If Michaelangelo was asked to paint a darting enigma, then the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel would be beautifully adorned with an image bearing a resemblance to Richie Burnett.
More than capable of creating his own masterpieces, the flamboyant Welshman is truly a mercurial maestro coated in equal measures of brilliance and controversy. Hailing from the picturesque Rhondda Valley, Burnett is best renowned for his fiery personality, animated antics and genius on the oche.
In 1995, he began his own darting renaissance becoming only the second player from Wales to be crowned World Champion, emulating the historic feat achieved by the great Leighton Rees 17 years earlier.
Reflecting on that famous victory, Burnett said:
“I was more than confident in those days and managed to get better as the tournament went on. In my eyes, I was there to do a job and never felt like I’d lose.“
Becoming World Champion was something I’d always dreamed of. It was simply a great feeling – just amazing.”
In addition to his Lakeside crown, Burnett is a BDO World Masters champion and a PDC major finalist. With the World Matchplay peeping, its head over on the horizon, Burnett reflects upon his Winter Gardens memories.
“For atmosphere, there is no better venue in darts. It’s easily my favourite. And I absolutely love Blackpool, it’s a great place – the people are so friendly and down to earth.
“You always get a very knowledgeable crowned in the Winter Gardens crowd, it’s certainly a tournament for those that really know their darts.“
I was still a BDO player when I made my debut there in 1997. That organisation wasn’t at all happy with us playing in PDC events but I felt it was my right to compete anywhere I liked – so I did! That year, as a qualifier, I reached the semi-final.
”When pushed on why he waited until 1999 to switch over to the PDC permanently, Burnett replied: “I’d have to say loyalty I suppose. But the BDO put a lot of pressure on me to stay.
“I turned professional just after I won the Winmau World Masters in 1994, then literally a couple of months later was World Champion so naturally they were keen to hang on to me.“
Even in those days, you could see the PDC growing – and with the backing of Sky, they were always going to get bigger. I always knew I’d end up switching – just a question of when not if.
“But back then, long before the days of the PDC, the Embassy was always the one to win.“
When I did become World Champion in 1995, such was my confidence, I felt only Phil Taylor could have beaten me. At that time, there was still huge credibility about winning at Lakeside.
“The BDO were just a vicious bunch of bitter people constantly jealous of what the PDC were achieving. Then if you spoke out and upset one of the hierarchy, you upset them all – that’s the way it was. How they lasted as long as they did, I’ll never know.
“You cannot have amateur people trying to run a professional sport. A few years after becoming champ, I was sick to the back teeth of the BDO. It was becoming clear I couldn’t carry on playing in both. So I left.
Once out of the shark-infested waters for good in 1999, Burnett was much happier swimming in the PDC ocean.
“My first few years there were good, I was playing much better and my game was improving – plus I was making more money! “In 2001, I reached the World Matchplay final but lost to Phil Taylor – that actually happened to quite a lot of players there!
I actually started that game really well but he took out some fantastic finishes. In those days, Taylor was in his prime – that said, his prime was over about thirty years!
The next few years saw the Welshman’s game dramatically slide as he battled with his form. By the end of 2006, Burnett had almost slipped out of the top 50. But it was about to become much more serious.
“I was fighting a lot of personal issues, struggling financially and to make things even worse, I was suffering from dartitis. Maybe all the stress caused it – I don’t know.
Determined to fix the problem, Burnett locked himself away in a room and did everything humanly possible to release the dart. He added:
“So I conditioned my mind to say no matter what, I will throw this thing – even if it meant my whole body was going with it!
“By the end of the fortnight, I was black and blue from colliding into the dartboard. And that is where my snatch action started – but I was cured!
”Always a fan favourite, the popular 54-year old is affectionately known as ‘The Prince of Wales’ – not to be confused with the Queen’s first born child with whom he shares that moniker.
All was good in the Burnett camp for a few years until he found himself in a royal mess. After returning a positive drugs test in November 2014, he was banned from the game he loved.
Regrettably, he said:
“I was absolutely devastated. At the time, I was on my way back up. I’d managed to shake off the dartitis and was playing really well again. The World Championship was just around the corner and my form was great.“
“Of course, it’s my own fault. But it was really hard to watch tournament after tournament come around and seeing the qualification money vanishing before my eyes.“
“Initially, I was given a two-year ban but on appeal, they reduced it to 18 months – realistically it was more like 28 months.”
“When the time was up in May 2016, I couldn’t play until the following January because I had to regain my tour card.”
With that chapter now well and truly behind him, Burnett has been busy plying his trade in the MODUS Online League.
With fondness, he said: “I just love playing darts, it always puts a smile on my face. I’ve never been a great watcher, so this was the perfect opportunity to still compete and keep my game fresh.
“Darts has been such a huge part of my life. At this moment, I couldn’t be happier. My game is good – I’ve recently signed with a management company (MODUS) and have always been pleased with my manufacturer (Red Dragon).
“I was actually the first professional player on Red Dragon’s books. Their base is only about 12 miles from where I live so we have been together from the start.
They’re very friendly people, professional and always helpful.
“My equipment hasn’t changed a great deal over the years but they are always there when I need something designed or tweaked.
Looking ahead to 2022, Burnett has a couple of prosperous options on the table, one of which being Q-School.
“Yes, I will be there”, he said. “I’d love one more shot at the PDC main circuit. But if I don’t get my tour card, I have the Seniors World Championship to look forward to.
“It’s a great option to fall back on and I would still have the PDC Challenge Tour too. Nice little dilemma to have!”
Speaking on potentially performing on the World Seniors Championship, Burnett said:
“It would be lovely to meet up with old friends again. I wish Eric [Bristow] was still with us as he’d have loved that. But it’ll be wonderful to see the likes of Dennis Priestley, John Lowe and the lads again.
Asked if he has any old scores to settle, Richie laughed,
“Yes, anyone who has ever beaten me! But as long as I win, I don’t care who it is against.”
There’s no disputing that Welsh darts is currently enjoying a champagne era – perhaps the time is perfect for Burnett to recapture some gold.
Gerwyn Price’s recent World Championship victory propelled him to the top of the PDC rankings and together with reigning Premier League champion, Jonny Clayton the pair lifted the 2020 World Cup of Darts.
Not forgetting of course the name of Wayne Warren, who will always be remembered as the last BDO World Champion.
Yes indeed, Wales can certainly boast about breeding winners right now.
Proudly, Burnett said:
“Right now, I believe we are the best nation in the world from the bottom to the very top. And we will only get better too.
“Wales has always been a hotbed for darts – the sociability side of the game suits us perfectly, just like with the rest of the UK. We all learnt to play in pubs with our mates.
And we can’t let the Prince of Wales go without finding out what his unique celebration is all about!
Smirking, he said: “Oh you mean the Burnett Bounce? Yeah, that goes back years – I got the idea from a boxer called Roberto Durán after watching him.
“I’ve since put my own little spin on it adding the jump. You’ll see a lot of rugby players do it nowadays – they probably copied me!
”Probably Richie! Well we certainly hope to see you bouncing around on that stage again very soon.
Richie regained his PDC Tour Card in January 2022. Thus he will miss the inaugural World Seniors Season to have the ” one last crack “at the Pro Tour. Perhaps “The Lost Price” has once more been found.
Words: Paul Woodage Images: Lawrence Lustig
Originally appeared in the DW 575 (Return of the Dragon Supplement)
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