Whitlock tells us he^s ready for the big stage
It^s been a magical few months for the man they call The Wizard.
Simon Whitlock stunned the world of darts at this year^s World Championship when he overcame several of the game^s highly-ranked stars on his way to a surprise appearance in the final.
The Australian beat the likes of Terry Jenkins, James Wade and Raymond van Barneveld - and even gave Phil Taylor an early scare - before eventually losing the final to The Power.
Whitlock^s performances were so impressive that he was handed a wildcard entry into this year^s Premier League and is set to make his tournament debut in front of more than 10,000 people at London^s O2 Arena on Thursday night.
Ahead of the new season^s curtain-raiser,skysports.com caught up with Whitlock to chat about his chances of causing more upsets in the Premier League.
He reflected on his successes of the last few months as well as telling us why visa problems nearly prevented him from getting here at all.
He also explained why getting tattoos has helped him to become a better darts player...
Would it be fair to say the World Championship was a life-changing experience for you?
SW: Yeah, definitely. It got me in the Premier League and it^s given me a lot of self belief. I found out about myself that I can beat these top players.
You won £100,000 for reaching the final. What did you do with the money?
SW: I^ve only paid off a few bills and that^s about it really. I didn^t want to do anything special. I just paid off some bills and organised some flights for tournaments.
What was the reaction like back in Australia after your success at Alexandra Palace?
SW: It^s been huge. Everybody^s come out of the woodwork and started playing darts again! And I had a lot of friends who were really happy that I did well in it. It^s been great.
How did you feel when you heard you^d been given a wildcard entry into the Premier League?
SW: I was over the moon with that. It^s something I^ve always wanted to play in and I^ve dreamed about it. That dream has finally come true and it^s amazing. I thought I had a really good opportunity once I^d beaten the players I beat getting to the final and I^m really excited about it now I^m here.
We hear you had a bit of trouble getting a visa to come over and work in the UK for the Premier League?
SW: Yeah, I had a lot of trouble. I only got my passport back on the very last day before I had to leave to get over here in time. I sent them a copy of my mother^s birth certificate and they complained because it was a photocopy, not a proper authorised one. It nearly stopped me getting here!
And now you^re here, how far do you think you can go?
SW: I^d obviously love to win it. I^ve set myself a goal just to make the top four and if I can do that I^ll be really happy about it.
And which players are you looking forward to facing in this year^s competition?
SW: I haven^t played Ronnie Baxter before so he^d be one to look forward to. I^ve played everyone else but I^m still looking forward to playing them again.
There seemed to be a bit of needle between yourself and James Wade when you met at the World Championship. Is that likely to rear its head again?
SW: There was a tiny bit, but it was nothing really. We^re good friends off the board and it^s nothing to worry about. There shouldn^t be anything to bother about.
How do you think you^ll be able to cope playing in front of thousands of fans in some enormous arenas?
SW: It^s crazy. I^ve been to the O2 and the size of the place is a little bit daunting but I think I^ll handle it okay. The biggest I^ve played to before is the World Championship Final which was 3,500 but they^re expecting more than 10,000 at the O2 Arena.
Will you be preparing any differently for this?
SW: No. I^ll prepare exactly the same as all my other games. I^ll have a few drinks and practice for about three hours before I go on stage and play.
You^ll be playing in a different venue across the UK every week. Have you decided to move here for the duration of the tournament?
SW: Yeah, I^m living over here now and I^ll be flying back to Australia in between tournaments a couple of times to play over there as well. I^ve actually moved to the Isle of Wight because my manager comes from there. There^s not many people there, it^s not very busy but there^s a fair bit of darts going on.
Which places are you looking forward to visiting while you^re on the road with the Premier League?
SW: I haven^t really looked to see what things are where just yet. I^d like to see Stonehenge somewhere along the tracks. I^m not going to have time to see anything really because I^ve got the Premier League and demos and playing the circuit tournaments. There^s hardly a break for me anywhere.
You were famous for your tattoos at the World Championship. Have you had any new ones lately?
SW: I haven^t but I am looking to get some more - although I haven^t thought of anything yet. The tattoos did help me at the World Championship. If you^ve had tattoos you know you^ve got to sit there and concentrate and deal with the pain. It^s a weird sensation, but I think it helps you concentrate. I think it^s helped with my darts!