Glamorous walk-on girls became a popular feature and fixture of every major Professional Darts Corporation (PDC) tournament from mid-1994 until their services were deemed no longer required in 2018.
At each major televised PDC event the girls led the adversarial, gladiatorial darters through the throng of banner-waving fans accompanied by the darts players’ signature walk-on music. The girls arrived on stage and posed as each darts player shakes hands with the officials and his opponent. The girls then walked off to wolf-whistles and shouts of pleasure (mainly from the over-heated male members of the crowd) and then blow kisses into the camera as they descended the stairs whilst, on stage, battle commenced. [Insert photo of PDC walk-on girls]
But where did it all start? Were the walk-on girls of the PDC the first to grace major darts tournaments? No. Not by a long chalk. Let me take you back to the Seventies…
The first walk-on girls
Believe it or not it was the British Darts Organisation (BDO) who were the first to introduce walk-on girls at major tournaments and presentations back in 1977.
The event was the World Cup and the venue the Wembley Conference Centre, London. As always, at that time, Olly Croft was the top man at the BDO and it was his daughters Elaine and Lesley, dressed in long white dresses and wearing sashes, who led the players on to the stage. The Croft girls were also featured at that year’s WINMAU World Masters. [Insert Darts World front page December 1977]
But then the BDO changed tack.
From then on, instead of walk-on girls a recorded fanfare accompanied each player as they walked to the stage. Later still a (male) BDO official carrying and gently waving the appropriate country’s flag would lead the individual players on to the stage. According to Olly Croft this was mainly for ‘security purposes.’
It was the PDC (and SKY) that brought the walk-on girls back to the oche in 1994.
Models Karen Smith and Sue Willets were the first PDC walk-ons girls, appearing at the inaugural World Matchplay in 1994.
The venue was the Winter Gardens, Blackpool and the tournament was sponsored by Proton Cars. First to be led on stage by Karen and Sue were Eric Bristow and Dennis Priestley. Karen and Sue featured in the walk-ons for Sky TV and the PDC for four years then set themselves up in business in 1998, a model agency called Angels Elite Models, and they continued to supply the walk-ons girls to the PDC until the walk-ons were dispensed with.
You might have thought that in 1994 the introduction of walk-on girls to top-flight darts and amazing darts being played throughout the tournament would have been enough excitement for one tournament but no. Another surprise was in store for the fans at the Winter Gardens as they watched, stunned, as US star darter Larry Butler from Dayton, Ohio, wrested the title from the grasp of England’s Dennis Priestley by a margin of 16-12 in a nail-biting finale.
A Question of Balance
In 2009 top lady darter Anastasia Dobromyslova qualified for the Ladbrokes.com PDC World Darts Championship held at the Alexandra Palace, London. Clearly it would have been inappropriate to have a walk-on girl accompany her to the stage so for balance the PDC provided a ‘walk-on man’. That man was Kristian McDonald, an actor and the son of our MC John! (Image © PDC/Lawrence Lustig. Used with permission.)
(Match note: Anastasia lost 6-3 in the Preliminary Round to Dutch qualifier Remco van Eilden.)
The Walk-on Girls are no more
Back in early 2018 in my regular monthly article The Last Word for Darts World magazine (March 2018) I reacted to the grave news that the walk-on girls would no longer be walking on in PDC events in the UK.
I wrote that I was ‘fascinated by the attention drawn to our sport by the realisation that the walk-on girls would no longer be walking-on’ at PDC darts tournaments.
There were of course the extreme feminists on one side screaming how demeaning it was for women (not, of course, a view held by the models from Angels Elite who did the walking-on). Then there were those who clearly mourned the passing of what appeared up until then to have always been an essential element of the presentation of darts at major PDC events. (Probably more male darts fans than female, I guess.) Then there were those who thought “This is PC gone mad.” (No, not this PC. Of course they mean ‘Political Correctness’.) Perhaps they have a point.
But wasn’t it simply time for a change?
And times do change. Take the audiences at major PDC events. Years ago when the WDC, the World Darts Council as the PDC was back then, held its early World Championships at the Circus Tavern, Purfleet, Essex, I would suggest that the ratio of male fans to female fans in the audience was, at best, 90%/10%. But as the years passed the PDC succeeded in popularising darts beyond anyone’s expectations and gradually, very gradually to begin with, the composition of the darts audiences changed.
In my view the PDC, since its inception, has changed the whole culture of darts, turning it into a massive spectator sport (rather like what happened to football in the interwar years) and one that nowadays appeals to and attracts fans regardless of gender and, in many cases, some who are not that interested in darts. The latter comprise those who appreciate a good night out with their mates. It’s the company and atmosphere and simply being part of an exciting something that brings them there. It’s a social occasion. Look at the audiences now. Watch as the boom of the camera ranges across the auditorium. Look at that ratio. Surely more like 70/30 nowadays, or certainly heading that way.
I’m not aware that many female darts fans who attended major tournaments ever raged against the walk-on girls. What we were seeing (I think) was simply an agreed policy change, not the PDC acquiescing to the PC brigade. Maybe it was a decision based on recognising the change in the structure of the audience or maybe the PDC thought that walk-on girls no longer fitted in.
As the debate flared in 2018, most commentators and critics of the walk-on girls stated that the PDC was the first darts organisation to introduce them ‘in the mid-nineties’. As I have shown above those commentators and critics were wrong. However, it is right that models Karen Smith and Sue Willets were the first PDC walk-on girls appearing at the aforementioned inaugural World Matchplay at the Winter Gardens, Blackpool in 1994. Back then the girls were an essential part of the razzmatazz the PDC introduced to give darts the shot in the arm it had needed since it fell into the doldrums in the late 1980s.
So, the walk-on girls at major PDC darts events in the UK are no more.
This change in policy also spread to darts companies too; well at least one. For many years the Red Dragon catalogue featured models on the front cover and inside posing and toying with the company’s products. For 2018 the bikinied girl disappeared to be replaced with three blokes!
Text © 2012-2019 Patrick Chaplin
All images (c) Lawrence Lustig/PDC. Used with permission.