Paul Hunter interview - 2005
Three weeks ago he was lying in a hospital bed undergoing chemotherapy but on Thursday snooker hero Paul Hunter was back at the table for an exhibition match in his home town of Batley. In an exclusive interview at The Frontier, he tells reporter Jimmy Rice about his battle with cancer, his comeback and becoming a dad...
He cannot feel his hands and feet. A chronic ringing in his ears nags at him like an easy black that hit the jaw.
These are just some of the lingering symptoms plaguing Paul Hunter, now in remission after his cancer hell.
"You kind of need to feel your hands in this game," says Paul, who turned 27 last week.
"But even if you're not playing well, it's nice to be back to normality. I'd rather be playing snooker than laid up having chemo."
Cancerous cysts were discovered in Paul's colon back in March.
After confiding in his childhood idol, snooker legend Jimmy White, he decided to compete in the World Championships before undergoing treatment through the summer.
"Jimmy was one of the first people I told when I found out," reveals Paul. "We were out in China and he just told me not to worry too much. He was my childhood hero and he's been through testicular cancer, so I respect what he has to say."
Though Paul has lived in Upper Batley for three and a half years, his mum and dad still reside in Moortown, Leeds, where he grew up and learned his trade under the watchful eye of former World Champion Joe Johnson.
The Hunter clan will get a little bit bigger on December 27, when his wife Lindsey is due to give birth to their first child.
It's a prospect the father-to-be describes as 'incredible' and one which served as motivation during three months' chemotherapy at St James's Hospital in Leeds.
"I've got a great family behind me - they've been fantastic in helping me through this," says Paul.
The gruelling treatment was successful, but he is still under doctors' supervision and faces regular blood tests.
Another side effect of the chemo is the loss of his trademark golden locks, which combined with boyish good looks to earn him the nickname Beckham of the Baize.
Over the last few years Paul has become one of the game's most recognisable faces. Since making his professional debut in 1995, he has won three Masters titles and joined the likes of Ronnie O'Sullivan and Stephen Hendry in the world's top five.
In 2001 he hit the headlines when, trailing at the interval in the Masters final, he romped to victory after being 'rejuvenated' by his then fiancé Lindsey.
Now a household name in the UK and abroad, the cueist has been overwhelmed by the response to his comeback. He received thousands of letters before his return to action in the German Open two weeks ago.
"All the German fans gave me little presents and I had a tear in my eye when they gave me a standing ovation," says Paul, who first picked up a cue aged seven.
"Obviously the Grand Prix in Preston last week was the big one, being my first ranking tournament back. It was nice to see all the snooker lads. They all came up to me, shook my hand and said it was nice to see me back. They couldn't believe I was back so soon, and Willie Thorne said some nice things in commentary too."
Paul reached the last 16 in Germany, a tournament he won a year ago, yet fell at the first hurdle in Preston. But he was more than happy to step in for Jimmy White when his good pal had to pull out of a £5,000 exhibition match against Ian McCulloch at The Frontier.
With his home crowd behind him, Paul polished off an impressive 102 break on his way to a 5-3 victory over one of his top 16 rivals.
"I've not done a lot of practice," he says. "Eight hours the other day and two yesterday. I'm obviously not back to full fitness but I'm here and I'm trying my best.
"I'm taking Snooker just as seriously but I suppose I'm looking at life differently now. None of us are here for very long and you've got to live life to the full and have fun every day."