Sky Sports presenter Dave Clark, from Leeds, gives a candid yet uplifting insight into living with Parkinson’s. Peter Smith reports.
BORN AND bred in Leeds, Dave Clark is one of the country’s most recognisable faces for millions of sports fans, but his days in front of the camera are numbered.
Clark is suffering from the degenerative condition Parkinson’s, a disorder which affects the central nervous system and leads to symptoms including slowness of movement, stiffness of muscles and shaking. It can also result in increasing problems with speech and facial expression.
For a television personality like Clark, who is one of the leading presenters on Sky Sports, it is difficult to imagine a more debilitating illness, yet rather than shying away from the spotlight, he is making the most of every moment in front of camera.
Most recently in his home city to front coverage of darts’ Premier League from First Direct Arena, Clark is using his profile to raise awareness of an illness which affects one person in every 500, or 127,000 in the UK alone.
Clark recently gave up his role presenting boxing on Sky, due to his condition, but is determined to continue with the job he loves for as long as possible, despite admitting it is getting steadily harder.
“Every show is a bit of a battle really,” he admits. “I have to get my drugs right and make sure I am on stage in fine form.
“At the moment it’s a battle I am winning, but it’s a battle you don’t win in the end, because it gets you in the end.
“But I have had it for four years and my specialist said to me three years on I wouldn’t be presenting on television, so to walk out in front of 11,500 people is a victory in itself for me.”
Clark says being diagnosed with the disease has made him “seize the day”.
“People say live in the moment when you’ve got Parkinson’s, don’t dwell in the past and don’t look too far into the future,” he adds.
As a high-profile figure, Clark is in a position to help fellow sufferers and he sees that as a duty.
He has raised £60,000 for Parkinson’s UK this year and is passionate about spreading the word around a condition which is often misunderstood.
Despite tragic personal experience, Clark admits – before he was diagnosed – even he was in the dark about how Parkinson’s can develop.
He says: “My dad had it and I saw him decay and eventually he took his own life because of Parkinson’s.
“For me to go through it again is tough. I am 48 and was diagnosed when I was 44, which was a complete bolt out of the blue.
“I didn’t even know there was any hereditary nature to it.
“It turns out that for between 10-15 per cent of Parkinson’s patients it is hereditary, so it’s my bad luck of the draw.
“People say I am an inspiration and that means a lot to me, so I am going to keep going as long as I can.
“It will spell the end of my career eventually, probably in the next few years, but I am fighting hard and hopefully I can carry on for a few years yet.”
The symptoms of Parkinson’s are often misread by those unfamiliar with the nature of the disease.
Clark reveals: “On a bad day I find it hard to walk.
“When I wake up in the morning some days I can’t write my name and people sometimes accuse me of being drunk when they see me in the street and it’s just a bad day with the Parkinson’s.
“Raising awareness of what it does to you is important. The drug I am on now was invented nearly 50 years ago. Neil Armstrong hadn’t landed on the moon then, Harold Wilson was Prime Minister – and we’re still using that same drug now.
“To me that seems wrong, we’ve got to change it. Parkinson’s UK isn’t a trendy charity, but it’s a disease that is more prevalent now than it has ever been, especially with an ageing population.”
The impending end of his career has made Clark more determined to enjoy his sport.
He attributes the start of his broadcasting career to helping out Jon Hammond, the public address announcer, at Leeds rugby league matches more than 20 years ago and is a dedicated United fan, though he is usually restricted to attending games in London, where he lives.
“I joke to my friends that it’s the theatre of shattered dreams,” he says of the club he cares so much about.
“Just when you think it’s going right, we’ve got a new owner and you think there’s potential for us to rise from the flames, it all seems to go wrong again.
“Once you are a Leeds fan you’re a Leeds fan, through thin and thinner.”
On a happier note, Clark’s recent trip to Leeds for the darts – played in front of a Premier League-record crowd – was a career highlight and he believes the FD Arena is one of the most positive developments in the city’s recent history.
“Leeds Arena was opened by Bruce Springsteen, one of my heroes and to walk out on stage in front of 11,500 passionate Yorkshiremen is absolutely fantastic,” he says.
“Leeds has been crying out for an arena like this. I remember when I was a kid going to see bands at the Queens Hall, but Leeds has really been put on the map now by one of the great arenas.
“I am really proud to see it, and Sid Waddell (the late darts commentator) would have loved it, because he used to live in Pudsey.
“He got me into darts, watching the Indoor League on Yorkshire telly with Fred Trueman all those years ago.
“Leeds Irish Centre is the birthplace of televised darts and we unveiled a plaque there a few years ago.
“For it to come this far in just a few short years is phenomenal.”
Darts is on the crest of a wave, but how long can that last?
Clark says: “Just enjoy the moment.
“Everything has peaks and troughs and at the moment darts is on a high. Phil Taylor is slightly on the decline and other players are upping their game.
“It is the perfect storm, with so many players hitting the top of their game. It’s pure family entertainment, brilliant.
“It is like a party you want to be at, you go with your mates, have a few beers and see if you can get on the telly with your 180 sign.
“The walk-ons, the lighting and the way we shoot it, with over 20 cameras at the World Championships, it’s rock and roll.”