World number one snooker player Ronnie O’Sullivan has revealed that he questions why he puts himself through the stress of taking part in top-flight tournaments.
Appearing on Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs, the 47-year-old, who picks That’s All by Genesis as a chosen track, describes how his talent was first spotted at the age of seven and nurtured by his father Ronald who went on to be jailed for murder.
O’Sullivan, known as The Rocket, said his father would drop him from the age of eight at snooker halls which he would call the “creche”.
He said that although he was earning an average of £20-25,000 a year in winnings by the age of 12, he was not the talk of his school.
He said: “Snooker wasn’t a sport, everyone liked football, so there were other kids really good at football and they were the talk of the class, so no-one really paid attention to me.
“I grew up in a man’s world from the age of eight. You had this little kid playing professionals who were on the television and beating them and even then I didn’t think I was good enough to be a top-class player.”
He added: “I get people come up to me and they go, ‘We knew you was going to make it’ because of my enthusiasm for the game.”
O’Sullivan, who grew up in Essex, called his father, who ran a chain of sex shops in Soho, the “Del Boy in the porn game” and added: “Our garage was full up with dirty videos and magazines, I was never sheltered from it. I enjoyed it, it was a life experience.”
Describing the impact of his father being jailed for 18 years for murder, he said: “That was hard because there was no hope in a way, it was two decades.
“It became more about not letting him down, not letting him feel responsible if I mess up, he would surely think it was his fault, it wasn’t an option to fail.
“It was horrendous, it was horrible. I lost my best mate, I lost my backbone. I lost the plot a bit.”
O’Sullivan picked Carly Simon’s You’re So Vain as one of his island discs because it was playing in the hotel in Thailand where he was staying when his mother told him that his father had been arrested.
Then at the age of 20, his mother was also imprisoned for VAT fraud, leaving him to look after his younger sister.
He said: “I couldn’t deal with it, I was already drinking, partying, smoking dope, hanging round people who weren’t good for me.”
He chose Maybe Tomorrow by Stereophonics as one of of his tracks because he would listen to it during rehab at that time of his life.
Speaking of his 1997 world record for the fastest 147 break, when he cleared the table in five minutes and eight seconds, he said that he was not the player he wanted to be at the time.
He said: “I was anything but a rock but I could do moments of magic but I didn’t want to be known for moments of magic.
“When I had that 147, the guy that won the tournament, I wanted to be him. I didn’t want to be the guy collecting the nice big cheque they give you for the 147, I would give all that up to get my hands on the trophy.”
The seven-time world champion said that when he looks back at his career, he questions why he has subjected himself to the stress and pressure.
He said: “When I see what I put myself through, I think, ‘Why would you do it?’, most people would look at it and not do it.
“When you are pitted against another really good player, top-class player in a venue, perhaps the World Championships because that is the one and only tournament which really stands alone for the atmosphere, for the intensity, for the nerves it brings out in you.
“Trying to play in that nervous state and the build-up can play tricks with your mind and make you go from good form to bad form if you overthink or you freeze. It just gets the better of you. It becomes really difficult and it’s something I don’t enjoy really.”
He said that running was his way of handling stress and added: “If there was a pill on the shelf and it said this is going to make you feel happy for the rest of the day, we would all be out buying it, that’s what running does for me and it’s guarantee I am going to feel fantastic for the rest of the day.”
He chose the book Running With The Kenyans by Adharanand Finn as his book choice for the desert island and his paints that he uses to paint dot pictures with the artist Damien Hirst as his luxury item as it was his other main way of coping with stress.
Desert Island Discs will be on BBC Sounds and BBC Radio 4 on Sunday May 28 at 11.15am.