It’s the final of the 2022 World Snooker Championships, and a TV pundit is showering compliments on Ronnie O’Sullivan, who’s back in his stride after losing a couple of frames to Judd Trump. “He just looks so relaxed, so cool,” marvels the pundit. Behind the scenes, we’ve just watched O’Sullivan nervy, on the edge of a meltdown, and venting at his psychiatrist, Prof Steve Peters. “Fuck me, I feel bashed up Steve,” he says. It’s one of the biggest games of O’Sullivan’s career; if he wins, he’ll have seven world crowns – equalling Stephen Hendry’s modern-era record. At 46, who knows how many finals he’s got left in him? As history records, O’Sullivan did get past Trump, by 18 frames to 13.
If you’re watching this entertaining documentary utterly unbothered about whether or not he is snooker’s greatest player (“he’s an artist” says Hendry), the good news is that O’Sullivan is brilliant company. He’s got the gift of the gab, a sense of humour and he’s relaxed with his vulnerability: talkative about his addictions and mental health struggles. Nattering away to director Sam Blair, he comes over as an all-round nice bloke. Significantly, perhaps, the film is exec produced by another Essex boy, David Beckham.
O’Sullivan says he fell in love with snooker early. He had bundles of talent and was pushed to be a champion by his larger-than-life dad Ronnie Senior. “I needed that, or I would have been a loser,” says O’Sullivan. In 1992, the year he turned professional, Ronnie Senior was jailed for murder. In his 20s, O’Sullivan spiralled into drug addiction; his old mate Damien Hirst remembers getting a call to take him to the Priory. Nowadays, O’Sullivan’s fix is a good scone with clotted cream: “It’s got to be M&S.”
I’m not sure a two-hour film is long enough to unpick his tortured relationship with snooker (he’s been with psychiatrist Peters for 10 years). As a young player there were moments when he felt invincible. He’s still chasing that high. The healthiest thing would be to give up, O’Sullivan reflects. “But I’ve found a way of it not killing me.”
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