It was published today by buzz.ie
Snooker ace Ronnie O’Sullivan revisited his misspent youth to create the hero of his debut novel, Framed. Ronnie told us about his own turbulent times in gangland Britain and how his family brought him stability.
He’s had his share of torment, battled with alcohol, drugs and depression and endured years without his father, who served a life sentence for murder, yet there’s something gentle and disarmingly honest about snooker ace Ronnie O’Sullivan.
After writing about his turbulent times, the booze, drugs and spells in rehab in his previous two autobiographies, the five times world snooker champion, nicknamed The Rocket because of the speed with which he pots the balls, is now revealing more of his own life, this time through his first novel, Framed.
It’s a gritty thriller set in 1990s gangland London, in which the hero, young snooker club owner Frankie James, enters a sordid world of ruthless mobsters and twisted killers, to find
out who has framed his brother for murder.
“Frankie is basically me, having to do things out of loyalty for his father and brother. He doesn’t want to be in that world, but he hasn’t really got a choice.
“I spent a lot of time going back to haunts in Soho where I grew up, and picked through my autobiographies. I wanted Frankie to come across stuff in the novel that I couldn’t put in the autobiographies. It was a chance to show the other side of what was going on in my life at the time.”
In the book, Frankie has a father in prison, something which O’Sullivan was able to draw on from his own experiences. When he was 16, his father Ronnie Snr. – who became a millionaire from running sex shops in Soho – was jailed for life for the murder of Bruce Bryan, a driver to the gangster Charlie Kray, in a nightclub in Chelsea. He served 18 years of his sentence before being released in 2010.
O’Sullivan’s Sicilian mother Maria also spent time in jail for tax evasion, leaving him to look after his little sister Danielle.
He says his father’s imprisonment had a ‘massive’ effect on his life.
“I like to think that if he’d been out, I would never have done drink or drugs, I’d probably have won world titles a lot earlier, probably not had the ups and downs that I’ve had.
“When he went away, I lost my way a bit, got involved with the wrong crowd and the wrong people and was quite easily led. I didn’t know what to do apart from block my mind from it through drinking, which is what Frankie has done in the book.”
After years of depression and spells in addiction clinics, O’Sullivan tries to follow more positive pursuits.
These days he says he has an occasional drink every three or four months. And he runs, currently covering around 25 miles a week.
“I took up running and that keeps me on the straight and narrow,” he says. “My addiction now is running, training and keeping fit. If I’ve got an addictive nature, I might as well have a good addiction.”
Widely regarded as the most naturally talented snooker player of all time, he explains: “A lot of the things I do are solitary, like snooker and running and now writing. It suits my personality.”
He’s no longer grabbing unwelcome headlines – in 1996 he was found guilty of assaulting an official and two years later was disqualified from a tournament in Ireland when traces of cannabis were found in his system – but seems to have mellowed thanks to a settled life with his fiancee, actress Laila Rouass.
They live together in Chigwell, Essex, with her nine-year-old daughter Inez, to whom he is stepfather.
“She’s energetic, very bright and loves having fun – a bit like her mum, really.”
He also sees his two children Ronnie Jr and Lily, from a previous relationship with his ex, Jo Langley, and has hopes of a closer relationship with his eldest daughter, Taylor-Ann, from a previous relationship, who is now 20.
“We’ve made contact and hopefully that’s something I can start building again. She contacted me and we started chatting and I thought, ‘cool’. Now we are in contact by text and are going to meet up soon. The last time I saw her was four or five years ago, and before that it would have been 10 years.”
He and ex-Footballers Wives and Holby City actress Rouass have been engaged for three years, after meeting when she was house-hunting and viewed his house.
She recently said: “I’m so proud of him and think he’s very capable of handling his depression these days. He’s been strong enough to seek help, brave enough to talk about the problem, and is so positive and upbeat about life.”
So, is the wedding imminent?
“You never know, but we’re happy at the moment. She’s in no rush, I’m in no rush, we’re happy together – that’s the most important thing,” he responds.
The couple prefer a quiet life away from the spotlight.
“She can’t stand red carpet events and nor can I. We like to keep a low profile. She likes to be at home or to go to the theatre in London.”
He turned 40 last year, but didn’t want a big party, he reveals.
“I never celebrate my birthdays, I hate them, want to get them over and done with. I don’t like people making a fuss. I’m quite shy and like to slip under the radar.”
But he did turn out to receive his OBE from Prince Charles at Buckingham Palace earlier this year.
“What a fantastic day that was! One of the best days ever. Charles presented it. I was looking at him a bit star-struck, it was a surreal moment.”
Family loyalty has been a major force in his entire life, he agrees, and while his novel is set in a violent criminal underworld, it also emphasises the loyalty involved within close-knit families, no matter what.
“My father was big on that. If you were his friend, he’d back you to the hilt and I grew up around that kind of culture, which rubbed off on me a little bit. It’s OK to be loyal, but sometimes you can be loyal to the wrong people and that’s what got my dad into trouble.
“I’ve tried to learn from that and be a bit more loyal to the right people.”
It felt strange when his father was released from prison, he observes.
“I’d been used to seeing him on a visit once a month and phone calls. All of a sudden, I felt the responsibility was on me again to make sure that he was all rig
ht. It was difficult for him, but absolutely put more pressure on me.
“I felt sorry for him because I could see that he didn’t feel comfortable and I was worried about him. He used to say, ‘It’s harder out here than it was in there’ and it’s sad to hear someone who’s got their freedom back say they feel more comfortable in a cell.”
Today, the O’Sullivan family remains close. He’s hoping his debut novel will lead to further books and possibly even a TV adaptation.
And could he be snooker world champion again?
“The honest answer is probably no, but I wouldn’t count it out,” he says.
Framed by Ronnie O’Sullivan is published in hardback by Orion, is available from Eason from €17.99.