Ardleigh in Essex is a place I'm very fond of, having grown up in very near by Colchester. It's a quiet, rural place, far removed from what some people will tell you what Essex is all about (Mary Whitehouse used to live there, ffs). It's a big county, after all, and this corner, not far from the Suffolk border, is not part of the semi-legendary hinterland of fake tan, fake tits, fake fur and decorated genitals that apparently stretches west of Chelmsford all the way into the East End of London. Ardleigh is, for the most part, entirely free of flash and vulgarity. I say 'for the most part' because Bobby George lives there.
Bobby George is perhaps the most famous darts player never to win a World Championship (although he's been a runner up twice). Where he has triumphed, however, is in making himself a media favourite - the walking, talking embodiment of the game: Cockney accent, brash demeanour, mangled vowels and piled up with more dodgy gold than the floor of a Swiss bank vault. His home in Ardleigh is the self-styled George Hall, a more or less brand new ancestral pile, a triumph of self-determination.
The house, which Bobby claims he has mostly built himself, is an oddly shaped mock-mock Georgian affair, which looks rather like a piece of bent styrofoam packing. He has surrounded the house with a random series of plastic sheds and dog kennels. The pillared porch is a nice touch, as is the half dartboard which tops the door instead of a fanned pane of glass. Bobby is also one of the few people in Britain to have recently installed an analogue TV aerial.
The inside, unfortunately, is hugely disappointing. Where is the gold? The monogrammed walls? The two feet deep shag carpet? The diamond encrusted chaise longues? Bobby, who likes to think of himself as 'the Elvis of Darts', lets us all down rather badly by sticking with decor that resembles the interior design of a mid-budget private care home, or a once decent but now very tired hotel. B & Q chandeliers and heavy velvet curtains do not a mansion make.
Let's take a look through the keyhole, rather unfairly comparing what we see to its counterpart room in Graceland, the world famous domicile of Elvis Presley, 'the Bobby George of Rock 'n' Roll'...
|Bobby's front room|
|Elvis' front room|
|Bobby's dining room. What time does the regional sales conference start?|
|Elvis' dining room. Fried peanut butter sandwiches for eight, please|
Perhaps the most successful room in George House is the full size pub, successful in the sense that at least pubs are supposed to look impersonal and unoccupied when empty. Same carpet as in the front room, too, there must have been a sale on. Elvis' leisure complex, the infamous Jungle Room, is far more intimate and compact and relaxed, although you'd have to be careful not to lose your shoes in the carpet.
|The George Arms|
|The Jungle Room. Lawdy, it's gaudy|
In case you were wondering, I'm not sneering at Bobby or Elvis for their taste. I admire Elvis immensely for many things, not least his showmanship and excess. Bobby's okay, too, but I wish he'd gone all out on the inside of his ugly house, making it a suitably grandiose stage set for his outsize, gleefully brash persona. Bobby may himself feel that his vision was compromised, as he put the house up for sale last September. No takers as yet, but then he has priced the house (and the grounds with their fully stocked fishing lakes) at a cool £3.5 million pounds. That's Bobby for you, though, always a trier.