Phil Taylor On Divorce Marriage Is For Life I Wish Id Spent More Time At Home
He is the most successful darts player of all time, a 16-times world champion worth £10million.
But for Phil Taylor, those achievements have come at a heavy cost.
His health is at risk, his social life is permanently on the backburner and he’s so busy he forfeits time with his four beloved grandkids.
“Every week I think I’ve had enough. You sacrifice your whole life by being dedicated,” he says.
But the most profound of Phil’s sacrifices is his 23-year marriage to wife Yvonne.
The couple, who fell in love as teenagers and have four children together, separated in 2011 and divorced this year.
Talking about the split for the first time, it is clear Phil, 54, has not yet adjusted to life as a single man.
“It’s awful and I’m still sad,” he says. “For me, marriage is for life and it doesn’t seem right.”
He blames the break-up on being away too much for darts.
Power drive: Phil lost four stone in a year
“Looking back, I wish I’d spent more time at home,” he says. “I was away more or less every week”
Does he think it’s possible to have a healthy marriage and still be a successful sportsman?
“It’s difficult,” he sighs. “Any sportsman will tell you that.
"But it’s your job. Yvonne knew that. When you’re looking after a big family you’ve got to get off your backside and earn.
"That’s the way I was brought up.”
Phil grew up in a council house with no electricity and a sink in the yard to wash in.
Little wonder that even after 30 years at the top he is still uncomfortable with the showbiz lifestyle.
Flashing two forearms of faded tattoos (one says “Power” in reference to his famous nickname, Phil “The Power”) he is a man who stays true to his roots.
Lifetime: Taylor wishes he had spent more time at home
He won’t even have a cleaner at his four-bedroom house in Stoke-on-Trent.
“I’m recognised all the time but I don’t feel famous,” he says with a shrug.
“Just because you’re on television and earning good money doesn’t mean you’re not human.
"I still have to wash the dishes, do the hoovering and ironing.”
While not exactly slender, Phil is a shadow of his former 19-stone self after losing four stone in 2011.
“I was eating fast food on the road – chips, curries, kebabs – anything available at 1am,” he says.
“The weight impacted on my stamina.”
He slimmed with the help of fitness trainer Laura Church , a woman he grew so fond of it caused speculation they were having an affair when he and Yvonne split.
Phil dismisses the allegations as “rubbish” and insists they have never been anything more than good friends.
Action ImagesFamily: Taylor celebrates in 2010 with his wife Yvonne and his son Chris
Now he replaces meals with fruit and vegetable juice and walks five miles a day.
“I’m going to get a personal trainer and start doing some weights,” he tells me.
It irks him that many of his rivals today are young enough to be his sons.
“I want to compete against them. You know your time is limited,” he says.
“I put myself in a dark room and practice seriously for two hours a day. Then I’m sleepy. Some nights I’m in bed at 7.30pm.
"When you’re older you don’t recuperate as quickly and your eyesight starts going.
"They’ll have to put a stair lift in for me soon!”
He’s joking, but his vocal chords have been permanently damaged from years of competing in smoky pubs.
“When I retire depends on my health,” he says.
GettyTeam: Phil, Yvonne and Natalie in 2006
“My dad died at 57 and he’d never been ill in his life until he was 56, so you just don’t know what’s going to happen.”
Douglas Taylor died in 1997, nine months after a diagnosis of bowel cancer.
“I last saw him in a hospital, on a machine,” says Phil.
"His insides had swollen so he couldn’t breathe. He had a mask on and I remember him looking at me as he tried to take it off.
"The doctor injected him and put him to sleep and that was it, he died.”
There are tears in his eyes as he adds: “He never saw the best years of my career. It killed my mother. It still does.”
Dad was a brickie who said “whatever you got had to be worked for”, says Phil.
The family couldn’t afford a TV so the dartboard became a focal point.
“I wiped the floor with my dad and knew I was good, even as a kid,” says Phil.
The Power: At the dartboard these days, his opponents are sometimes half his age
“Dad knew I could make it as a darts player but said I had to put the work in.”
As Phil grew successful Douglas refused to pander to his ego.
Smiling, Phil recalls: “I couldn’t tell him when I’d won. He said, ‘I don’t want to know – if you’re any good someone else will tell me.
"Now shut up and get ready for the next one’.”
He recalls how when he was a boy his mum Liz, now 74, would wake him up by throwing a bucket of cold water over his face.
Not that her tough measures had much effect.
“I was a little sod,” he admits. “My teacher said I’d never be anything – I was a waste of space.”
While working as an engineer in his 20s he started entering darts contest in pubs.
The prize money slowly grew from £10 to £1,000 a time and in 1987 he turned professional.
His potential was spotted by former World No 1 Eric Bristow, who offered him a sponsorship and took him on as his protege.
“I was a cocky aggressive little player – a lot like Eric,” he recalls.
“He taught me to mentally bully players. To beat them up and not show any fear. He was like a brother to me.
GettyThe Power: At the dartboard these days, his opponents are sometimes half his age
"Still is, even though we fall out all the time.”
Another staunch supporter from the early days was “Voice of Darts” commentator Sid Waddell, who died of bowel cancer in August 2012, aged 72.
“He was a genius in his own right and my biggest fan bar my parents,” says Phil.
One of his lasting regrets is missing Sid’s funeral, having just landed in Australia for an exhibition tournament.
“I was gutted. He loved me and I loved him,” he says.
Today, one of Phil’s best friends is pop star Robbie Williams, who also grew up in Stoke and whose father Pete Conway became like a second dad to Phil after he lost his own.
“Rob’s dead down to earth and we’re very similar,” says Phil.
“Both our careers started in 1990 and his schoolteacher told him he’d amount to nothing just as mine had done.”
He adds: “When I went to see him in LA we drove me past all these houses. He said Brad Pitt lived here, and Johnny Depp lived there.
"Afterwards I said, ‘Really?’ and he said ‘No, it’s a load of s***e, I haven’t got a clue who lives there but it’s entertaining’.
"I’d love to do a duet with him. I know it would go to Number One!”
The real story: Phil”s new book Staying Power
In 2009 Phil made a cameo appearance as darts player Disco Dave in Coronation Street and he has been invited on to Strictly Come Dancing in previous years.
“I would do it and enjoy it – I’d love to learn, but it’s finding the time,” he says.
Phil was the first player to earn £1million in prize money and he says his main concession to his fortune is property.
He has 10 houses that he rents out and two holiday homes.
He drives an S-Class Mercedes but insists: “The only reason I have a decent car is because I am always up and down motorways.
"If I was local I’d have a little mini.”
His is father to Lisa, 32, Chris, 30, Kelly, 25, and Natalie, 22, then there are four grandchildren he lavishes gifts on.
“It’s lovely having grandkids.When I’m at home they stay at mine and drive me crackers,” he says.
When Phil retires he’ll be able to see them more. He had a shock defeat in the second round of the World Championships last year but it was only a blip in his form.
Could the pain from his marriage break-up have been to blame?
“At the beginning it was a bit,” he concedes.
But Phil has bounced back from darting setbacks and he will no doubt get over his divorce in time.
“Life is tough, but you have to take it on the chin and move on,” he says.
Staying Power: A Year in My Life by Phil Taylor is published by Hodder & Stoughton on October 23. Hardback/ebook £20