Ronnie O’Sullivan admits that his trusted inner circle of the ‘Three Amigos’ have helped him maintain the title-winning habit into his 40s.
The Rocket is bidding for a sixth Betfred World Championship crown at the Crucible in Sheffield, and starts his campaign on Sunday against David Gilbert.
But O’Sullivan, 40, acknowledges that at times in the past there has been a “circus” following him at major tournaments such as this one and the Masters in London.
And now he says Dr Steve Peters, artist Damien Hirst, and Chinese restaurant owner and “my spiritual healer” Ken are the most important people in his corner at events.
O’Sullivan knows that many of those wanting to come and support him are well-meaning, and he gets on well with them away from the cauldron of competition.
But he has settled on an inner circle that he believes calms him down and allows him to produce his best at this stage of his career.
O’Sullivan said: “At times with me it can become a bit of a circus with all the people who want to be there, at the Masters and the Crucible.
“I don’t need it. Now it is just my inner circle, Damien [Hirst], Steve [Peters] and my Chinese mate Kenno.
“I don’t want anyone else around me or in my dressing room or around me. At times I have had about 15 people in my dressing room in Sheffield, and you have seen the size of them.
“Kenno is like a spiritual healer. He is one of the calmest blokes in the world, and one of my best mates. He’ll be here for a match or two if I progress.
“He has two Chinese takeaways, one in Chigwell and another in Chingford, and I love him to bits. And these three help me enjoy it more.
“I don’t want anyone around who is draining me of my energy, or who wants something from me, a signed ball or a waistcoat – then it’s over.
“Damien has never asked me for anything. Steve Peters has never asked for anything. Kenno has never asked me for anything. They are there for the right reasons.
“Some of the people I am talking about are good people, not bad people, but don’t necessarily have a place with me at this tournament.
“I have an inner circle, they are people I would trust with my life, who have got my back 24/7 for the right reasons.
“I have made a lot of mistakes over the years by being too open, but I am more selective now – more like Steve Davis and Stephen Hendry were.
“Jimmy White was more like me, he had a dressing room full of 20-30 people because he didn’t know how to say no, and maybe it didn’t help him.
“When you’re flying everyone wants to be there, when you’re not they are gone. Damien is there for the whole thing, he feels what I am feeling.
“So if a load of people turn up for a final, they don’t know what it has been like in the goldfish bowl and don’t know what buzz I am on.
“I don’t talk very much about past defeats – but last year was a bad loss for me to Stuart Bingham, I wasn’t in a good frame of mind.
“Certain things made me question people and their motives, what they are about. I was a bit naïve before and a people-pleaser.
“Now I have to be aware of the takers, and I don’t want to be surrounded by them. I am basically a good friend to have, and I want people like me in my life.
“The Selby final the year before, I think I should have won it. I had people coming to the World Championship that I didn’t really want there.
“Again I was trying to keep everyone happy, I should have said ‘No, no, no – I am here to play a tournament’.”
Photograph by Monique Limbos