‘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

The Sunday Telegraph - Money & Business - - Front page -

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

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