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Ronnie O’Sullivan compares his snooker career to an injured animal

The Rocket shares why he’s struggling to let go of his snooker career in a Letter To My Younger Self

When I was 16, I had just turned professional. My main passion was snooker and my life revolved around billiard halls. All my friends were there. It was my social place, my workplace, we would have dinner up there. I was eager to get going. As you get further into your career, the fear can kick in, but as a youngster you have nothing to lose. It was pure excitement. All I wanted to do was play snooker, so the opportunity to play professionally was fantastic. And when I started getting a few results and a few pay cheques, even better.

I miss young Ronnie. My younger self was so grounded, so stable, so together. Snooker was great, family life was great, things couldn’t be better than when I was 16. Then my dad went away [his father Ronald was jailed in 1992 for the murder of Bruce Bryan in London, and was released in 2010] and that rocked me massively. After that I was over-trying on the snooker table because I didn’t want to make him feel responsible for me getting bad results. I put a lot of pressure on myself. And sometimes the harder you try, the less it happens so it is a vicious circle. I didn’t know how to deal with it.

I’m not against capitalism and people making money, I just think it could be distributed more fairly, put in the right places.

I would tell my younger self to get counselling a lot earlier to deal with the grief of my dad going away. I felt like I was carrying the whole world on my shoulders. In hindsight, I would have sought professional help to get through the grieving process with somebody. I don’t think I could have done much
differently. I got my head down, I carried on playing snooker, I hadn’t yet discovered drink or other stuff. I was pretty sensible really. It was just too much.

I drunk and took other substances just to fit in. After I’d won my first ranking event, that monkey was off my back and I’d made my dad proud. I decided it was my time and went on a bit of a barrage – out drinking and hanging around with people who weren’t like-minded and didn’t have to perform as a professional sportsman. If I could live my time again, I would delete that part of my life. If I was a party type of guy, that’s one thing, but I never actually enjoyed it. My mum and dad were my role models and they used to do it. But when I speak to my dad about it, he says it wasn’t for him either. My mum liked to stay out partying, so he had to go with her.

My younger self wouldn’t believe how much I am into fitness and nutrition. My dad used to have to force me to run. Part of the deal was that if I wanted to leave school early to play snooker, I had to have a fitness routine. Running was a good addiction for me. I have an addictive nature, so if I find something I enjoy, which I did with the running, I stick at it. But I could never have seen myself doing cross-country races and running for a club. Running took me away from the typical snooker player culture of gambling and drinking. When I am running in the woods and the sun is shining through the trees it is great to be alive.

I don’t feel I have both feet in snooker. One foot is already out. But the bad thing is that I am winning
more than ever. It is very difficult to walk away when you are getting results. I am not practicing like I used to, I am not devoted like I used to be, but I am still winning. It is like an injured animal – I can’t put my snooker career out of its misery.

In 1991 the year Ronnie O’Sullivan turns 16…
  • The first edition of The Big Issue Magazine goes on sale
  • Bryan Adam spends a record 16 weeks at the top of the UK singles chart
  • The Birmingham Six are released from prison

In China they have a saying that you have two lives – aged one to 40 and 40 to 80. And that rings true for me. I have enjoyed my snooker career, but how do I want the next 40 years to pan out? I don’t want to be playing snooker every day so I have to test the waters. I have made a conscious effort to try different things. Writing the books, doing after-dinner speaking, I did a show in America and a bit of punditry work, which I loved. The least enjoyable at the moment is playing snooker.

If you had told my younger self that he would write two novels, he wouldn’t believe it. Even three or four years ago I would have said no way. But I have always been a keen reader. At the moment, I’m reading a lot of Martina Cole. She is fantastic. I write a lot while I am on the road. I put all my ideas down on paper – I overwrite – but a friend of mine helps me tighten it up. I love it.

I’m not the parent I would like to be. My mum and dad were so close, we always pulled together. I had the best of everything, the best support you could ask for. We were a unit. I’m not a unit with my children, I kind of have to watch from afar [He has three children from previous relationships]. I make sure they are all right, they go to a good school, their mum does whatever she does and they are healthy, polite, nice kids who will grow up to be whatever they want to be. But I think love and support, and knowing my door is open to them 365 days a year, 24 hours a day and that I love them to pieces is all I can do in the circumstances.  They have their own routine and flow in life. Sometimes I don’t even know what they like to eat. So it is difficult to have the same impact on them as my dad had on me.

RonnieO_embed
With fiancée, actress Laila Rouass, getting his MBE at Buckingham Palace in 2016

I would tell young Ronnie to meet a nice, stable girl who is supportive and puts you first. In the type of job I am in, I need someone who is an equal but also very supportive of what I do. In the past, I chose the wrong type. I think stability is important – especially as a sportsman you are away a lot. Choosing the right person is the advice I give to my son as well. Make sure they are right for you.

I was never political as a youngster. It is only since I met my girlfriend Laila [Rouass] six years ago. She has made me much more socially aware. And you can’t help getting into it. I find it very interesting. I am a Labour supporter. I’m not against capitalism and people making money, I just think it could be distributed more fairly, put in the right places. I like Corbyn and I really liked Ed Miliband. I met him a few times, he is a nice guy. I was sad to see him not get in. I think Corbyn is a very strong leader, he is not going to waver.

I was playing up in Cardiff and it was snowing and there were so many homeless people outside. It is so wrong they don’t have a roof over their heads, the basics in life. It frustrates me to craziness. I try to help out as much as I can – we helped feed the homeless at a Christmas dinner near Trafalgar Square. And it was my best Christmas ever. I’ll probably do it every year now. I’m hoping to join up with a homeless charity and raise some money, because that is something I am really passionate about. I don’t like to see people struggle.

Double Kiss by Ronnie O’Sullivan is out in paperback on May 17 (Macmillan, £7.99) 

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