Each Friday, Points North gives a senior media figure a platform to air their views on a topical or relevant issue.
This week it’s Chris Brereton, sportswriter at Trinity Mirror Sport Media. He lifts the lid on his role in ghostwriting ‘Second Wind’, Jimmy White’s controversial autobiography that is released today.
There comes a point in every interview with a sportsman when you know what ‘the line’ is.
Years of practice on Fleet Street means that when the subject gives up ‘the line’, a virtual klaxon goes off in your head. ‘That’s amazing’ you think to yourself. Job done.
And Jimmy White was no different.
We were 30,000 feet above Zurich, back in August, when he delivered his.
I was sat next to Jimmy – the most entertaining snooker player of all time and the closest thing to a national treasure the sport has ever produced – on a flight as he headed to Germany, via Switzerland, for the Paul Hunter Classic tournament in Furth.
Armed with a list of questions and a temperamental dictaphone, I was attempting to grill him after my company, Trinity Mirror Sport Media, based in Liverpool, won the contract to write his autobiography.
I knew he had a few demons lurking around and I’d always got the impression that his first autobiography was more of a (very entertaining) after-dinner speech rather than an in-depth look into his character.
And as we sat there, nursing a Diet Coke each (no, really), I was about to get an insight into the real story, the real Jimmy White – and the real ‘line’.
“So then Jimmy, what do you want to get off your chest?” I asked.
“Well,” he said. “How about this for starters. I was a crack addict during the 80s.”
Yep, that’ll do. There it was, there was the line.
There was the story that would dominate the headlines, as was proven earlier this week.
The tales did not stop there either as, over a two-month period involving interviews in Tenerife, Germany, Switzerland, Epsom and Liverpool, Jimmy poured out his life story.
Jimmy is a ghostwriter’s dream subject and from sinking a speedboat in Hong Kong to trying to save Alex Higgins from himself, Jimmy has lived a riotous, glorious life.
Some of his stories are so funny, and so polished, that all I had to do was transcribe the tape and send them to print while the darker elements of Jimmy’s life – of which there are many – also explain how and why he never won the World Championship.
For a 32-year-old ghostwriter like me, Jimmy White falls very much into schoolboy-hero category but, as always, that had to be put to one side as I grilled him on the drugs, the womanising, the booze, the gambling and everything else that stopped him from reaching his potential and I think that is reflected in the finished product.
The book is full of laughter but it is also full of lessons. In fact, if you have two choices in life, at anything, ask yourself what Jimmy would do. And then do the opposite.
The fact that he is so frank – and funny – about his mistakes is what makes him so endearing. His genius has always come with a vulnerability and I think the book reflects that.
Jimmy White is not perfect. But he is honest. And he is hysterical. He has been on the trip of a lifetime (and I use the word ‘trip’ in every sense of the word…) and he wants the public to know what an adventure his life has been.
The most amazing thing about the man is the sheer lack of regret. Yes, he knows he should have been the snooker world champion on numerous occasions but he has his family, health and wealth and that will do him just fine thanks.
And if that is good enough for him, a man who almost climbed the mountain, then it’s good enough for me, the bloke who just put that journey into words.