Snooker icon Ronnie O’Sullivan on his life in Essex and future in the sport
PUBLISHED: 09:31 10 December 2018 | UPDATED: 15:53 16 September 2020
The life of Ronnie O’Sullivan has been anything but predictable, but the most gifted snooker player of all time seems to be showing signs of settling down. Denise Marshall went to meet him
Essex boy and snooker legend Ronnie O’Sullivan has been on something of a winning streak over the last six months. Bar a surprise defeat in the Masters back in January while rundown, Ronnie has claimed the top prize at the 2017 English Open, the Shanghai Masters, the World Grand Prix and the UK Championships.
The five times World Champion, affectionately nicknamed The Rocket, loves to keep his fans guessing over his next move, but he explains to Essex Life that he’ll always keep a home in Essex with actress fiancée Laila Rouass, and why he’s not quite ready to quit the table just yet.
A multi-millionaire at 42 and widely regarded as the most gifted snooker player of all time, Ronnie describes himself as ‘semi-retired’ despite an insatiable appetite from fans and fellow sportsmen for him to continue. While he still delivers stroke after stroke of pure genius, he is done with proving himself, keen to dip in and out of the game on his own terms and stave off depression.
A recent tweet directed at those frustrated by this apparent indifference was frank: ‘If not caring makes me one of the best snooker players of all time, I’ll take that.’
Snooker was Ronnie’s life until 14 years ago, when he fought back against his demons which had been stoked by the common pitfalls of fame and a party lifestyle and focused on healthier addictions, chiefly long distance running.
‘I used to live and breathe snooker,’ explains Ronnie. ‘There was a lot of pressure. Now I’ve got so many other things to think about, I don’t give myself time to dwell on it. If there’s a tournament coming up I try to be as ready as I can and switch on. And it’s working okay at the moment. I’m still defying physics,’ he adds with a grin.
On his reluctance to compete in the 2018 World Championships in Sheffield he is unapologetic.
‘The World Championships is a big tournament, but it is just one tournament. It’s a long time to commit and I have so much on the table. I don’t want to be saturated – the guy that does everything – but I don’t want all my eggs in one basket.’
Ronnie has played in every World Championship tournament since 1993, but he cites a myriad of commitments and priorities, principally filming for the second series of Ronnie O’Sullivan’s Hustle for the History Channel in Australia, alongside sports pal presenter Matt Smith.
The pair first teamed up last year to explore America’s history of pool, plus Ronnie also branched out into the world of fiction, an unlikely move for a top sportsman, but a fascinating step inspired by a challenging childhood.
Double Kiss, a follow up to his debut crime thriller Framed, is released next month in paperback. The novels are inspired by Ronnie’s time in Soho as a teenager and witness to the underworld. While his parents worked in the sex shop industry, he was dutifully, but begrudgingly, perfecting his talent on the snooker table.
‘I knew Soho when it was in full swing 30 years ago. My dad was like a local, it was exciting. When he went away (Ronnie Snr served 18 years for murder), I lost touch with it, but now I own a few properties there.
‘The character, Frankie, is based on me. I’ve had a lot of things go on in my life, not all terrible traumatic things, but enough that lets me come up with all the stories. Then my co-writer suggests the plot and twists. They said a lot of celebrities take the money and run, but I was really involved.’
Ronnie still ventures out in Soho, but not for the heavy drinking sessions of the past.
‘Soho still has charm,’ continues Ronnie. ‘I still practise snooker in my friend’s office and I love a Chinese at Hakkasan or our favourite, Yauatcha. Laila is a member at a hotel nearby where we stay.’
The Rocket’s first foray into publishing was his bestselling autobiography, Ronnie, when he was just 29. He followed that a decade later with Running: The Autobiography.
‘I wrote a lot about my battles with drink in the first one,’ reveals Ronnie. ‘There was a little bit of class B drugs, smoking cannabis, and it got a grip on me for about five or six years. I went to rehab and got myself off that stuff, turned my life around and started winning lots of competitions, fulfilling my potential.
‘A lot of people have said to me how they had felt like that too. It’s great giving people that little kick to go out there and seek help.’
Ronnie’s natural ability is such that fans are gripped by his every move.
‘I’m lucky with how I play and what I do on the table. There are people who think I can’t do any wrong. They think you’re the best thing since sliced bread. It’s a bit weird, but you do bring happiness to people’s lives.’
While grateful, Ronnie doesn’t hide his resentment at being holed up in basements as a young lad chasing the next trophy and it’s not a life he wants for his own son, ten-year-old Ronnie Jnr.
‘I don’t want him to play. If you’re one of the top two or three players in the world, then fine. But outside of that it’s not a good life. I’d rather he be a fisherman, seriously.
‘Out in the fresh air. It’s a very mental sport, a hard sport. You’ve got to be really strong to come through it. If you’re not you get sussed out. There’s no point just being a good snooker player. You’ve got to be fantastic.’
Following a history of unhappy relationships, the legendary player is settled with his fiancée, former Holby City actress Laila Rouass. The pair met in 2012 when Laila, a single mum, was house hunting in Ronnie’s home town of Chigwell.
Ronnie asked her out via the estate agent and the couple moved in together four months later with Laila’s daughter Inez, aged 11. They now live in Buckhurst Hill. There are sketchy plans for an intimate wedding in Laila’s native Morocco and Ronnie’s clearly met his match.
‘She’s been good for me, encouraging and really supportive. If I’ve got to go away for four weeks, she gets it.’
When they do tie the knot, Ronnie is keen to shun the limelight. ‘We’ll choose the right moment and probably go away to Marrakech, Laila’s home town. I love that culture so we spend time there on little breaks.’
Ronnie was in hospital for four days after a breakdown at the 2016 World Championships, triggered by a heavy workload, but he brushed off the episode recovering within weeks. To safeguard a balanced lifestyle he now enjoys training runs in Hainault Forest and by the coast at Leigh on Sea, not feeling shackled to the table any longer, and religiously cooks for one hour a day.
‘Running laps in the woods at the back of my garden and eating well makes me feel like a million dollars. I have so much more energy. Snooker is a mental game, so I need to keep active and eating well is important for that.’
When asked how he’ll know when it’s time to hang up the cue, he doesn’t hesitate.
‘The time to stop will be if I don’t win a tournament in a season. I’ve lowered my expectations now, but I still feel like I can win.
‘It depends if these young whippersnappers start beating me – they’re not yet!’
Find out more:
Double Kiss is out in paperback, from May 17, priced £7.99, published by Pan Macmillan.