One of the most frustrating things for me, certainly from a professional point of view, about the Covid-19 pandemic was how it led to me having to either cancel or, ultimately, not even think about planning in the first place any of the charitable events I have been so proud and privileged to have been part of in recent years.
In the greater scheme of things of course, this didn’t matter at all. The pandemic has affected the lives of tens of thousands of people across the UK and worldwide, many of whom have suffered losses of the most tragic and unimaginable kind.
So when I sit back and not only remind myself of this and, additionally, that neither I, or any of my family or close friends, have been adversely affected by the pandemic, I’m further reminded that I have been very fortunate in that respect and the fact I haven’t been able to put on any of my events doesn’t really matter at all.
There is always a bigger picture.
But that doesn’t mean these events don’t matter or aren’t important. Because they are. And the reason for that, ultimately, is nothing to do with me or the thousands of people who have come along to them.
The people that they matter do are the good causes across Norfolk that have benefitted from the money that has been raised during those events, thanks to the commitment and generosity of those who have given their time to attend.
So I’m now looking forward to putting some smiles on people’s again.
It’s hard to believe that it’ll soon be ten years since the very first charity darts night that I was able to organise and host.
It was held at the Wymondham Rugby Club back in May 2014. And it was one of the most nerve racking days of my life!
Would people turn up? Would they enjoy themselves? Would my star guest for the evening arrive on time and not only enjoy himself but end up wanting to do some more of these events with me. You need a touch of star dust to make these events work, no-one is going to spend money on tickets to watch a load of strangers play darts, you can do that at your local pub for nothing.
I needed a big name on the night. And they didn’t come any bigger in darts back then than Eric Bristow.
Eric, who was ably supported by another great darts professional, Mark Hylton on the night, didn’t just turn up, tick the ‘doing a gig for charity’ boxes and clear off again. Far from it.
He absolutely threw himself into the spirit of the occasion. He had a smile on his face from beginning to end, indulged all of the darts fans who’d packed the place out and did anything and everything he could to help make it the success it was.
Towards the end of the evening, someone asked Eric to sign a shirt for them. He needed something to lean on in order to do so, asking me to stand in front of him so he could rest the shirt on my back as he signed it, saying, in the process, ‘I’ll do anything for you, Lord Russell’. He had a bit of a reputation for being a little bit difficult to deal with at times, of maybe being a little bit aloof when he was around other people, but I never saw that side of him once. He would have been more than justified for being a little bit cautious around others mind you. He was successful, well known and wealthy-and he knew as well as anyone that there are people out there who would happily do anything to take advantage of that. For that reason, and as Eric told me, he preferred the company of animals because, as he said, ‘Russell, they won’t stab you in the back’.
Another successful darts event! The legend that will forever be Eric Bristow is third from the right.
Having been a dog lover for many years, I know exactly what he means.
The money raised from this event as well as the ones that followed was all directed into the Lord Baker Community Fund which was established with the objective of making it as easy as possible for both community and voluntary groups in Norfolk and, as we head into the second half of 2022 and beyond, other parts of the country to apply for much needed funding. We are all passionate about the qualities and importance of groups that work within local communities, people who are all too often unheralded (and don’t ask or expect for it either) and whose entire life and working focus is about helping and supporting others.
You can find out more about some of the organisations we’ve helped over the years elsewhere on this website. This will also be the place to come to find out more about all the events I have planned for 2022 and 2023 as well as how to buy tickets.
One story before I go this week. It revolves around another great sports professional and supporter of my events, the six times (it might be seven by the time I write my next blog!) world snooker champion, Ronnie O’Sullivan.
Ronnie was behind a snooker format known as the Eleven 30’s series, one that encouraged fast attacking play and for the players themselves to take risks when they were at the table. You might call it snookers version of 20:20 which has revolutionised cricket.
We put an event together that was held at the Cresset Theatre in Peterborough that featured not only Ronnie but other stars of the game like Judd Trump, Jimmy White and John Virgo. It sold out very quickly and I knew that, as it was a big event that the players would be taking seriously, there’d be a little less opportunity to meet up with and chat to them beforehand as there had been at previous events. But no matter, it was set to raise a lot of money and I was just delighted to be there and be part of it.
I ended up being so excited about the whole thing that I got there long before the doors were due to open and fully expected, other than the event staff, to be the first person there.
Not a chance. Guess who’d beaten me to it?
Yep, Ronnie O’Sullivan. Clad in just a t-shirt and pair of jeans, there he was, at the table, putting in the practice and, as he did so, becoming not only familiar with how the table was ‘playing’ but the venue itself-the space, the lighting, his immediate surroundings-just about everything and anything about the Cresset Theatre infact.
What a professional. It was if he was practicing just before the final session of the world snooker championships final. But that is how dedicated he is to the sport and his game. Like I said, he is the ultimate professional.
I had a quick word in passing.
‘You really want to win tonight, don’t you Ronnie?’
It came as absolutely no surprise to me when he did.