Essex darts legend Bobby George on The Real Marigold Hotel

Bobby George at the Taj Mahal. Photo: BBC/Twofour

Bobby George at the Taj Mahal. Photo: BBC/Twofour - Credit: BBC/Twofour

‘Don’t run our country down. Go to India and then you’ll see the difference. We’re so well-off’

Bobby George at the Taj Mahal. Photo: BBC/Twofour

Bobby George at the Taj Mahal. Photo: BBC/Twofour - Credit: BBC/Twofour

Bobby George, long cherished as darts’ King of Bling, was always good value. In his pomp, he was renowned for the grand entrance: walking on to Queen’s We Are The Champions while dressed in a sequinned cape and carrying a lighted candelabra. He’s now 70, but that taste for showmanship remains unquenched.

He was in India at the tail end of last year, and had some south Asian glitz sent back to his home near Colchester: a kind of full-length, collarless, handmade coat of silk and other lovely things.

“It’s a ceremonial thing like the king would wear, and all that. I saw it in a glass case and said ‘That is what I want. One of them.’ ‘Oh dear, we’ve never made one that big…’”

Bobby loved the incredible workmanship but was not convinced his purchase would turn out how he’d hoped, five weeks down the line. He needn’t have worried about the result, with its golden thread and diamanté adornments proving – to nab one of his phrases – lovely jubbly.

A picture from a decade ago, when Bobby George was supporting the Sport Relief Ipswich Mile

A picture from a decade ago, when Bobby George was supporting the Sport Relief Ipswich Mile

“Unbelievable,” he says in gravelly tones that tell of a life in east London and Essex. “Weighs a tonne with all the stones. Beautiful. I use it in my show. (He’s still much in demand for exhibition work and “legends” tournaments.) I used to use a cape; I use that now. I look like a lightbulb with a head on it! The light hits it and it’s absolutely fantastic.”

The man they also call Bobby Dazzler gave it an airing at the recent BDO World Championship in Surrey, where he was a BBC pundit.

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“(Presenter) Colin Murray said ‘You’re Mr Bling and you’re over the top, but you’ve really done it properly now!’ It’s the sort of thing you could put in a glass case and it’ll be there for hundreds of years. It does stand out proper.”

It might have been joined by something else from India. Bobby fancied buying a block of white marble and having his statue carved from it. But that was one plan that didn’t come off. A shame, for he could have shipped it to Ardleigh, where he bought several acres of Essex countryside over 20 years ago and built George Hall with his own hands. It took five years to complete.

It’s got 18 bedrooms, three fishing lakes, a set of darts on the gates and a stained glass window above the door that is half a dartboard. A marble statue would have fitted a treat.

“I thought about that, but probably its head would have fallen off by the time it got home! Or one of my arms, like those Roman ones. When I was young, I always thought ‘Why did everyone only have one arm?’” he laughs.

The man usually dripping in gold necklaces, bracelets and a handful of chunky rings is chewing the fat about the BBC’s really-rather-good show The Real Marigold Hotel. Inspired by the 2011 film The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, the Beeb dispatched eight famous names to India for three weeks to see if it offered better prospects in retirement than Blighty. It’s the kind of programme I’m a Celebrity could be if it swapped its faux setting and stupid tasks for rather more in the way of brain cells and a slice of real life.

You certainly don’t need contrived “challenges” when you arrive in Jaipur, the capital of Rajasthan that’s home to 3.5million people. For the eight who’d flown in from overcast Heathrow, the place set the senses a-jangling. They stayed in a traditional mansion that cost them each under £20 a day, and spent the weeks getting to know India, its history, culture and people – from the very rich to the very poor.

There’s a nice moment early on when the group is sitting in the mansion’s courtyard and Bobby (who left his gold and Rolex at home) points out how they won’t see the “real India” until they step through the gate. He says something like: “We’re sitting around a table in a posh hotel. We don’t know India until we go out there and sit on the floor with them.” So they do.

Here are some of his reflections on what they did and what he thinks now.

Bobby on poverty

The vast gulf between the super-rich and the very poor gave much food for thought. Many people have nothing, really, “but they’re so gentle and kind. Or they’ve got everything. There’s nothing in the middle.”

You’d see perhaps 15 people living in a tiny place – “like concrete shelters, really” – rented for a few pounds a week and often with just one light-bulb. Nothing was wasted and everyone was always busy doing something useful – two aspects different to the lives lived by many people in the UK.

Bobby understands the very poor do receive tickets that entitle them to a couple of meals a day, but they don’t get a house. “They live under a bush, or near a wall.” Winters can be cold. He speaks of people freezing to death for want of adequate clothing or the security of a family.

He adds: “People here (England) don’t really appreciate what they’ve got. Talk to a kid and they’re looking at a mobile phone. The culture of conversation has gone. Over there, you don’t get that.

“When I was young, I had nothing, really, so I respect what I’ve got. I’ve been lucky in life to get there. I used to dig tunnels and do floors, so I’ve done a lot of work, and then I did darts and it became a different life. But it opens your eyes up. You think: well, you’d better not moan any more.”

Bobby on older people

“They’re treated good. They (younger people) live with their grandparents. They’re part of the family. When they can’t work or do anything, they look after them. They mix well with each other. Over there, with the older members, what they say goes. There’s no arguments. It’s the way they’re brought up.”

Here, not so much. “We’re a bit selfish, if you want the truth.We should do more for our old people.”

Bobby on culture shock

In the first episode, he describes the apparent free-for-all on the roads – vehicles mixing with pedestrians and wandering cows, goats, pigs, dogs – as “like a war zone”.“I thought the M25 was busy, before I went to India. When I came back, I thought ‘Where’s all the cars?’ In India, there’s thousands of motorbikes. Tuk-tuks, do they call them? Like a moped where you can get four people in a cage on the back. There are thousands upon thousands, like ants going down the road. It’s a bit frightening.”

He remembers seeing a motorbike with a baby on the front, then dad, then mum, “and then another kid hanging on the back of mum. Frightening! No crash helmets or nothing. They made it law, when we was out there, to have a crash helmet. But the thing is, they don’t bother. How are they going to fine them? They’ve got nothing. You can’t nick a bloke and say he’s got to pay, because he ain’t got nothing.”

Bobby on health care

“They’re amazing, the hospitals, cos they’ve got great surgeons. We nick ’em all, don’t we!”

If you have a bad leg, you can pay privately for surgery in England – “I think it was about nine grand for a knee to be done” – and you can do the same in India. “It’s about a third cheaper.” But, of course, good care comes at a cost in a nation without the NHS. “You’ve got to have money, haven’t you? A lot of people in India haven’t...”

Bobby on houses and bills

He was a builder in his younger days – digging tunnels for the Victoria underground line, even – before first picking up a dart at 30. He’s still got the eye – for both.

He saw the good, the bad and the ugly of property in India. At the top end was an amazing home valued at £400,000.

“They call them bungalows… a bungalow is a four-storey building! The workmanship was perfect. Best property I’ve seen over there. It would be two-and-a half, three-million pounds over here.” Often, though, the standard of building left a bit to be desired. He remembers a tiled floor with a half-inch “step” likely to trip those a little unsteady on their feet. Expats could rent there – very cheaply, if prepared to live simply, like the majority of Indians – but buying is tricky. Even the British Government thinks so. Official advice states: “...the requirements foreign nationals have to meet to be eligible to buy property are complicated”.On the plus side, a friend who works there half the year said a Brit’s money can go far.

Bobby on the caste system

The eight met people near both the top (prince, princess, maharaja) and bottom of the pyramid. The caste system – where the circumstances into which you are born shapes your life – is very wrong, he says. No matter one’s individual skills and qualities, opportunities were effectively out of reach if you were of the “wrong” caste. Even one’s family name is enough to identify your position in society. The celebrities had a wonderful guide who had taught himself French and English but was making only about £20 a week and seemed trapped by the glass ceiling.

Bobby’s stick

He has a walking-stick in the programme ? only because he had a hip done earlier in 2015 and it became inflamed. “I’m glad I took it, because there are great holes in the pavements over there. There’s nothing round them… two-foot holes.” The stick’s been discarded. “I walk nice now. It’s perfect.”

Bobby on his fellow travellers

Different characters but a nice bunch. He had a good laugh.

He got on well with Wayne Sleep and used to do impressions of him in the mornings, which he says the former dancer loved.

TV chef Rosemary Shrager was loud but not bossy, he laughs. “She said ‘Bobby, open your mouth when you talk. Otherwise people won’t understand you.’ So I said ‘Good. Morning. Rosemary. How. Are. You. Today?’ ‘Oh yes, lovely. That’s good.’”

So, could he live there?

“Yeah, I could live there. If you didn’t have so many problems getting property, I would consider living there.” Not at the moment – his mother in law is ill – “but sometime I could do. It’s a nice country. The best thing is the people. Nice people.”

If it were easier to buy property, he thinks a lot more Brits would retire to India. “You’d need insurance for health”, as NHS agreements wouldn’t cover us.

You’d have to get to know the country, he points out, and accept it’s a completely different way of life there, and culture. You couldn’t have everything you enjoyed back in Britain, but food’s cheap. “Gin’s cheap…” – Bobby likes his G&T – “…but the tonic water is double the price!”

The sunshine is a boon – great for those suffering from arthritis and swollen joints. Speaking of warm weather, he says wife Marie is a sunworshipper and goes brown. He burns.

“I’m dressed up like Jesus, with a towel over my head. I don’t show none of my body. I can’t do it. If we go on holiday, I have to turn her over every half-hour so she cooks evenly!”

Final thoughts?

“The thing I’ve got as a message is: don’t run our country down. Go to India and then you’ll see the difference. We’re so well-off. When you say poor, there’s poor. And when you say rich, some are mega-rich. There’s nothing in the middle.”

The eight ‘guests’ are actress Miriam Margolyes, former dancer Wayne Sleep, actor Sylvester McCoy, comedian Roy Walker, chef Rosemary Shrager, Bobby George, singer Patti Boulaye and ex-newsreader Jan Leeming

The final episode of The Real Marigold Hotel is on Tuesday, February 9, on BBC Two at 9pm. Earlier episodes are on iPlayer.

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