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Ronnie O’Sullivan: ‘Snooker saved me from Soho gangland’

As he launches his new novel, five-times world champion reveals how a cue changed his life

23 November, 2018 — By Tom Foot

Ronnie O’Sullivan: ‘It’s definitely cleaned up around there now, I’m not sure if the kind of characters that were there are there any more’ Photo: Tai Chengzhe

RONNIE O’Sullivan has done just about all there is to do on a snooker table and is regarded as the most gifted player ever to grace the green baize.

But back in the mid-1980s, the young rocket was lining up his first shots on full-size tables in the old Ambassador’s Club in Dean Street, Soho.

He would get dropped off there by his dad, who ran a string of sex shops in Walker’s Court, Brewer Street and Windmill Street, and wanted him to stay out of trouble.

This Soho “creche” was where he began crafting the now-legendary “natural talent” that has helped him win five world titles.

His new novel, The Break, features a protagonist, Frankie, living a Soho gangland life Mr O’Sullivan said could have been his had he not picked up a cue at the Ambassador’s.

“If I wasn’t a snooker player, I think Frankie is maybe how my life would gone,” he told the Extra this week.

The Break is an action-packed rip-roarer of a crime thriller littered with references to 1990s Soho, and famous artists and musicians of the era.

It features tough-talking and laddish characters including The Saint, the Old Man and King Regards. Its bullish lead Frankie James is trying to set up a new snooker tournament in Soho but is caught between rival gang bosses.

He is in many ways the polar opposite to the often-wavering Mr O’Sullivan, who at times frustrates his legion of fans with his wispy words and nagging doubts.

“A lot of me is in Frankie, but to make him completely like me he would have had to go through my life, you know,” said Mr O’Sullivan, 42. “It’s very difficult to make him something that he is not. And anyway I wanted Frankie to have his own character.”

Speaking of his creative process, Mr O’Sullivan said: “I have a list of characters that I play around with – some are made up. There’s some I would never have come across. I write them down and it gets looked at you know, otherwise it’d be 3,000 pages long.”

Talking about his memories of Soho, he said: “If I go down there [Soho] people still say hello Ronnie, ask how my dad’s doing. It’s definitely cleaned up around there now, I’m not sure if the kind of characters that were there are there anymore. I’m sure there are some but maybe not all of them. It used to be full-on, you know.

“Dad had shops on Walker’s Court, Brewer Street, Windmill Street. He would drop me off at Ambassador’s. They had five tables, it was really good. Not sure if it was a snooker club or a members’ place – it’s shut down now though. We took two mirrors from there when it closed, they’re still at my mum’s place.”

Mr O’Sullivan’s dad was released from prison in 2009 after serving 17 years for the murder of the driver of gangster Charles Kray – the brother of twin Reggie and Ronnie.

Speaking about the closure of snooker clubs in London, Mr O’Sullivan said: “The smoking ban killed off the clubs. It killed off snooker culture. There might have been 100 clubs in London at one point but now there’s just maybe five or six proper ones left.”

Mr O’Sullivan said he had been following the Brexit negotiations and suggested that a second referendum might be in the best interests of the country.

He said: “I was up in Yorkshire recently and I heard one of the MEPs, Richard Corbett, talking about it. I don’t think it’s [Brexit] a good thing, but people have voted for it. But then again, I think that it was a protest vote really, and the most uneducated vote there has ever been.”

Asked about whether there should be a second referendum, he said: “Yeah, I think so. For something so big I think you owe it to the people, to make sure they were educated to vote on it, you know. It’s kids’ lives, you know. They need to take responsibility but they don’t, they just run off.”

The Break, by Ronnie O’Sullivan, Macmillan, £14.99.

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