Laila Rouass on life with Ronnie O’Sullivan – he’s very open, it’s good that he talks about his depression
The former Strictly and Footballers Wives star met the snooker legend in 2012 when she was house-hunting and they’ve been engaged since 2013
Snooker player Ronnie O’Sullivan collects his OBE with Laila Rouass
When Laila Rouass went house-hunting a few years ago, she found herself in the frame for a totally different acquisition.
The actress never did sink the deal on the property in Chigwell, Essex, but she did end up engaged to one of the most controversial, colourful and talented snooker players this country has ever produced – Ronnie O’Sullivan .
She says: “It’s a bit bizarre, but you never know how you’re going to meet someone. It just happened so naturally.
“I can’t pinpoint exactly what it was about him, but he’s just a very generous, open person. That’s appealing to me.”
After finding fame on ITV’s Footballers’ Wives, it seems a little too much like real-life type-casting that she is set to marry one of Britain’s greatest sports stars.
The couple, who live with Laila’s nine-year-old daughter Inez, have been engaged since 2013 and are in no hurry to tie the knot.
The former Strictly Come Dancing star laughs: “Oh no, we have absolutely no wedding plans at the moment. I’m not in a rush to walk down the aisle.”
And with a history of alcohol and drug problems, and a struggle with depression, Laila’s well aware five-times world champ Ronnie comes with a lot of baggage. The multi-millionaire even took a sabbatical from snooker for a year in 2012, spending much of his time working on a pig farm.
But with Laila’s support, Ronnie, 40, bounced back and is competing in – and winning – tournaments again.
He’s previously stated his depression was intrinsically linked to the game, saying: “I think I suffered a depression to do with snooker and I just couldn’t handle it. I could go out and play, but take me out of there and I couldn’t do life.”
Laila, 43, says: “He calls it his snooker depression. But Ronnie is a very strong person. Everyone’s fragile, but he vocalises it. When somebody openly talks about having depression, it’s a very brave thing to do.
“It’s easy to support somebody when you know what they’re going through. You know what you should and shouldn’t say – it’s about creating that kind of security and safety-net around them.”
She adds: “He’s under an immense amount of pressure and we have to take that on board. There are probably a lot of people in similar positions who suffer from depression, but who don’t talk about it.”
Exercise is a huge stress-relief for Ronnie and running has been a big help.
Laila says: “Ronnie is really into his fitness. For him, running is almost like meditation. Playing a match is a long time to focus, so running helps with that.”
A high point for the couple came in May this year when Ronnie collected his OBE from Prince Charles at Buckingham Palace, accompanied by Laila and mum Maria.
“He said it was one of the best days of his life,” says Laila. “It really was fantastic. He was so shocked he got it, he never thought about receiving anything like that. We were really proud of him.”
Laila embraces being a step-mum to Ronnie’s children, Ronnie Jnr, eight, and Lily, seven, from his previous relationship with Jo Langley.
He also has another child, Taylor-Ann, from a two-year relationship with Sally Magnus, but admitted in a 2013 book he’s “never really been a part of Taylor’s life”.
Laila says: “His children are lovely and are only round the corner, so we see them quite often. Ronnie is away a lot, but when he does have his kids, they see Inez. And then I might be away, so he has to look after Inez. We support each other.”
Born in Tower Hamlets, East London, Laila was one of seven children and raised a Muslim, but says: “I’m wouldn’t say I am practising Muslim – I don’t go to the mosque or anything, but it’s part of my identity. We don’t really talk about religion at home. Ronnie isn’t into it either.”
Laila split with Inez’s father, business tycoon Nasir Khan, shortly after she was born in 2007. He was jailed for nine years in 2011 after being convicted of a £250million VAT fraud. From then on, Laila adapted to being a single mum, but she missed the support of a partner.
She says: “It was difficult, but I’m one of those people who is very practical and I get on with it and do it.
“My grandmother was a single parent, she was very strong, my mother was very strong. I come from a big family and I was never completely on my own.
“But you’ve got other aspects like financial and emotional support that you’re missing.”
Laila dated Scottish chef James Petrie for just over a year, but when they split in 2011, she said she was taking a break from dating and wanted to concentrate on her young daughter.
Then she met Ronnie unexpectedly in 2012 and knew he was different because of the bond that grew between him and Inez. “He’s a good male role model for Inez, She sees him in that way, but they’re also good friends. It’s nice they can have a laugh. It’s important they get on.”
But not everything is perfect in the Rouass-O’Sullivan household – when Laila bought the family a pet cat, the snooker champ wasn’t happy.
She says: “We used to have a cat and my daughter begged me for a pet. But Ronnie was like, ‘Oh it stinks, I’m not going to eat in the house.’
“He became like a kid, he refused to even have a cup of tea. I would ask him if he wanted tea, but he’d say ‘No, no, there’s hair everywhere’.
“So I had to give the cat away. But she went to a fantastic home.” It’s hard work balancing a successful acting career which, after Footballers’ Wives has taken in Primeval, Spooks and Holby City, with being a mum, but Laila is grateful she can “dip in and out” of working and being at home.
She says: “I did have to stop Holby City after two years. It was very long days filming and Inez was just starting school, so I really wanted to be there for her.
“I thought, ‘I’ve got to take a few years out and be with her.’ It’s easier now she’s older, but it’s always been about her.”
It wasn’t until her mid-20s that Laila discovered she had a talent for acting, but thankfully her late start never put her at a disadvantage.
She’s recently played the deputy Prime Minister in US drama The Royals, opposite Elizabeth Hurley’s Queen and Joan Collins as the Queen Mother, joking, “We’re the three b*tches from hell”.
This year, she starred in Ruth Jones’s Welsh sitcom Stella and in 2009 she waltzed her way to the quarter final in Strictly. Her latest role is as a pushy mother in Disney’s The Lodge, which has been hailed as the British High School Musical.
It follows the story of 15-year-old Skye, played by Sophie Simnett, as she moves from the city to her childhood country lodge following the death of her mother.
Laila says: “I play Olivia, who is ruthless and ambitious. She’s a beauty-pageant mum so living through her daughter Danielle. She’s a fun character to play, but probably not so good if you know someone like that.
“It was good fun doing a family programme. My daughter loves watching me on Strictly, so it was great to do something that will appeal to her age group. I’ve become the coolest mum in the school.”