With his 32-stone frame, long mane and bushy beard, it is no surprise Andy Fordham was known as The Viking to darts fans.
And he was equally known for has amazing ability to down incredible quantities of booze – once sinking 77 bottles of beer in day – while still winning vital matches.
But today his grieving widow Jenny, 58, tells movingly how she begged the gentle giant to give up drink – and how it bought them 14 more precious years together.
Jenny – who has faced two cancer battles – laid it on the line, telling Andy: “You’ve got a choice. Go and have a drink, but go and find somewhere else to drink it because I’m not going to watch you die.
©2021 Steve Bainbridge)
“I told him, ‘When I had cancer I got up every day, I put my make-up on, I went behind the bar and I worked. I didn’t know if I was going to survive. They told you, stop drinking and you will be all right, you will live’.
“There were tears and a few words were said and then in the morning he woke a completely different person.
“It was amazing when he stopped drinking. He turned everything around after that. Everyone was like ‘It’s like having a new man’.”
Jenny’s revelation comes as she tells of a wonderful 42 years with Andy and how he always made her “laugh like a teenager”.
He was, she says, even cracking jokes in his final days.
©2021 Steve Bainbridge)
Speaking for the first time since Andy’s death from liver failure on July 15, Jenny says: “He was the love of my life and I can’t believe he’s gone.”
She says Andy broke down the day doctors warned him he could die.
Holding his hand as he lay ill in hospital, she told him: “You can’t die yet because I’m the wrong age to be a widow. I should have been an old widow or a young widow, so you can’t go’. He said, ‘Well if I go then you’re coming with me’. I said, ‘No, I’m not, I’m going to enjoy the rest of my life if that happens!’”
The mood changed as the end drew near. Jenny adds: “He said he didn’t feel right and they sent him for chest X-rays. I sat with him until 3am, then went home. Then they called me at 6am and said, ‘You’d better come back’.
“He was on oxygen. He looked at me and I said ‘You’re all right, love’. I gave him a kiss and said, ‘I love you.’ And he said, ‘I love you’.
“And that was it. He never spoke after that. He was dead by 12.45pm. It was awful.”
Andy, who was 59, was admitted to hospital on June 15 with an infection. Jenny explains: “They drained 12 litres of liquid, he was on intravenous antibiotics, his kidneys were trying to take over from his liver, so they gave him medication to get his kidneys working properly. But over a couple of weeks he was starting to improve.
The doctor kept saying, ‘Are you sure you’re not diabetic?’, and he went ‘No, I’m just fat’. It was typical Andy.” The star’s humour was one of the great bonds between the couple, even in bleak times. Jenny continues: “We light-heartedly discussed what he wanted at the funeral. He said for his last song he wanted A Thousand Green Bottles and nobody was allowed to go until they’d gone down to number one.
©2021 Steve Bainbridge)
“I remember when I had chemo and all my hair fell out and he said, ‘I’ll shave mine as well’. I said, ‘Please don’t do that’.”
She says when he went on tour she drew red love hearts around a picture of her shaved head, put it in his suitcase and joked: “While you are away and you get all those offers from the 10 Gilda Hildas, look at this photo and think, ‘f***ing hell, yeah why not?’.
“But he wasn’t big enough or brave enough or stupid enough and he knew it would kill him.”
The one thing that wasn’t a laughing matter, however, was Andy’s boozing. Jenny recalls 2004, when he beat Mervyn King 6-3 to win the BDO world title. Andy’s binges blurred his memory of the event.
Jenny says: “When he woke up he had a Pot Noodle, downed 12 bottles of lager and half a bottle of brandy. Went out. Played. Came off. Downed another load of booze.
“He has no memory of throwing the winning dart – double eight – and had to watch the final on DVD to remember what happened.”
Jenny and Andy ran The Rose pub in Dartford, Kent, so booze was literally on tap. He was regularly sinking 24 bottles of beer a day.
Andy went on Celebrity Fit Club on TV in 2004 and gained a new army of fans. It was a health crisis in 2007 – when he was rushed to hospital during a match – that finally halted him in his tracks. Doctors told him his liver could fail. And when he returned home, Jenny delivered her ultimatum – shape up or ship out.
Andy rose to the challenge. A mega diet led him to shed 16st – though he would put some of that back on.
He drifted off the darts circuit but was looking forward to the World Seniors Championship next year.
Jenny says the 12 months leading up to his death had been a nightmare.
She was diagnosed with breast cancer a second time and required an op, while daughter Emily had open-heart surgery to fix a faulty valve.
Then Andy lost his mum Maureen, 75, to cancer. At his lowest point he admitted to having suicidal thoughts.
Jenny reveals: “He did suffer from depression. He said he wouldn’t go to any support groups because he would feel sorry for the other people and would want to take them for a drink. I would come back from work and he would be sitting there and tell me, ‘I’ve had a really bad day, everyone would be better off without me’.”
Andy had been in hospital in 2020 for treatment for a blockage in his bowel before contracting Covid-19 early this year.
Although he was terrified of dying from the virus, it was liver damage which led to his death.
Despite his drinking, Andy was always a devoted father and husband and Jenny says he cried for days when she was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 1998. She recalls: “That was really scary. They told me on New Year’s Eve and I got back to the pub at 4pm and told him – and he cried until about January 3.
“He was meant to be playing in the world championships and I think he went out the first round. He couldn’t concentrate.
“We weren’t married so they said they were going to put our kids into care if one of us died. So we got married in May 2000. When anyone says, ‘Why did it take so long?’, he always said, ‘I wanted to wait for the kids to come along to see if they liked her first’.”
Jenny is on medication for the next five years and hopes to keep her cancer at bay.
She says: “Touch wood it all seems OK.” As well as Emily, 34, she and Andy had son Raymond, 35, and eight grandchildren.
Jenny tells of the first time she met Andy at their local pub – The Bugle Horn in Charlton. She recalls: “He offered to buy me a drink. He had a full beard, big leather jacket and hair down to his waste. I was 16 and he was only 17.
“Then we were inseparable. That was 1979 and the rest is history.”
Outside of darts, Andy loved football and followed Rangers and Millwall. He also liked cooking – cupcakes and quiches were his forté, says Jenny. While she misses him every day, Jenny treasures their time together – and the constant laughing.
And she reckons says Andy would have been in stitches about something that happened days after his death.
She says: “Even after it was in the papers that Andy had passed away people were texting his phone asking him to ring. In the end, one afternoon, I replied to one of the messages saying,: ‘Really sorry. Can’t talk. I’m dead’.
“After I sent that I could picture Andy laughing his head off and it made me feel closer to him. I’d give anything to hear him laugh one final time.”