Faces of Parkinson’s: “His facial expressions have changed, but not the sparkle in his eyes”
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In 2011, television presenter Dave Clark was given the life changing news that he had Parkinson’s. We spoke to the popular sports commentator about living with Parkinson’s, his father’s battle with the condition – and having the support of Alan Shearer
“I remember I was on stage at the 2013 Darts World Championship final interviewing Phil Taylor in front of 3,000 people and I started to feel an internal shake. I thought, ‘my cover’s blown here’. It was a nightmare.”
Sports television presenter Dave Clark approaches his condition in the same way he approaches his work – in a calm and authoritative manor.
During his 30-year career in sports broadcasting, Dave has covered some of the world’s most significant events, from Nelson Mandela wearing the Springboks jersey at the 1995 Rugby World Cup to Muhammad Ali lighting the Olympic torch in Atlanta. Since 1998, he has worked mainly with Sky Sports, presenting football, boxing and darts to an audience of millions.
Dave was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in January 2011 but did not go public with his condition until 2013. Like most people who find themselves in Dave’s position, he had never considered that he might have a neurological condition.
“I’d noticed a slowness in my right hand and assumed that I had hurt it playing football. However, the physio asked me if I had ever thought about Parkinson’s. The truth was that I had been thinking about it my whole life.”
“They say to follow your father’s footsteps but I didn’t want to”
Dave knew about Parkinson’s because his father had lived with the condition – meaning he’d seen first-hand the severe impact the condition can have on a person’s life.
“It was a total nightmare for him,” says Dave. “My Dad was a sales rep and it completely ruined his confidence. He would stay up till midnight struggling to write his sales ledgers, and often at meetings people would assume he was drunk.”
Tragically, when Dave was just 17 years old his father took his own life – an experience that Dave is determined to learn from in the way he approaches his own condition.
“They say to follow in your father’s footsteps but I didn’t want to. Within two hours of my diagnosis I decided things were going to be different for me. I’m not going to hide away and I am never going to give up.”
“A man approached me and thanked me for saving his uncle”
It’s Dave’s refusal to give up that fuels his battle against Parkinson’s every day. He was initially told he would only be able to work for two more years after his diagnosis – but it’s now seven years later and he has just started a 16-week darts tour which will take him the length of the UK. Last year he raised over £200,000 by taking part in a 200-mile walk for Parkinson’s UK.
Dave has also made it his mission to inspire others not to give up – a message he says has been well received by the rest of the Parkinson’s community.
“I was in Belfast recently and a man approached me and thanked me for saving his uncle. He said by going public and being so proactive about my condition, I had inspired him to keep on fighting,” he says.
“There’s a lack of awareness about Parkinson’s and I just want to show that you can live a high quality of life after diagnosis.”
“If you are tweeting about darts then you should know about it”
This lack of awareness is something that Dave is all too familiar with, having had his own condition misunderstood. In December last year, he was the subject of an insensitive tweet from bookmaker Ladbrokes – who boasts a social media following of 196,000 – in which they made a joke about Dave having a murderous facial expression.
“They’re a four-billion-pound company and their employees need to be better educated. I’ve been very open about my condition and if you are tweeting about the darts then you should know about it.”
Dave says the whole experience reiterates the need to fight the stigma surrounding both Parkinson’s and other conditions.
“I think there was lesson to be learnt there for everyone: you don’t know what is going on in other people’s lives. So if you see someone staggering in the street or being slow at the shop, show some compassion, don’t just make assumptions.”
Thankfully, the experience did have a positive conclusion. Ladbrokes apologised unreservedly and made a significant contribution to Parkinson’s UK.
He was also met with support on social media, including a reply from friend and former England striker Alan Shearer.
“Alan has always been really supportive, he’s a good friend. He is also doing a lot of work around Alzheimer’s at the moment, so neurological conditions are quite close to his heart.”
Moving forward, Dave is very much focused on his work, and spending quality time with his family.
“I’ve always said as soon as I fall below the standard I’ve set myself I’ll do something else. I want to keep working to set a good example to my boys.”
However, it doesn’t look like Dave will be falling below his own – or anyone else’s – standards anytime soon. At the annual darts awards dinner it was announced that he will be inducted into the Professional Darts Corporation Hall of Fame.
“That was a real honour,” recounts Dave. “On stage they started reading about some bloke’s brilliant career – and it turned out it was mine!”
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