Interview: Ronnie O'Sullivan - O'Sullivan looking for a life less extraordinary

At 16 he announced his presence as a major new talent in the world of snooker. At 17 his father was sent to jail having been convicted of murder. In the years that followed he upset just about everybody, including the sport's authorities - and his mother.

Now, at the age of 21, Ronnie O'Sullivan thinks that he has finally grown up and is at last ready to fulfil his enormous potential. In a remarkably frank interview, he explains why...

He sits there, cigarette in hand, hair tussled and chin unshaven, in a room in Bournemouth's International Conference Centre which resembles an interview room at a police station.

There are just a couple of wooden chairs, a small, plain table, and breeze- blocks in the walls. He puffs away at his cigarette and, every so often, shakes his left hand nervously, in an up and down movement, that increases in speed the more he confesses.

Ronnie O'Sullivan, the much-troubled, effortlessly brilliant but frequently wayward talent of the green baize has, it seems, finally grown up and, in the course of the hour we spent together, it was pretty clear that over the past 12 months the 21-year-old from Chigwell has been telling himself a few painful home truths.

"I know people look at me and think: 'He's a flash git, and he's got no respect for anyone'," he tells you, looking unflinchingly in your eye. "They couldn't be further from the truth. It's not the real me and it never was. I now understand that I was easily led in the past, often by people around me.

"Maybe I was trying to put on a front and tried to have a hard image to brush people off. I regret that now, but at least I know what are the right things to do. And I know who my friends are."

Has he picked up many so-called "friends" over the years as his wealth and fame have accumulated? "I've made millions of friends, mate," he replies. "I've got more friends than anyone else in the whole world." But in reality? "I can count them on the fingers of one hand. As for the rest, I can smell them coming now, I couldn't before. Then, and I'm only talking about a little over a year ago, I used to think I was the bee's knees, but now I can spot them a mile off. So, instead of it happening to me four or five nights a week, now I only let people take advantage of me once every four months or so. And I quite enjoy the fact that I know what's going on."

The hangers-on, the "advisers" and the unofficial entourage that seems to develop in sports such as snooker and boxing, all recognised that in O'Sullivan there was a kid who would, undoubtedly, win the world snooker championships. "Yeah, and if life had been normal, I would have done by now," O'Sullivan reckons. The problem however, is that life has been far from normal.

At 16, O'Sullivan turned professional and, within weeks, had everyone in the game talking about a world champion in the making. At 17 his father, Ronnie Snr, was convicted of murder - a charge the family continually refutes - and is currently serving an 18-year prison sentence. A few months' later his mother, Maria, was also imprisoned for a short spell.

"It was bad enough when my Dad was sent down, but to lose my mother as well, just as I was trying to come to terms with what happened to my father, was very difficult to handle," O'Sullivan says. "I had a 12-year-old sister, which was a difficult age, and I tried to be a big brother for her, but it was just too much for me. That's when I went off the rails."

It is, of course, understandable, that a kid, with the money, attention, lifestyle and pitfalls snooker can offer, coupled with the misery of his home life, should lurch into bad ways, and this is precisely what O'Sullivan did.

The list of offences is numerous, but his two most famous incidents were when he played against Alain Robidoux using his wrong hand - explaining later that he showed no respect because his opponent did not deserve any - and, at the 1995 World Championships, when he assaulted a press officer and was subsequently handed a record pounds 20,000 fine and a two-year ban, suspended for two years.

"I had most of that summer to think about where I was going, and to look hard at myself," he explains."But what really made me change my ways was when my mother threw me out of the house."

Really? "Yeah, well she'd just had enough of me. She's always backed me to the hilt, even when I've been in the wrong, but she wasn't going to let me throw everything away. It wasn't really about snooker, but more about my attitude."

In what way? "She wasn't happy about the way I spoke to her, nor to my sister. I just let things go, I became lazy, fat and just wasn't bothered about anything. So she slung me out for two weeks. It was a form of shock treatment, but it worked.

"I came back and apologised, but I also knew that just saying sorry wasn't enough. I has to follow it up with my actions. I realised that it was no good to me, to my mother or to my father, stuck there in prison and discovering that I'd disappeared for a fortnight. So that's when I decided to knuckle down. I don't want people saying, in 10 years' time, that I should have won a world championship. I want them to be talking about the number of world titles I've already won."

O'Sullivan's assessment of his talent and the extent to which it has been fulfilled is nothing if not honest. "At 16 you should have put a bet on me winning the world title by the time I was 19. The reasons why I didn't were all self-inflicted. I've been a professional for five years now, but a real pro for just two. OK, so my father went away, but it shouldn't have stopped me doing the business." He looks down to the table, and adds: "But it did."

There is an evident, if understandable, bitterness about O'Sullivan. For a start, he is fairly bitter about his sport. "I honestly think that snooker, in one way, doesn't want me," he admits. "I certainly went through a stage when I realised that the sport needed me in one sense, but really didn't want all the hassle. You can sense, sometimes, when somebody's about to lose it. People were placing obstacles in my way and testing my patience. When I reacted, which I know I shouldn't have done, I gave them what I wanted."

He takes a long, thoughtful drag from his cigarette, and looks out of the window towards the sea. "It's been an education for me," he adds. "A crash- course in life."

O'Sullivan is also cut up about the enforced break-up of his family. "My dad's been bearing up unbelievably well, whilst my mother's revealed herself to be the true guvnor of the house. She's even stronger than my dad, although it took me 21 years to recognise this.

"The only person who seems to be bitter about it all is me. The first time I saw my dad in prison I broke down in tears, but he told me that what was done was done, and that I should get on with life and fulfil my talent. He was right, although it took some time for me to realise this.

"When I'm 35 I want pounds 3m in the bank, my house paid off, my mum's house paid off, and for my parents to be able to go anywhere they like in the world, do anything and be happy. My dad will be 55 when he's released, and I want him to enjoy the rest of his life. Sometimes I wonder whether I should be playing snooker for those reasons, but it just makes me more determined. That's what I'm striving for."

The immediate results of the new O'Sullivan were evident last season. Despite only playing at what he describes as 60 per cent of his best, O'Sullivan took three titles, made two further finals, and recorded a televised 147 break at the Crucible during this year's World Championships. He was also involved in what many observers believe to be the greatest game ever when, in the final of the Liverpool Victoria Charity Challenge, he fought back from 8-2 down to draw level against Stephen Hendry, before falling to a maximum break from the Scot to lose 9-8. "It just shows that if I can do all that with my troubles, and maintain a high ranking, then what can I achieve from now on?"

He has certainly done enough to convince the astute Ian Doyle, the head of the expanding Stirling-based sports stable that includes Hendry, to take O'Sullivan on over last summer. A couple of years ago Doyle, who always recognised O'Sullivan's talent, would not have gone near him. "And he was right not to," O'Sullivan accepts. "He's not prepared to put up with any crap from me, and I'm not prepared to give him any, either. I fully expect us to be good for each other."

Next week's Liverpool Victoria UK Championship in Preston will be an interesting test of the new O'Sullivan, a previous winner of the prestigious tournament. Second only to the world championships in prize money and prestige, it also features on O'Sullivan's list of goals for this season.

"It's down on my notepad as one to win," he says, producing a rare, self- conscious smile. "And you want to know something? If I do, I'll probably be hated more than I am even now. I'm going to start winning so many tournaments that it's really going to hurt people."

And what about the world championships? "Oh, I've always known that I will become world champion, even during all the bad times. It's always been just a matter of time, but now that I've pulled myself together, it's going to be sooner rather than later."

Suggested Topics
Life and Style
LifeReddit asked a simple question with infinite answers this week
Life and Style
Pepper, the 3ft 11in shiny box of circuits who can tell jokes and respond to human emotions
techDavid McNeill tests the mettle of one of the new generation of androids being developed in Tokyo
Life and Style
beauty
Arts and Entertainment
Armando Iannucci, the creator of 'The Thick of It' says he has
tvArmando Iannucci to concentrate on US show Veep
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
Luis Suarez looks towards the crowd during the 2-1 victory over England
transfers
Sport
German supporters (left) and Argentina fans
world cup 2014Final gives England fans a choice between to old enemies
Arts and Entertainment
A still from the worldwide Dawn of the Planet of the Apes trailer debut
film
News
peopleMario Balotelli poses with 'shotgun' in controversial Instagram pic
News
A mugshot of Ian Watkins released by South Wales Police following his guilty pleas
peopleBandmates open up about abuse
Sport
Basketball superstar LeBron James gets into his stride for the Cleveland Cavaliers
sportNBA superstar announces decision to return to Cleveland Cavaliers
Sport
Javier Mascherano of Argentina tackles Arjen Robben of the Netherlands as he attempts a shot
world cup 2014
Arts and Entertainment
The successful ITV drama Broadchurch starring David Tenant and Olivia Coleman came to an end tonight
tv
Sport
Four ski officials in Slovenia have been suspended following allegations of results rigging
sportFour Slovenian officials suspended after allegations they helped violinist get slalom place
News
14 March 2011: George Clooney testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during a hearing titled 'Sudan and South Sudan: Independence and Insecurity.' Clooney is co-founder of the Satellite Sentinel Project which uses private satellites to collect evidence of crimes against civilian populations in Sudan
people
Arts and Entertainment
Balaban is indirectly responsible for the existence of Downton Abbey, having first discovered Julian Fellowes' talents as a screenwriter
tvCast members told to lose weight after snacking on set
Life and Style
More than half of young adults have engaged in 'unwanted but consensual sexting with a committed partner,' according to research
tech
Life and Style
A binge is classed as four or more alcoholic drinks for women and five or more for men, consumed over a roughly two-hour period
tech
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily World Cup Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

BC2

£50000 - £70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Business Analyst Consultant (Fina...

SAP Data Migration Consultant

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client, a FTSE 100 organisation are u...

Programme Support, Coms, Bristol, £300-350p/d

£300 - £350 per day + competitive: Orgtel: My client, a leading bank, is curre...

Linux Systems Administrator

£33000 per annum + pension, 25 days holiday: Ashdown Group: A highly successfu...

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice