Paul Hunter

Pin-up snooker champion of laid-back temperament who was known as the 'Beckham of the Baize'

Paul Alan Hunter, snooker player: born Leeds, West Yorkshire 14 October 1978; Benson & Hedges Masters champion 2001, 2002, 2004; Welsh Open champion 1998, 2002; British Open champion 2002; married 2004 Lyndsey Fell (one daughter); died Huddersfield, West Yorkshire 9 October 2006.

Soon after the death, aged 27, of the Yorkshire snooker professional Paul Hunter, the tributes began to flood in for the player nicknamed the "Beckham of the Baize". It was a sobriquet Hunter revelled in; he and his wife, Lyndsey, were regularly referred to as snooker's answer to "Posh and Becks". They were indeed a golden couple, but an approachable, down-to-earth pair, in keeping with their Yorkshire roots.

Hunter played professionally for 11 years, after being earmarked for stardom when he won a "Star of the Future" competition at a Pontin's Holiday Centre. He won six major tournaments but never the world championship that many pundits believed was his destiny. But such was his character that Hunter treated victory and defeat with the same equanimity. "He was just a genuinely nice guy who never fell out with anyone," said Stephen Hendry, the seven-times world champion. "He just wanted to play the game."

Paul Hunter grew up in Leeds but often travelled to Bradford in his amateur days to practise alongside Joe Johnson, the world champion of 1986. Alan, his father, was a constant travelling companion and such was their relationship that they were more like brothers than dad and son. Paul didn't win any of the major amateur titles but it didn't take him long to make the transition to the professional ranks. He was only 17, but in his first season reached the semi-finals of the 1996 Welsh Open.

He soon learned that being in the spotlight opened his private life to public scrutiny. He was fined £4,550 by the game's governing body and docked 1,140 ranking points after being found guilty of using cannabis during an event in 1997. High jinks on a Blackpool beach also ensured his becoming perfect copy for the tabloid press.

Media intrusion never unduly worried Hunter. He accepted it went with the territory and revelled in his pin-up status. Forever sanguine in his approach to life on and off the table, he made many friends and few enemies. His laid-back temperament enhanced his ability to compete at the highest level.

Hunter had an affinity for the Welsh tournament, winning his first ranking title two years later and regaining the trophy in 2002. In 1998, his talent was recognised by the Snooker Writers' Association, who made him their "young player of the season". If he enjoyed Wales, he positively adored the Wembley Conference Centre, home of the Benson & Hedges Masters. As Steve Davis and Stephen Hendry are synonymous with Sheffield's Crucible Theatre, then Paul Hunter will always be linked to Wembley.

In 2001 he won the title for the first of three occasions, beating the Irishman Fergal O'Brien 10-9 after being 7-3 behind. His mid-match strategy is remembered just as vividly as his ultimate success. Later, after putting the finishing touches to the great escape, Hunter revealed his "Plan B" - a sex session with Lyndsey at the tournament hotel. "Sex was the last thing on my mind," he recalled:

I just wasn't in the mood. But I had to do something to break the tension. It was a quick session - around 10 minutes or so - but I felt great afterwards. She jumped in the bath, I had a kip and then played like a dream.

Hunter produced similar recoveries to retain the title 12 months later and regain it in 2004. His 2004 success against Ronnie O'Sullivan was to prove his last ever tournament triumph.

By then he had already suffered one health scare, having been diagnosed with testicular cancer, leading to the removal of a cyst. He made a full recovery in time for the 2004 World Championship, reaching the semi-finals before Ken Doherty "did a Hunter" on him. As he led 15-9, a first-ever Crucible Theatre final appearance looked a certainty. Instead, his Irish opponent rallied to win the match 17-16.

Despite his dejection Hunter, the perfect sportsman, wrapped his arms round Doherty and wished him good luck for the final. And the smile quickly returned as he married Lyndsey in a spectacular wedding in Jamaica. It seemed only a matter of time before Hunter, then up to fourth in the world rankings, would attain the sport's highest honour.

Instead, his form took a turn for the worse. He began to suffer unexplained stomach pains and almost withdrew from the 2005 Irish Masters. Eventually, investigation revealed six cysts on his colon. He broke the news to his fellow professionals during an event in China. Some were in tears; Hunter and Jimmy White got drunk together. "Paul just grabbed me and two bottles of vodka later we had it all out," said White, another player to have suffered testicular cancer.

Hunter bravely competed at the 2005 World Championships, losing to Michael Holt in the first round. A few weeks later, he began his chemotherapy treatment, joking at the time: "I'll have less hair than Willie Thorne."

He returned to the circuit the following season when others might have hidden away. Against the odds, he participated in the 2006 World Championship, going down 10-5 to Neil Robertson, an Australian left-hander, in his opening game. It was to be the last ever match of Hunter's career.

By now, the cancer was at an advanced stage where treatment was aimed at stopping the spread of the disease rather than curing it. The news that Hunter's ranking had been frozen for the 2006-07 season couldn't hide the fact that he would never play again.

Sir Rodney Walker, chairman of World Snooker, said:

Paul was a man who had everything going for him - an outstanding talent, good looks, fame, riches, charm and a beautiful wife. This shows us just how quickly life can change.

Trevor Baxter

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
Madonna is not in Twitter's good books after describing her album leak as 'artistic rape and terrorism'
Arts and Entertainment
Tony Hughes (James Nesbitt) after his son Olly disappeared on a family holiday in France
Arts and Entertainment
The Apprentice candidates Roisin Hogan, Solomon Akhtar, Mark Wright, Bianca Miller, Daniel Lassman
tvReview: But which contestants got the boot?
Arts and Entertainment
Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels ride again in Dumb and Dumber To
filmReview: Dumb And Dumber To was a really stupid idea

Jo from Northern Ireland was less than impressed by Russell Brand's attempt to stage a publicity stunt

Scunthorpe goalkeeper Sam Slocombe (left) is congratulated by winning penalty taker Miguel Llera (right)
Life and Style
A woman walks by a pandal art installation entitled 'Mars Mission' with the figure of an astronaut during the Durga Puja festival in Calcutta, India
techHow we’ll investigate the existence of, and maybe move in with, our alien neighbours
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Ian McKellen tempts the Cookie Monster
tvSir Ian McKellen joins the Cookie Monster for a lesson on temptation
Tourists bask in the sun beneath the skyscrapers of Dubai
travelBritish embassy uses social media campaign to issue travel advice for festive holiday-makers in UAE
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Qualified Accountant

£30000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A fast growing cloud accounting...

Recruitment Genius: Shift Supervisor

£20000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to recent expansion and gro...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has ari...

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has ari...

Day In a Page

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
10 best high-end laptops

10 best high-end laptops

From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair
Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

The Williams driver has had plenty of doubters, but hopes she will be judged by her ability in the cockpit
Adam Gemili interview: 'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

After a year touched by tragedy, Adam Gemili wants to become the sixth Briton to run a sub-10sec 100m
Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

Homeless Veterans campaign

Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

Meet Racton Man

Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

Garden Bridge

St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

Joint Enterprise

The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

Freud and Eros

Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum