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From beef thighs to the bullseyes! Spalding butcher retiring after 50 years to focus on darts refereeing

After 50 years in the trade a well-known butcher is preparing to hang up his knives – but he won’t be ditching the arrows as he plans to spend more time as an international darts referee and MC.

To many people in South Holland, Ian ‘Tarquin’ Tilley will be best known as their family butcher. But across the country and beyond he is one of the most recognisable faces on the darts circuit, having shared the stage with the sport's biggest names, including current rising star Luke Littler.

When not dicing the beef, the 66-year-old spends his time by the bull, refereeing and MCing at events with the World Darts Federation and the England set-up.

Ian Tilley at Grasmere Farm's butchery at Vine House farm
Ian Tilley at Grasmere Farm's butchery at Vine House farm

This aspect of his double life has led to him being immortalised as an answer on TV show A Question of Sport – due to officiating with a black thumb after an accident with a hammer at home - and kickstarting a charity quest which has raised more than £400,000.

But now Ian is preparing to quit on one of his two lifelong loves… almost.

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“I’m hoping to spend more time with my daughters, grandchildren and wife Diane, and squeeze a bit more darts in there as well,” said Ian, who has just returned from a week at the Isle of Man Classic.

Ian Tilley at the Lincoln Arms
Ian Tilley at the Lincoln Arms

“Off the back of that I’ve been booked for the Ilfracombe Open, Selsey in September (the England Classic and England Masters), the Welsh Open and Tri-Nations next year.

“Hopefully I can say yes to more things, but the diary is pretty full as it is.”

Spalding-based Ian, who is involved in local league action four nights a week, has also accompanied Market Deeping’s three-time World Champ Martin ‘Wolfie’ Adams as referee and MC at his exhibitions for the past 24 years.

Martin Adams and Ian Tilley have worked together for almost a quarter of a century
Martin Adams and Ian Tilley have worked together for almost a quarter of a century

Their friendship began in 2000 when Ian made his debut as an official at the Lakeside for the BDO’s World Championships, where his first appearance on stage was overseeing Adams facing Co Stompe.

After five years of applying – and taking the week off work in hope and anticipation – he finally got the call, and remained a mainstay until the BDO went into liquidation in 2020.

And for Ian, having 17 million viewers tuning in to watch the action that day was almost as nerve-racking as being mobbed by the Dutchman’s supporters at the end of the night.

Ian Tilley is hanging up his knives
Ian Tilley is hanging up his knives

“I came out the front door and the Dutch fans were demanding to have their photos taken with the ‘famous' scorer,” he laughed.

“I thought ‘hang on, I’m just a family butcher from Spalding’.”

The orange army eventually dispersed into the night, but Ian and Wolfie had begun a close friendship.

Ian Tilley has helped raise thousands for Prostate Cancer UK
Ian Tilley has helped raise thousands for Prostate Cancer UK

It was after Adams had been treated for Prostate Cancer that the duo hatched their fundraising plans.

“One night we were driving back from an event and Martin had started the treatment,” Ian explained.

“He said ‘how do we pay back the people who’ve looked after me?’. I said ‘let’s get fundraising’.”

Ian Tilley is hanging up the apron after 50 years
Ian Tilley is hanging up the apron after 50 years

Ian’s next event, the British Open in Bridlington, saw him take to the stage in a shirt raising awareness of the Prostate Cancer UK charity.

Since then numerous boxes of shirts and badges have been sold across the darts community with more than £400,000 brought in over the past seven years.

But selling merchandise and raising awareness wasn’t enough for Ian, who brought in a further £3,200 with a sponsored skydive in 2021.

An archive image of Martin 'Wolfie' Adams taking on the locals in aid of Newton Church at Tydd St Giles community centre.
An archive image of Martin 'Wolfie' Adams taking on the locals in aid of Newton Church at Tydd St Giles community centre.

It was 53 years ago, as a 13-year-old boy, that Ian was introduced to the butchery trade, delivering meat after school for Parkinson Brothers on Winsover Road.

Bookending his five decades working in the industry, he has spent the past two years and nine months at the Grasmere Farm butchery at Vine House Farm in Deeping St Nicholas.

He officially hangs up the apron on Saturday, March 30, but has agreed to return to help out during busy periods, such as the Christmas rush.

Vine House Farm, Deeping St James
Vine House Farm, Deeping St James

It was also as a teenager - ‘when all I could drink was a glass of Coke’ - that Ian got his first taste of darts, playing for the Post Office team at Spalding’s Drayman’s Arms.

As his love for the sport blossomed he has picked up numerous roles – and is currently the vice-chairman of Cambridgeshire County Darts, chairman of the Cambridgeshire Super League, chair and treasurer of Spalding and District Darts League as well as playing for the Lincoln Arms.

But being offered the chance to throw the arrows in a team as a teen stuck with Ian, who has also offered breaks to youngsters over the years, including PDC pro Scott Williams, who is based in Swineshead.

Oche ace Scott Williams with daughter Aurora
Oche ace Scott Williams with daughter Aurora

After spotting the raw talent throw five 180s in a Pinchbeck League match in Spalding’s Lincoln Arms he invited ‘Shaggy’ – who reached the semis of the PDC World Championships this January – to link up with his team.

“He said to me, ‘you’re the chap off the telly, do you think I’m any good?’.” Ian recalled.

“I said ‘be here at 7pm next Thursday and I’ll take you with us, playing with the likes of Martin Adams in the Super League team’.

Scott Williams
Scott Williams

“We had a full team but someone dropped out and he put something like a 32.5 average in on the night and everyone was saying ‘who is this chap?’.

“I said ‘I just picked him up a pub’.”

Ian – who has scored Williams on England duty – remembers fast-paced Dutchman Jelle Klaasen as a tough competitor to keep up with.

But, of all the standout competitors he has shared a stage with, PDC star Luke Littler - who reached the World Championship finals in January aged just 16 - was an outstanding talent from an early age.

“I’ve always said, you’ve had your Bristow era, Taylor era and your Van Gerwen era. I think it’s time for us to have the Littler era,” said Ian, who had his stage name Tarquin bestowed upon him by official Martin Fitzmaurice, best known for his ‘let’s play darts’ cries.

“I scored for him when he was 13 at Bridlington and last year I compered the final of the Welsh Open, which he won.

“When he came of stage I told him he will be a world champ one day. He will make it, he’s such a natural player.”

As Littler prepares for a bright future in darts, Ian can look back fondly on a 45-year love affair with the sport.

“I’ve been fortunate,” he said. “I’ve travelled to Spain, Gibraltar, Wales, Isle of Man, all over the show with darts.

“I’ve been very very fortunate to be on the big stage and referee matches. You can’t get closer to the action.

“I love it because every game’s different. Darts is a family orientated sport where you meet so many different people and they’re all nice.

“There’s the social aspect. You’ll have a beer and play, but you’re meeting all different walks of life.”

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