Nov 16 2003
FOR someone aged 27 snooker star Ronnie O'Sullivan has had more than his share of good and bad breaks.
The good ones have been great - he's been world champion four times, scored the fastest-ever 147 maximum break (it took just over five minutes) and won pots of money (L2.5million) during a glittering career. Then there's the bad ones - his drink and drug addictions, aggression, depression and thoughts of suicide ...and the jailing of his dad for life for murder.
Now the Rocket - who was yesterday playing in the semi-final of the British Open in Brighton - says his life has changed. He's swapped the booze for AA meetings, takes Prozac to keep him on the straight and narrow... oh, and he's dabbling in religion and philosophy in his quest for a new meaning to life. But behind this reformed character is a secret heartache - a hangover from his wilder days.
Ronnie hasn't seen his six-year-old daughter Taylor-Ann for over 18 months. Ronnie dumped Taylor's mother, Sally Magnus, just a month before she discovered she was pregnant. He reluctantly acknowledged his daughter's existence after a DNA test proved he was her father. When she was first born he only paid L70 a week. He nods sadly: "My relationship with my daughter Taylor is a big responsibility and something I avoided for a long while. It was my fault, whether I was drinking or not. Once I got sober I realised I had to see her as she was my child."
Ronnie made contact with Taylor after a month-long stay in the Priory Clinic in 2001 - a final attempt to beat his demons of depression and drink and drug addiction. He wrote to Sally, 24, to get permission. But after only a few visits the emotional strain was too much.
""Sometimes I would go and see her and she would call me Daddy," he says. "Other times I would speak to her on the phone and she wouldn't know who I was - it slaughtered me."Sally and I decided it would be too difficult for me to carry on being a part of her life at the time. It really hurt and I had to take a step back. I couldn't deal with her not doting on me. I felt so bad about myself I couldn't deal with it objectively. "But I am always here for her when she grows up. Taylor lives in a nice house and goes to a good school."
"I make sure she has what she needs but I also know that she isn't too spoilt - I want her to have a sense of value and be her own person." Ronnie adds: "I see these other kids of rich people become dependent on the money. If I dropped dead tomorrow then my mum and dad will get everything. If my mum thinks Taylor deserves the money or can handle it, then she will get it. She is enjoying her life. I phone from time to time to see how she is getting on. Hopefully, when she's older she will want to see me and I will always be here."
Ronnie appears to be a changed character these days. Dressed in a casual black T-shirt and jeans, the man nicknamed Rocket by his contemporaries for his lightning speed of play is relaxed and at ease. Sipping tea as he reclines in a chair in the Lounge Bar in the Grand Hotel, Brighton, it is hard to believe that he once head-butted an official who told him he had the wrong trousers on. Gone is the angst-ridden, angry young man, and in his place is someone calmer and wiser. Ronnie now runs three miles a day, eats a healthy diet and doesn't drink or smoke. When he isn't playing snooker he reads philosophy - he's ploughing through Socrates at the moment - likes health and fitness magazines and has a deep interest in spirituality.
At the British Open, he seems happy with his lot. But Ronnie still remembers the day he hit rock bottom and knew he needed help. "I woke up in a hotel room one morning at 9am and reached for the vodka. The only way I felt I could go out and face the world and speak to people was with a drink inside me. It was then I realised I had a problem."
At his lowest he even contemplated suicide as a way out. Ronnie contacted a drugs helpline and the next night went to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. "I went and identified with people," he says. "A week later I was in the Priory."
Unlike most stars, he is happy to talk about his stay at the clinic. "It all started to turn around for me when I went in there. I identified what was wrong - I was suffering from depression and I was trying to get away from all the pressures of the game. I had been drinking maybe a bottle of vodka a day, or wine. It wasn't the amount, it was the fact I knew I was relying on this substance to get me through the day.
"When I first went into the Priory it was quite daunting - it was like going to a new school on your first day. You are in there with a load of people you have never met in your life and you all feel like sh**."After about a week you start to let your guard down - it was a bit of a Big Brother experience without the drink. It gives you a chance to have a look at yourself and I saw I had a lot of things that needed addressing." One of those things was snooker - the game he once loved but now no longer fulfilled him. "I was picking up all this silverware but I wasn't enjoying it," he says.
"I had to teach myself there was more to my life than snooker. I thought the game was the thing that was giving me all the emotional pressure and that was what was making everything hard to deal with."
Ronnie readily admits Prozac has helped him through the last year. He is now down to one tablet every three days and is hoping to reduce his dose even further. "I did try to give them up before but I nearly had road rage four times in one day. I rang my dad and said, 'I'm going to end up in court', and he said, 'Just keep taking the tablets'
"I still have my little dodgy periods but I am trying to get a balance. I haven't had a drink for five months and I've given up smoking. It was a few weeks ago I really started putting in quality practice - that made me feel better."
Ronnie now has a support network around him - among them are Vic Andrews, a close friend who tours with him, and Pete Cohen, a "life coach" who helps him cope with the game. One of his main worries is his father, Ronald, who is in jail for murder after he stabbed a man at a birthday party for Charlie Kray's daughter in 1991. He is serving life with a minimum recommendation of 18 years. Having already served 12 years, he was due to be moved to a category C or D prison, so he could begin to be re-introduced to society.But last month Ronald was said to have smashed up his cell after he discovered Ronnie had converted to Islam. He was moved instantly to high-security Belmarsh Prison and is now at Long Lartin in Evesham, Worcs.
Ronnie has a team of solicitors on the case. He says: "My dad's already done 12, nearly 13 years, he should be in a C category at the worst, or in a D category, which means he would be able to go out and get a job.
"The stories that he smashed up his cell because I became a Muslim were untrue."Three weeks before, when I was talking to him about the different faiths I had been looking into, he said, 'There is nothing wrong with being a Muslim'.
"I feel the justification that's been used for the move is, 'Oh, he smashed up his cell, therefore he's still violent. It was because his son has become a Muslim and he was put away for killing a black man, therefore he's a racist and must be kept locked up'. I will fight it all the way."
So what is the truth then, Ronnie? Have you become a Muslim?
"No," says Ronnie, "it was all an accident, a mix-up.
"I've been friends with the boxer Prince Naseem Hamed for two or three years and even better friends with his brother Morad, who has been very supportive of me. I love them both to bits.
"We had very deep conversations about the meaning of life and what it is all about. I have a nice house and car, yet I was happier when I was 14. It's all about material things not bringing you happiness."
Ronnie went along with the brothers to the Islamic Cultural Centre in London. He says: "I didn't realise the ceremony I was taking part in meant I was committing to the faith. People were gathering around me but I thought they were interested because I was a snooker star.
"I found Islam really fascinating and it holds a lot of interest for me because of the lifestyle. But I am not ready to live that life yet. There is a voice inside me that says it's not right for me."
Ronnie's family clearly mean the world to him. He says of his mother Maria: "We have our ups and downs. There was a point a couple of weeks ago when we weren't gelling, but now we are getting on much better."
Maria - who served six months of a 12-month jail sentence for tax evasion in 1994 - helps manage the 20 properties Ronnie owns across London, which include flats and shops in Soho, Earls Court and Kings Cross. The flagship of his portfolio is Viva La Diva, his new saucy underwear shop in the heart of Soho.
Ronnie has grand ideas for his property empire and is hoping to have a Viva La Diva in every city, and expand the range to stock everything that's needed to look young, hip and sexy.
His love life is also going smoothly. He has been with his girlfriend Jo Langley, 30, a hairdresser, for two-and-a-half years and says he is very content, although not yet ready to settle down.
"We are having a nice time and enjoying each other's company," he says. "When I am fully aware of where I am going and what I want and am comfortable in myself I'll be able to make a clear decision."
With most things in his life coming together Rocket Ronnie seems at last to be back on target.
RON ON.. BECKS
OH yeah, I want to talk like David, and be like David and have a pop star wife and a big mansion in Essex where I can drive my car around the grounds with my Alice band on. I like David but I don't want his lifestyle. I didn't copy David's lead on the hairband thing.My girlfriend said my hair looked better longer, and when I play it helps keep it out of my eyes. I will try and get something different if I can. Good idea David.
RON ON.. CLOTHES
I EITHER wear Marks and Spencer shirts when I play, or shirts I have tailored for me in Thailand and only cost about L7 each. I mostly wear black and have my buttons covered so they don't catch on the cue. I once bought three suits from Versace, costing about L1,200 each. I put the first one on and a button fell off after about an hour, so I changed into the second suit and the buttons fell off that. And then another button fell off three hours later. They said you have to go and sew them on properly - leave it out! It's really poor. I also bought a pair of shoes from there and they fell apart eventually. I kept going back and then realised it was the first signs of insanity. Marks and Spencers is durable and does the job. I wear what is comfortable.
RON ON.. DRUGS
I WAS stripped of my Irish title for smoking cannabis and it shows how powerless I was at the time. I was in such a dark hole back then in 1998. But I was playing really well that week and felt quite good in myself. Then I thought, 'I'll have a bit of dope, that will make me feel even better'. It was always to make me feel better. I was so low in myself. I knew there was a good chance I would get tested but I had no control over it. When it happened I was gutted. I thought they might make an example of me. In the end they took the trophy and the money off me, but at least they didn't ban me. As far as I am concerned I won that title whether I had a spliff or not. Anyway, cannabis is not exactly a performance-enhancing drug.
RON ON.. RELIGION
I BELIEVE God lives in us and we know the right answers. It is about me getting on with myself. It is about me listening to that voice in myself which says, 'Boys, I would really love to go out on a bender with you but this isn't going to be any good for me'.
I was on a search to find a crutch to make me feel better. I have tried Buddhism and Christianity. The more you try them, the better you have an idea of what is good for you. At the moment I feel more of an affinity for Buddhism.