As a temperamental Italian used to the hustle and bustle of a busy kitchen, sitting still and keeping quiet for the duration of a snooker match doesn’t come naturally to Gino.
But to see Jimmy White take part in the Pokerstars.com Masters – and witness the Whirlwind receive a raucous welcome from a 1400-strong Wembley crowd packed with celebrities including Rolling Stone Ronnie Wood – was an opportunity just too good to miss.
“It was my first time at a live snooker match,” Gino told World Snooker. “Before the game I was so excited, I couldn’t wait. The atmosphere was incredible. The moment when Jimmy got introduced into the arena was unbelievable, the crowd were going mad, it was fantastic.”
Gino and Jimmy met, of course, in the insalubrious setting of the Australian bush, during last year’s ITV show I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here. Much-loved by the public, both of them went all the way to the final, before charismatic Gino took the accolade King of the Jungle. Only Jimmy’s cruellest followers pointed out that, as a six-time Crucible runner-up, he was well accustomed to the feeling of losing in the final.
But more important than the result for both men was the close friendship they struck up during the long hours in the outback, interrupted only by hunger pangs, fear of creepy crawlies and the occasional terrifying bush-tucker trial.
“I’d never met him before we went into the jungle. At the beginning he was fairly quiet, he didn’t really find his place for the first few days,” Gino recalls. “Then he got himself a job, which was to get the water. He had to bail it up and cool it down so we could drink it. He took the job to heart and he didn’t want to let it go. After that he became another Jimmy. He was very funny and had some great one-liners which had everyone laughing. He’s a great guy and we get on well.”
Their relationship blossomed when they discovered a mutual interest in cue sports, and made a pact to teach each other a few tricks of their respective trades when they got back to the UK.
“When we were in the jungle I spoke to Jimmy about snooker quite a bit,” said Gino. “I’m a big fan of pool and I have a table in my office. I agreed with Jimmy that he would show me a few moves, and in return I would teach him how to make a perfect spaghetti bolognaise.
“My father watched snooker all the time, that’s where my love affair with the game started. After Jimmy, my favourite player is Ronnie O’Sullivan. I like the big characters. He’s got some Italian blood in him and you can see that in his temperament.”
Napoli-born Gino, who has starred in TV shows such as Saturday Kitchen and Ready,Steady,Cook and written books called Fantastico!, Buonissimo! and The Italian Diet even offered an extra incentive for Jimmy before the Wembley showdown.
“I promised Jimmy before the Masters that if he won the tournament, I would have gone to his house every day for one week and cooked for him,” smiled the father-of-two, who lives in north London. “I would have been his personal chef. I would have made him whatever he wanted – as long as it was Italian! It would have been fun so it’s a shame he didn’t win it.”
But despite his new-found love of the green baize game, Gino does not believe he could cope with the intensity of being out there in the arena. “What I do is very different to snooker because cooking in the kitchen is all about team work,” he said. “You rely on the people around you. In snooker you are on your own, it’s one against one. And because of that there’s a lot more pressure and you need a totally different mentality.”
Posted by Sport.co.uk on: 16 September 2009
Author: Jonny Abrams
Sport.co.uk caught up with snooker legend Jimmy ‘Whirlwind’ White for a quick chat about the game, as well as his love of Chelsea Football Club, and ended up informing him of a great honour of which he was not hitherto aware…
If you could go back to the mid-80’s, when you were rising to fame, would you do anything differently?
JW: I would have prepared better. I used to do quite a bit of gambling during the tournaments, so my approach wasn’t the best organized, but I was my own boss. I don’t regret anything but, if I had an opportunity to change it, I’d definitely prepare better.
Do you think you could have nailed the world title if you’d had less of a decadent lifestyle, or less of an inclination to throw caution to the wind?
JW: No, because my style of play was to attack and to create chances that weren’t there. That’s why people liked watching me; I played the game slightly differently. I still play the same way. Last night, I had a 147. And I’m not finished yet, you know. It’s not like boxing or football; you don’t have to be super fit.
Do you worry for the future of the game, what with the falling TV audiences and lack of tournaments these days?
JW: That’s not the truth. There’s still six million people playing snooker in Great Britain. Hundreds of millions are watching it in China. When it hit its height in the 80’s, it wasn’t as popular as football but it was quite close. As long as snooker’s got players like Ronnie O’Sullivan coming through then it will always attract a big audience. It’s not in trouble, no.
Was there much of a drinking culture in the game?
JW: Back then there was, yeah. There was me, Kirk Stevens and Alex Higgins, so there were a few ‘bad boys’, but there were also good boys like Steve Davis. But when you’re on the road continuously, living out of a suitcase, it’s hard to stay sane and it’s hard not to have a party every now and again. Some of us took it to a bit of excess.
Is Steve Davis really as boring as he’s often accused of being?
JW: He keeps himself to himself. He loves playing poker now. He plays poker like he used to play snooker – totally granite! But that’s his style and fair play to him. As a representative of the snooker world, he’s an absolute gentleman. He’s a big rival of mine but we’ve got a lot of respect for each other.
You’re a keen poker player yourself, aren’t you?
JW: Yeah. I won the Poker Million in 2004. I was brought up gambling and, unfortunately, gamblers think they’re good at everything. I have very slow horses! But I can play poker, yeah.
What’s the most you’ve ever won?
JW: A quarter of a million dollars.
Blimey. Nice. But have you ever beaten your manager Kevin Kelly in a game of Kalooki?
JW: All the time. That’s why I let him work for me – so I can take money back off him at Kalooki!
How did it feel to be namechecked by Bill Hicks?
JW: When was that?
From Wikipedia: “Comedian Bill Hicks namechecked Jimmy White in some of his comedy routines about a trip to England where, whilst trying to find out more information about the L.A. riots in 1992, all there was on television was Jimmy White playing snooker. Hicks, so annoyed that White was always on the box, famously quipped, ‘Does the man not have a home to go to?’ ”
JW: Ok. I’m proud of that. Very nice.
It’s quite an honour.
You’re a big Chelsea fan, aren’t you?
JW: Yep, before the Russians came. I’ve been going there for 30-odd years. I think we’ll win the Premiership this year. But I like watching Arsenal and I like watching Man United, so I’m a big football fan all round, actually.
Let’s compare modern-day Chelsea to pre-money Chelsea. Who’s better – John Terry or Jakob Kjeldberg?
JW: John Terry. My man.
Didier Drogba or Paul Furlong?
JW: Ooh. Drogba.
Frank Lampard or Eddie Newton?
Ashley Cole or Scott Minto?
JW: Ashley Cole! I’m not gonna stand for that one.
Well, I think that we’ve conclusively proven that money equals success. You know, just in case anyone was still in any doubt. Finally, do you have any good stories for us about your late friend Patsy Houlihan?
JW: Yeah, actually. He was a master. He would have won the World Championships but, because he’d been in prison, the Snooker Association at the time wouldn’t let him turn pro. He would have definitely won. He was one of the best players I’ve ever seen.
No tales for us of jolly japery or mischievous antics?
JW: No, that’s it my man!
Snooker legend, Jimmy White, is launching Papa Johns’ new Everyman pizza and has teamed up with the Everyman Male Cancer Campaign to raise awareness and funding for the charity.
The Whirlwind reflects on a very solid 2008/09 campaign and is full of confidence as he looks ahead to next season.
How would you sum up last season?
It was ok, I got to three venues. It's taken me a long time to get used to the qualifiers. It's that kind of place, it's daunting. In my first year there I was very green. But last season I moved up to No 56 in the rankings and I start the next one in the 40s provisionally so I've got to be happy about that.
Were there any low points?
I lost 10-8 to Andy Hicks in the World Championship qualfiers and that was a sickener because I would have loved to get to the Crucible. Andy's got used to playing me over the last 15 years or so but it was the best I've ever seen him play. Then he lost to Rory McLeod and he didn't play anywhere near the same.
What are your targets for next season?
I'm very pleased with my form and I'm absolutely confident of playing well next season and qualifying for a few venues. I'm practising three or four hours a day, which is hard at my age with all the exhibitons I do, but I love playing. As long as I enjoy this game I'm not going to stop. Going from being a top player for so long to suddenly being in the qualifiers was difficult. But I've realised what I have to do now so my aims are just to stick with it and bring my practice form to the venues.
Your old friend Tony Drago has just won a nomination to the Tour by winning the European Play-Offs, is that a boost for you?
Yes, I'm delighted for Tony. We've got a good group going at my club, myself, Tony and two young lads who are on the PIOS, we all practise together a lot.
What are you up to this summer?
I'm not going on holiday, I'm just going to Thailand for a tournament there. After that I've got 16 days to prepare for the Shanghai Masters qualifiers so I'll be practising for that.
Finally, do you think Chelsea have got a better chance in the Premier League next season now that Manchester United are selling Ronaldo?
I think Chelsea will win it anyway. We've just won the FA Cup so we're doing ok.
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Hi. I am sending in a suggestion for a player I would like to see interviewed for your Q&As feature. He is Daniel Wells as I feel he is a promising young player and I would like to see an insight into his thoughts heading into the next snooker season.
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Written by Tony Hodson
July 17 2008
Sport caught up with the legendary Whirlwind, who chatted about Ronnie O'Sullivan, playing drunk at the World Championships and what it was like to lose a million...
So, Jimmy, how are you playing in practice at the moment?
"Alright, yeah, I'm playing well. It's the wrong time of year to be playing well, though, innit? My last qualifying match for the World Championships, against Mark King... I went up on the Saturday, but then woke up on the Sunday morning and I had a cricked neck. I was playing on the Monday, but I just couldn't cue up. I was devastated - I'd put in two months of practice and got to a good standard, so I'm gonna keep it going."
How much of this year's World Championship did you watch, then?
"I watched it all. I was with Ronnie O'Sullivan. I went to see him on the Friday and had dinner with him before the final, when I just give him a few pointers on how to chill out. He's my friend, you know, and even though he does it alright he still gets a bit hyper because he's an attacking player who wants to win every game there and then. It was great to see him win it, though - snooker needs Ronnie."
Did you see his, ahem, faux pas in China, just before the World Championship?
"No I didn't. Er, excuse me a minute, let me just get this..."
Jimmy answers his mobile phone: "Hello? Hello? Ah, I'll turn it off. Sorry about that."
So, Ronnie's faux pas in China...
"Oh yeah. No, I haven't seen it yet. I'm gonna watch it when I... you know, when I can call him after. It was very silly, what he done."
It was harmless enough, though, wasn't it?
"He was only having a laugh with his mate, yeah. He told me he thought the microphones were all switched off, but I did say to him: ‘Well, it was a press conference, Ron.' The Chinese are fine with him, though."
Are today's players better than they were in your day, Jim?
"Definitely, yes. These guys today all want to win the frame in one visit. It's like all sports, though - when I was playing, I'd be going out with football players and rugby players on a Friday night. That's unheard of now - they're all getting ready for Saturday and what have you. Sport in general has just improved."
But snooker's less fun nowadays, isn't it? Ronnie aside, there are no characters.
"Well you don't have the Alex Higginses any more, do you? These guys now don't learn to play snooker so they can excite a crowd, or play all these flair shots and screwbacks and what have you, but it is still a big part of the game. I played that way myself, and that's what people like to see. "
Do you still see Alex Higgins?
"I seen him last night, actually, and he was in great form. He's still a bag of bones at the moment, he's gotta put some weight on, but he's in great nick. And it looks like he's going to make some kind of comeback next year. It'll be good to see him back."
Do you miss the glory days of the 1980s?
[Smiles] "No, no... I don't really remember the 80s, to be honest - I was a bit of a lad back then, you could say. I do miss the 90s, though. They were good times."
But the 80s, Jim... is there one big lash you remember as the mother of all your lashes?
"Er... well there were times when maybe I should have gone to bed, you know. But what do you mean by ‘lash'? A bender, you mean?"
Aye, that's the one.
"Well, I've had a couple of real benders with Ronnie O'Sullivan, as it happens. He can put a few down him when he gets going. I enjoy myself, you know? Although nowadays I try to do things at the right time..."
That's good. Any one of your six world finals you look back on with particular regret?
[Without drawing breath] "When I was 14-8 up in 1992, yeah, and I was thinking about who I should thank and who I shouldn't thank, and I lost total concentration. Then there's the black at 17-17 in 1994, when I just twitched. Against Steve Davis, in 1984, I should have changed my tip before the final, but I changed it after the first session when I was well down. The other three, well, I was well beaten weren't I?"
And who's the fastest player you've ever played against?
"That'd be a guy called Patsy Houlihan..."
He wasn't Irish, by any chance?
"No, he was, he was. Well, I say that - he was from an Irish family but he was actually a Cockney. He was a fantastic player, he went to prison and then he...
Hold on Jim, what's that? He went to prison?
"Yeah, I dunno, it was a fraud or something - but then the snooker association at the time wouldn't let him turn pro. He'd have won the World Championship in the 1950s, for sure. I played him when he was 60-odd... he'd make century breaks in minutes."
How many games have you played drunk?
"What, in the World Championships?"
Well, we were thinking ever - or is that too many to count?
"Yeah, that's too many to count. At the worlds, you're looking at one. Or two. Not drunk as such, just what I'd call like five drinks. Or six."
You've been known to do the odd bit of gambling as well, haven't you?
[Proudly] "Yeah, I'd say I've lost a couple of million quid gambling. But I won the Poker Million a couple of years back, so I won a few quid there too. I still play cards and go down the dogs, at Wimbledon."
What's the biggest bet you'd have now?
"The maximum bet I'd have these days is £100 on a horse or a dog."
Never tempted to make that £200? Or £300?
"No, no. Two or three hundred can go to two or three thousand. I'm an addictive personality, you see - I have to try to stick to a gameplan."
Do you have a favourite pub?
"Yeah, the Albion in Esher. It's like spit and sawdust. Everyone who goes in there is a multimillionaire, yet they're going into a pub that looks like it's come out of Brixton. Great."
You grew up in Tooting - what was that like?
"Rough. Nice people, genuine, salt of the earth, but it's a struggle, isn't it, when you come from a place like that?"
Your dad managed it okay though, didn't he?
"Yeah, he did. He died last year, actually, but he had a great life. He was 88 years of age when he died. Suited and booted every day, he was, and right out the door."
Last of a dying breed?
"Absolutely. I've definitely got my going-out genes from my dad - I can't sit still either. He was never indoors, always in a different suit and with his Racing Post under his arm. He drunk too much, but he had a great life."
We also read that you've got a company, Jimmy White Ltd. What does that do then?
"It looks after me, basically."
Looks after you?
"Yeah, that's about the size of it."
Er, okay. Do you have a non-sporting hero?
"Well, my sporting hero is Sugar Ray Leonard, but my non-sporting hero is... well, it's like our soldiers at war. They're not really talked about, are they? It's unbelievable, how we treat our soldiers in this country."
Have you ever been out to Afghanistan or Iraq - you know, to entertain the troops?
"Nah, nah, but I've played in army barracks and all that, you know. But it's a liberty, how badly our real heroes are treated."
How about your house, Jim - what's your favourite room at home?
"Now then, the best room in my house... my conservatory. It's like a chill-out room. I've got a big screen and all my video games in there. My favourite TV show? I like all those CSI-type things, you know."
We do. Now then, your house is on fire but all your family and friends are safe on the garden. What do you rush back in to save?
"Er... nothing. Just my cue - that's all I want."
And do you prefer boxer shorts or briefs?
"Boxer shorts. I'm too fat for briefs, ain't I?"
You've never sported a thong, then?
"No chance. I saw Peter Stringfellow wearing one in Mallorca one time - put me off for life."
Do you have any odd recurring dreams?
"It's not really dreaming, but I definitely suffer from déjà vu - I've woken up in places, gone downstairs and thought I've been there before. I probably have been over the years. That's the drink, that is - makes you forget."
How about your favourite biscuit?
"Don't do biscuits. I have the odd Mars Bar."
Okay. And finally, Jimmy, do you still believe you can win the World Championship?
"If I didn't think I could, I wouldn't play any more - I'd just give up and drift quietly away into my twilight years. I know I can still win it."
Well said Jim, and all the best for the future.