After 25 memorable years in professional darts, Kevin “The Artist” Painter announced earlier this year that he would be calling time on his illustrious career.
The 53-year old from Essex had painted many an oche masterpiece during his time in the game including lifting a PDC major title. Since the decision at the start of the year, thousands of “thanks for the memories Kev” messages have emphatically resonated across planet darts. Sadly it wasn’t to be at the 2021 Q-School. A last throw of the dice for Painter didn’t land kindly and dreams of a return to the professional circuit weren’t to be. After a career spanning almost three decades, it was finally time to disembark the PDC train. Painter said:
“After failing to get my tour card back I decided to retire. I’d been thinking about stepping away from it all for about 18 months and said to myself that if I didn’t get my card this time it’s what I would do.
“The whole Q-School and Challenge Tour thing wasn’t good for me. It was incredibly draining mentally and could get quite depressing at times too. After my last experience in January, I don’t fancy doing it again.
“In my mind, there is no question I still have the ability to compete on the pro tour but the process of returning just didn’t work out for me. I think it could be done slightly differently instead of playing a four-day knockout but that is the format.”
So as the curtain finally came down for “The Artist” he was more than happy with the impression he left on the game he loves. He said: “Looking back on my career I’m immensely proud of what I achieved. In my early BDO days, I represented England on over thirty occasions as well as winning the British Open and England Open.
“After I switched to the PDC, I believe I should have claimed more titles. I managed to win a couple of floor events but they were never really my thing. I was much happier performing on the big stage in front of a crowd. “The pinnacle was of course winning my only PDC major, the Players Championship in 2011. But I was also immensely proud to have played in one of the greatest World Championship finals of all time and of course, compete in the Premier League.
“But there were some difficult times too. In and around 2016 I wasn’t feeling too great in general. It’s no secret I enjoyed a couple of drinks on the tour but I just wasn’t enjoying playing. My performances were at best average and I was becoming extremely low after events. “Doctors initially thought it was some kind of allergy but didn’t know for sure. Over the subsequent 18 my health wasn’t improving and neither were my results on the board. However, after further tests, it turned out I had a very serious liver condition that needed sorting immediately. “I am not sure how it went undiagnosed for so long but it came as quite a shock. It caused me to slip off the tour but in hindsight, that gave me the opportunity to step away from the hectic schedule and thankfully fully recover. “But overall yes, looking back on my career I am very happy. There are always ups and downs in any walk of life, especially professional sport”.
“Of course, I would have loved to have won the World title but there are lots of extremely good players who don’t have a PDC major to their name and I can always look back knowing that I have.” Speaking on that memorable 2011 Players Championship win in Doncaster, Painter added:
“I like to think I deserved it. I hadn’t really gone into that weekend in particularly good form, it just all came together nicely. Once I reached the quarter-finals I genuinely believed I had a good chance. “Winning that event was a great occasion and the joy of lifting a television major was amazing. There was a lot of relief at the same time too because as the years roll by you start to believe if it will actually happen for you. I always felt I should have won a World Championship as well as one of two other tournaments so it was nice to finally get over the line.
“I also realised after claiming that Players Championship title there was a very real chance I would be considered for the next Premier League. When I was selected for the 2012 line up it was a great feeling. “Back then it was only eight players involved and I loved every minute. The Premier League totally suited my game, playing on the big stage in front of huge crowds was fantastic. I narrowly missed out on a semi-final spot losing my last match but it was enormous fun.
“Even though I did fairly well on debut I was quite disappointed not to be invited back the following year. In 2013 the Premier League format was increased to ten players and I was the only one to be left out despite not finishing bottom. Shame, but there you go!” Of course for many fans, it was that famous World Championship final in 2004 against Phil Taylor which darts enthusiasts will see as Painter’s most memorable moment on the oche. A match in which he came agonisingly close to getting his hands on the greatest prize in the game. Reflecting back, Painter said:
“My World final was a great occasion for me. I’d played really well over the course of the event with some good wins and was confident I could go all the way. Even at 4-1 up in sets, I always knew Phil would make a comeback and when he did I handled it pretty well. I was unlucky to not get a shot at a double for the match after leaving it a couple of times. I am sure I would have hit it given the chance but Phil finished well when it mattered.
“I was drawn against him the following year in the quarter-final. To be honest it was a bit unpleasant. I wasn’t impressed with Phil for finishing the match on the bullseye with three darts in hand but there had been one or two things during the game I wasn’t best pleased with either.
We didn’t speak afterward but at the end of the day it was just a case of handbags on stage and that was it really. That’s sport.
“Phil and I had always gotten on well away from the stage and would often chat together. We weren’t the best of pals but certainly not enemies, it was only ever a stage rivalry. I don’t think there was anything particularly wrong with that, it’s actually quite common nowadays amongst players.”
It seems like a lifetime ago since Painter first appeared on the scene. His television debut was at the 1994 BDO World Championships, famously remembered as the first year darts had two separate organisations. Of course, nowadays it’s referred to as ‘the split’. Painter recalled:
“My first game at those championships was against Liverpool’s Kevin Kenny who was ranked fourth. It was a great match which went to a deciding set, unfortunately, I lost 3-2 but was better for the experience. “
“The split between the BDO and PDC was big news then. I knew plenty about it as my practice partner at the time was Rod Harrington, one of the original fourteen players who formed the World Darts Council which went on to become the PDC.
“When I decided to make the switch to the PDC in 2001, I’d already played in a few of their TV events; the World Grand Prix twice and the World Matchplay. “There were about half a dozen BDO players who had done the same. The PDC asked us if we would like to join permanently and after thinking it through I decided it was the right decision. Financially it made perfect sense as I would be playing in regular TV events which meant more prize money.”
So now retired from the professional game, what’s next for Painter? With a healthy appetite for the game and a belief in his ability to still compete at a high level the window of opportunity is still wide open for The Artist. He said:
“My plan now is to carry on with the exhibition circuit. I get to play darts, compete against different players and have fun doing it. It’s a darts life I really enjoy. “Things are now easier as I don’t have to plan dates around the pro tour or competitions. I can devote more time to the events scene or play in local pub opens. I’m still throwing very well so if I fancy a game I will go for it.”
Speaking on his beloved Ipswich Town, he added:
“Yes I will watch as many games as I can when I can. Plenty of weekend breaks away are certainly on the agenda too as I have plenty of time on my hands now.”
Perfectly placed to give advice to any aspiring youngster looking to follow in his footsteps, Painter warned:
“Be prepared to fully commit and be ready to give up a lot of free time. There will be things you want to do but can’t because you’re playing darts most weekends. The rewards for success are there but be ready for a lot of disappointment too as there will be plenty.
“I wasn’t the best darts player but I survived at the top for so long because I had plenty of bottle.
My greatest strength was always my determination to succeed and I was always 100% committed to the game. “
“With regards to Q-School though; I have no advice, it’s just pot luck”, laughs Painter
Since the publication of the original article in Darts World Magazine 574 Kevin has accepted an invitation to take part in World Seniors Darts and will play in the inaugural event starting in Feb 2022.
Lead Image: L Lustig PDC