Viking so close to Strictly Come Dancing debut

A night out with golfing PR guru Pete Richardson always yields an array of interesting and entertaining stories and last Tuesday was no different.

I joined Pete, managing director of golf marketing company The Azalea Group, in his home village of South Harting (fewer than 1000 residents and three pubs!) in West Sussex to watch his darts team, The Ship, take on bitter rivals The Club.

Much drink was taken and various darts and media drivel spoken – but as always Pete came out with a tale to make me smile.

During his time representing larger-than-life darts legend Andy Fordham, he was approached by the producers of a new reality TV show (it was new at the time) called Strictly Come Dancing. It was to feature Bruce Forsyth and a host of celebrities learning to dance.

And amazingly for their first series, they were desperate to get The Viking involved. Fordham, who at the time weighed 31 stone and drank 25 bottles of lager a day, was keen to take part but had to turn it down because it meant clearing Saturday nights for up to 12 weeks and the big man was already committed to playing in high profile darts tournaments across the globe.

In any case, the show went on to prove a ratings winner but, despite having never watched it, even I would have been tempted to tune in had The Viking been strutting his stuff on the dancefloor.

A few years ago, Fordham suffered a health scare and was rushed to hospital suffering chest pains just before a World Championship match. But just last year the new slimline version returned to the darts scene and has given up drinking completely. Great news. You can’t beat a bit of bully and they don’t come much better than The Viking. I hope to see him regularly competing at the oche again soon. Maybe he’ll even need to look out those dancing shoes again.

For the record, The Ship beat The Club 4-3, including a particularly impressive 12, 12, Bull finish from Pete. Not the conventional way to hit 74 but ask him about it sometime – he’ll not be long in telling you and you might get a few other gems in there too.

Golf Industry Blossoms at Azalea

In a previous post I touched on the fact that I spent last week working in the rolling countryside of Hampshire – just minutes from the scene of Havant & Waterlooville’s remarkable FA Cup triumph against Swansea.

But it wasn’t the chance of an historic cup upset that enticed me to spend a week so far from God’s Country (sunny Scotland). It was the chance to do some work with the living legend that is Pete Richardson – the golf industry’s answer to Max Clifford.

Pete will be known to most in the Scottish media as the smooth-talking Yorkshire lad who worked his way from Crime Reporter at the Yorkshire Evening Post to Deputy News Editor (I believe that was his title although I’m sure he will correct me if I’m wrong) at the Daily Record in Glasgow – which at the time was the UK’s fourth biggest tabloid in terms of circulation.

He eventually landed at Daily Record HQ via shifts at all the main national newspapers and landed his seat on the newsdesk after a series of gritty and hard-hitting exclusives as a reporter for the paper. I’m sure he remains the only employee ever to have had his leaving party (two of them in fact) sponsored by a brewery.

It’s safe to say that Pete has learned his craft at the hard end – which his series of front page exclusives and spreads adorning the walls of his office show – so he can be forgiven for making the switch to the altogether more relaxed world of golf marketing.

The transition couldn’t have gone any better and Pete now runs The Azalea Group, a company specialising in intelligent golf marketing. I have never asked him but I presume the name “Azalea” is taken from the hole of the same name at Augusta, home of the US Masters, and the fact that the flower is prevalent at the US home of golf.

That aside, it’s a safe bet that if you read or hear something about golf in the national, local or specialist press, then it has passed over the desk’s of The Azalea Group at some point along the way.

The company is as slick as it gets and filled with talented people brimming with enthusiasm, ideas and, most of all, a sense of fun. All of which is hardly surprising if you know Pete.

First up is Dave Bowers, as experienced a sports hack as you are likely to find. His cantankerous and curmudgeonly exterior is merely a smokescreen to hide his true qualities. He is a smooth operator (he tells me he can find anything on his desk among the piles of clutter and I believe him), a skilled writer and although he will have you believe otherwise, a thoroughly decent guy into the bargain.

His young prodigy and right-hand man in the writing stakes is Lee Todd, who is as comfortable producing incisive and hard-hitting articles as he is gladhanding it with the most high profile of golfing afficionados. I’m told he is also a top darts player but, for fear of being soundly embarrassed at the oche, I hope to never find out if that is true.

Henry Alliss returned to Azalea the day I arrived following a two week break in Kenya – during the height of the recent troubles. Unfazed, he promptly announced that he was completely unaware of the sensitive political situation in the country but did wonder why the streets were lined with riot police at every corner. I suspect the Pulitzer Prize won’t be winging it’s way to Henry in the near future.

Aside from his adventures, the marketing expert has charm and charisma in abundance – qualities which never fail to impress in his industry. Of course, you wouldn’t expect anything less, given that Henry is the son of golfing and commentating legend Peter Alliss, whose soothing tones help make Sunday afternoon watching the final round of the Open such a magical experience. He did manage to smash a glass during an office reconfiguration during the week but he can be forgiven for that – usually he would just get the houseboy to do it for him.

Sally Bull, as office manager, is the heartbeat of the operation without whom it would all just fall to pieces – or so she tells me.

I also briefly met Roger Wolfe and his alter ego Little Roger Wool (think Dr Evil and Mini-Me). Roger was only in the office for one day while I was there before he jetted out to Orlando “on business” but struck me as another top professional. Never let anyone in the golf industry tell you it is hard work!

All in all it was an extremely enjoyable week working in such prestigious company and, having seen them in action, I have no doubt that Azalea will continue to blossom under Pete.

Thanks to all at Azalea.