to enter open events where pubs would put up a £400, £500 first prizes. Well, if I entered 20 I won 18 of them. I got persuaded to go to PDC Q-School in 2014 — honestly, I only went to have a bit of a trip and a laugh with some of the other Welsh lads who were fancied to make it through — and I was the one who qualified. And that’s brought me to where I am, I suppose.”
Where he happens to be is Markham, a small village in the South Wales Valleys, 20 miles north of Cardiff. When he brought home the trophy and cheque on the Monday, his neighbours came out of their front doors to clap. In normal circumstances there would have been street parties.
“People have said since that it might be a good thing that this happened in lockdown, as it gives me time to let in sink in,” he says. “But I’m sorry, I think it's only a bad thing that I've just won the biggest tournament in the world and I’ve not been able to share it with the rest of my family and friends. You, know, I’d love to be able to go over to my local, just take the trophy and to celebrate.”
Instead, he has been renovating a house, alongside his best friend, John, who accompanies him on the road. “It’s been good as it’s taken my mind off it all. Beth is homeschooling the two girls and I go down to the other property. Between us we can do most things. It’s funny. One of our other mates was meant to block up the extension up, but he couldn’t make it, so we had a crack. It’s quite easy. That's how you learn and how I have from the beginning.
“I started doing this because my credit score was so bad and I couldn’t get on the ladder. I did up a few, go my credit score up to scratch and I’ve just carried on. I don’t know, if the darts hadn’t happened I would have probably done this after rugby finished. Although I wouldn’t have had all this money to finance the renovations. I don’t think about it. Everything happens for a reason. Like when I’m asked if I regret not taking the next steps as a rugby player. Well, If I had I likely wouldn't have done what I have in darts.”
On that Radio Wales show, Mark Ring, the former Wales international who coached Price at Cross Keys, told him that he had what it took to play for the Lions. Price admits that he “would change certain things I did as a young man, when I wasn’t mature and all that” and concedes he did not fulfil his rugby talent. “Well, I was first choice for Wales throughout the age grades — under-17s, 18s, 21s — and there were occasions when I was picked ahead of Richard Hibbard and he became the Lions hooker so what does that tell you?” he says. “But I am not the dwelling type. I hope with this title that I’ve put all that talk of me being to rugby to bed a bit. Yeah, it’s part of my past and I don’t to forget it, but I do wish it wasn’t brought up so much. I’m a darts player now.”
Price’s next tournament is the Ladbrokes Masters in Milton Keynes that begins a week on Friday. He has made no secret of his discomfort behind closed doors — “I need the adrenaline, I need the atmosphere” — but he has obviously overcome those struggles.
“I have, but I still cannot wait until the crowds are back and it will be intriguing to see how they treat me, if I’m still the pantomime villain. I never minded that, but it did go over the top when they were booing when I was throwing. Hopefully, that will have changed. But at the moment, it is still strange. Everything is so quiet. I mean everywhere. It’s so quiet.”