‘Damien Hirst gave me a dead monkey’ – Stephen Hendry
Stephen Hendry went from playing snooker at Pontins to splashing £50,000 at Versace, he tells Angela Wintle
Stephen Hendry, 49, became the youngest ever professional snooker player at the age of 16 and went on to become the youngest world champion at 21. He has won seven world titles – a record in the modern era – and was ranked number one for eight consecutive seasons between 1990 and 1998, and again in 2007.
He retired in 2012 and is now a snooker commentator for the BBC and ITV. He lives in Berkshire with his partner, Lauren Thundow, and has two sons from a previous marriage.
How did your childhood influence your work ethic?
My parents taught me the value of hard work. When they got together they were living in a one-room Edinburgh flat with a shared outside bathroom. Mum was a secretary and my dad worked long hours building up his fruit and veg wholesale business. By the late Seventies my dad had left the wholesale side and, with his business partner, had obtained the lease of three greengrocers’ shops.
I inherited their driven work ethic although, if truth be told, my dad thought talent alone would be enough to get me all the way to the snooker world championships. It was my manager who instilled the importance of putting in eight hours a day, seven days a week – so much so that I felt guilty if I took just a day off.
What was your first job and what was your first pay cheque?
In my early teens I earned pocket money packing potatoes in my dad’s shop in Dunfermline. It was mind-numbing work but within three hours I’d earned enough to pay my entrance fee to the local snooker club.
How did you break into snooker?
My parents bought my first snooker table for my 13th birthday and I became obsessed. Recognising my aptitude, my dad entered me for a snooker competition at Pontins holiday camp in Prestatyn, north Wales, which I won, and I began playing on the amateur circuit. Not long after my 14th birthday I won the Scottish and British junior under-16s championships.
How did you finance your early snooker career?
My parents split up when I was 14, by which time my dad had run up serious gambling debts and was forced to sell his shops. As a result, my parents struggled to fund my matches around the country, not to mention an evening suit or two. Salvation came in the form of businessman Ian Doyle, who agreed to become my manager. Not only did he have the financial clout, he said he’d offer me a job in one of his businesses if my snooker career didn’t work out.
What were your initial earnings?
Ian arranged matches for me to play with purses of up to £1,000. He also landed a contract with the snooker table maker Riley and I was on the road almost every night playing exhibition matches and promoting their brand. This was a better way of earning quick money because I was nowhere in the rankings at this point and prize money from tournaments was minimal.
He also put me on wages and set up a limited company to manage my business affairs. I took little notice. Maths was never my strong point and, at 16, I was amazed I was getting anything for doing what I loved.
How did you cope with substantial earnings in your late teens?
While I earned decent money, initially my pockets weren’t being filled with much of it. A large part of it went on travel, accommodation, clothing and tax. Ian also took his cut, of course, and some of the money was invested.
Hands up, though – when I spent, I really spent. Before I’d even passed my test I splashed out on a £17,000 Mercedes. Equally, when I became world snooker champion, there were years when my then girlfriend and I ran up a £50,000 clothing bill. No wonder the Versace shop in Glasgow welcomed me with champagne. It makes me shudder now.
What has been your most lucrative source of income?
When I became world champion, Al-muhtadee Billah, the future crown prince of Brunei at the time, invited me to his plush Hampstead home to give him snooker lessons. His arrival was like a scene from the Eddie Murphy film Coming to
America. A convoy of three luxury cars appeared and he emerged, surrounded by security.
We played alternate shots on a competition-standard snooker table. I was given £5,000 and a penknife inlaid with a diamond and a triangle of rubies. Not bad for an hour’s work.
What other perks did you receive at the height of your career?
After winning the world snooker title in 1994, my sponsors, The Sweater Shop, gave me a Bentley Continental worth £200,000. It was a beautiful car, but as soon as I got it home I realised it wouldn’t fit in my garage. It was totally impractical and I only drove it twice. I sold it a year later.
Perhaps my most unusual gift was from Damien Hirst, a big friend of Ronnie O’sullivan’s. He promised that, if I beat John Higgins in that year’s world championship, he would give me a monkey in a Perspex box. True to his word, when I did indeed win the final, he presented me with a marmoset monkey, pickled in formaldehyde and dressed as a snooker player with a cue in its paw. It sits on my sofa, horrifying and intriguing guests in equal measure.
What are your financial plans for the future?
I’d like to open a few snooker academies in my name and coach at a high level on the finer points of the game. I’m also keen to expand my interests in cooking and travel, perhaps combining them with a television presenting role.
Me and the Table: My Autobiography by Stephen Hendry is published by John Blake and is available now for £20
Big break: Stephen Hendry became the youngest world snooker champion at the age of 21 in 1990, left; Hendry in action in 2011, above Read our full series of Fame & Fortune interviews telegraph.co.uk/go/fame