* Prices may differ from that shown
Paul Hunter was one of the most promising snooker players of his generation. With three Masters titles under his belt, he looked set for a glittering career. However in 2005 the 'Comeback Kid' of snooker and his wife, Lindsey, faced their toughest challenge when Paul was diagnosed with a rare type of neuroendocrine cancer. This is Lindsey's account of her life with Paul from the first time they met on a night out in Leeds, when Paul was just 18, to the day he died, shortly before his 28th birthday in October 2006. It is a moving, often harrowing account of love, loyalty and courage, but is not overly sentimental. Lindsey does not portray Paul as an angel or put him on a pedestal, nor does she describe their relationship in gushing, idealised terms. Life with a snooker star, even before cancer comes into the equation, is clearly not always the glamorised existence you might expect. However, Lindsey's devotion shines through. She is writing this book in a heartfelt attempt to ensure that her daughter, Evie, knows exactly what her father went through and will grow up to be proud of him.
The book paints an interesting picture of someone young, coping with fame and at times getting out of his depth. Paul Hunter grew up on a Leeds council estate. As a three year old he amused himself by trying to hit marbles with a chopstick, so his parents got him his first snooker table for Christmas. He was going to snooker clubs regularly with his father from the age of eight and had turned professional by the age of 16. Lindsey makes the pertinent point that when someone is playing snooker for ten hours a day they don't develop an abundance of social skills. She is frank about Paul's immaturity and lack of structure in his life and how it affected their relationship in the early years. This is not a sickly love at first sight story. Lindsey's portrayal of Paul is of someone flawed, but no less charming, cheeky and loveable. Lindsey's first impressions of Paul were of a 'daft kid' with too much time on his hands. In her opinion, snooker was not a proper job. Four years his senior, Lindsey comes across as the sensible, stabilising influence in his life. What strikes me about the writing style is just how astonishingly charitable Lindsey is when she speaks of Paul's two-timing ways in the early years of their relationship. She seems to accept that he needed to sow his wild oats and get things out of his system. She displays a remarkable lack of bitterness over the stolen years, the fact that they could have got together sooner and had longer together if Paul hadn't spent so much time dithering and going back to his ex girlfriend.
It did make me wonder how this volatile relationship would have fared if Paul hadn't become ill and died, whether the lure of girls, booze and drugs would have ultimately got in the way of the couple's happiness. Would the blond haired, 'Beckham of the Baize' have resisted the inevitable temptations? We will never know. Not surprisingly, the infamous 'Plan B' episode is referred to. (Paul was 6-2 down in the 2001 Masters final. During the interval, he and Lindsey had sex. Paul went on to win the match 10-2. The tabloids had a field day with this story!) Lindsey reflects on the irony of how Paul's 'bad boy' image was exploited in the press, with invitations following to do photo shoots in FHM and Esquire, at a time when he was settling down, trying to put his wild days behind him.
A lot of clichés are bandied about when we talk about cancer. We often hear phrases like "rollercoaster ride" and "cancer journey" and fighting a brave battle", yet clearly you have to go through it or watch a loved one go through it to appreciate the full horror of the experience. Lindsey's account spares no details, with graphic accounts of her husband's symptoms during the treatments and her despair on seeing him become a shadow of his former self. Paul's initial response to the diagnosis was to go out on benders and get angry. People he had known all his life, and Lindsey herself, found themselves on the receiving end of some nasty words. Lindsey comments in a matter of fact way, "it's human nature to kick out at the ones you love the most", but it must have been hellish. I found Lindsey's account particularly powerful when she was describing the more routine aspects of living with cancer. For instance, she refers to the weirdness of having an appointment card for the oncology department and a blue ring binder about chemotherapy, reflecting that - "it's one of those words that people use almost carelessly, they'll talk about a friend or a work colleague or a family member having chemo and everyone just nods and thinks they know what it's all about." Sometimes she is almost casual about things that happened, such as Paul's eyelashes falling out and her having to remove specks of dust from his eyes - "of all the things we take for granted, you never think about eyelashes particularly - until you don't have them."
To be honest, a lot of the detail terrified me. Some descriptions of Paul's pain and suffering were so bad that I actually found myself unable to keep reading. It was just too upsetting. At times the despair was unbearable to contemplate, but at other times I was inspired by the way the couple supported each other and still managed to experience happy moments amidst all the bleakness and fear. Not least, I was very moved by the irony of the fact that the couple tried for a baby for months when Paul was healthy, only for Lindsey to conceive within a few days of his cancer diagnosis. "This could be our lucky charm, the ray of light that would make the darkness bearable," Lindsey writes in her diary. "This baby had chosen the most unlikely of times to make its entrance into our world, but that had to be for a reason." Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction.
Reading this book certainly makes you realise that you must not take anything and anyone for granted. After her wedding day Lindsey writes in her diary - "I've never felt this happy in my life. Paul and I are so in love, so happy with no worries." How tragically soon their life was to be turned upside down. When Paul develops a nagging pain in his side, Lindsey's diary reads - "hope he doesn't need his appendix out", a cruel example, if ever there was one, of being careful what you wish for. There are many moving references to Paul's close-knit family. Lindsey describes how heartbroken his mother, Kristina, was when Paul turned professional and had to spend long periods away from home playing in tournaments. She thought she was losing her little boy. The tragedy was that one day, much too prematurely, she would do.
There isn't a lot of snooker detail in this book, which suited me fine as I don't really follow the sport and wasn't particularly interested in reading about the finer details of Paul's matches or his style of play. This is really about Paul the husband and father, rather than Paul the snooker player. However, there are some lively anecdotes about other players, in particularly Jimmy White who seems to have had a very close bond with Paul. Lindsey does speak of Paul's determination to continue to compete during the 2005/06 season after his diagnosis, even though he would turn up at the table with no feeling in his fingertips, in pain and with thermal socks on to keep his feet warm. There were standing ovations and messages of support, but Paul lost all but one of his matches in that season. The world snooker governing body does not come across as particularly supportive towards a cancer patient, however.
Despite the heart-breaking tone of this book - the tears were rolling down my face when I read of Paul's funeral -- I could not help but be impressed by Lindsey Hunter's stoicism. This is particularly striking in her account of her daughter's first birthday after Paul's death. I really respected the way Lindsey focussed on her little girl's day, rather than letting the event turn into another wake for Paul. "You can't keep someone hanging on in agony and despair just because you want them to be there for a certain date on the calendar." Lindsey's decision to sell the house, because she didn't want her daughter to grow up surrounded by sad memories, also struck me as a sensible, forward-thinking approach. Some of her strategies for coping with bereavement were insightful and reminded me of my own coping mechanisms after the death of my father.
I can't recommend this for anyone looking for a cheery read, but it's certainly a powerful read, something that reminds you that there is a lot of truth in the old sayings about stars that shine so brightly for only a short time and how it is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all. Lindsey's message to Paul spells it out - "even if I knew we had to go through it all again, I'd still pick you, babes. I'd still pick you." If that isn't a definition of love, I don't know what is. There are lots of lovely photographs too of Lindsey and Paul looking so beautiful together. They really were a golden couple.
Unbreakable is available used from Amazon for £0.01. The Kindle copy is £5.49.
I should like to add that the Paul Hunter Foundation was set up in 2006 to provide opportunities for disadvantaged, able bodied and disabled young people to play snooker. More information about this charity can be found at www.paulhunterfoundation.org
It was whilst I was wandering around my local library, looking for one more book to borrow - I had already selected two, and always borrow three at a time. Nothing was really jumping out and 'grabbing me'. Just as I had decided to settle for only the two books on this occasion, I caught sight of a little poster on the end of one of the library shelves, advertising the 'biography' section.
As I had not read a biography for quite some time, I decided to have a quick scan in the section and see if anything took my fancy. There were actually a couple there that I liked the look of, but the book I decided to borrow is called "Unbreakable - My life with Paul."
I can't really say what it was about this book in particular that grabbed my attention as I could see from the front cover that the 'Paul' in question was Paul Hunter, the professional snooker player. As I have no interest in snooker or sports in general, my partner did comment that this was a bit of an odd choice for me to make.
As I knew from reading the blurb on the book that it was quite clearly a story that had nothing to do with snooker for the most part, and was in essence a life story or love story, as the author says, I was quite happy with my choice and that was that.
I found the book was somewhat addictive and I read all 310 pages of it in the space of 24 hours... This is the true sign of a great read, in my book! (Pun intended!) :-D
* THE BOOK *
The author of the book is Lindsey Hunter, Paul's widow. She introduces Paul to us by explaining that when they first met she had the impression that he was immature. Paul was the cousin of her best friend and had given the girls a lift into town, which is when they first met. After hearing that Paul was a snooker player, Lindsey responded by saying "As a job? That's not a real job. It's a hobby."
Little did she know that the young man who was only 18 at the time was proving to be the 'next big thing' in the snooker circuit and would go on to become one of the most accomplished players of his generation, winning three Masters titles in his short life.
We are given a full and frank account of what happened after Paul and Lindsey became a couple, how they eventually married and how Paul rose to stardom, being dubbed "The Beckham of the Baize", thanks to his charm and stunning good looks.
We learn about the anguish the young couple felt when Paul was struggling with a pain in his side, and had been for a short while. Following a scan to see if his appendix was ok, they were told that there were actually several cysts in Paul's abdomen and a biopsy was required.
What happened next was something that nobody could predict. Paul actually developed a very rare form of cancer, and was told he needed to start treatment and chemotherapy immediately.
Lindsey tells the tale of this devastating blow, and how Paul coped with being so ill. Lindsey also tells us how she nursed Paul at home in-between his sessions of chemotherapy and how bravely her husband faced this horrendous time in his life, refusing at first to give up his beloved snooker, but instead playing matches whenever he could manage to struggle through his constant pain.
The little glimmer of light in all of the darkness of the situation is that Lindsey had managed to conceive and she gave birth to their baby daughter, Evie Rose, on Boxing Day, 2005.
Unfortunately, Paul Hunter lost his battle with cancer and died a few months before his daughter's first birthday, on 9 October 2006. He was 27 years old.
* MY OPINION *
I didn't really know what to expect when I started reading this book. I knew obviously that it would be quite sad in places, though this didn't put me off. Once I started to read though, I was quite hooked by the book and I think this is mainly because of the way Lindsey Hunter has written it... It is basically written in her own words, using her own writing style and is a no -fuss account of a rather extraordinary story.
What I did really like about the book - and I find it is something that can often be missing from biographies - is how we are given a bit of background to Paul's upbringing and childhood, details that Lindsey has obviously researched, given that she didn't meet her husband to be until he was 18 years old!
I particularly liked when Lindsey writes about Paul's first interest in playing snooker. By the age of three, he was trying to hit marbles with a chopstick! This little fact, amongst others, made me smile, so it's quite clear to see that for all the book makes for some rather upsetting reading at times, there are quite a few little humorous 'anecdotes' that more than make up the balance.
Another thing that struck me about Lindsey's account of events is that she is brutally honest. No details are 'sugar-coated' for us as the readers. In particular, I thought she was very frank about Paul's problems in the past (before they married) where he was a bit of a womaniser and had quite an appetite for alcohol. I feel that it would have been all too easy to cover up some of these details and admire the fact that Lindsey didn't do that. She told us a lot of Paul's life, warts and all.
To be honest, there was a lot of reference to snooker which didn't mean anything to me. I think this is only to be expected in a book about Paul Hunter though, and I wouldn't let this put you off. I didn't find that the references were at all over-whelming, nor did they make me enjoy the book any less. As somebody who has never really watched a snooker game from start to finish in my life, I did find that the way Lindsey explained a lot of the tournaments and titles was helpful. She clearly understood when writing the book that some readers may find the 'snooker speak' was too difficult to grasp, and I do feel she has been quite aware of this and has tried her best to explain these details as best as she can.
Aside from his snooker career, we are given a very up-close-and-personal insight into Paul's character. It is not difficult to get the impression that he was very highly thought of by family and friends, snooker fans and other players alike. We are given many, many examples of this charm and character and I got the impression that Paul Hunter was really quite popular across the board.
One such example that sticks in my mind is the time when Paul was signing an autograph for a fan shortly after arriving at his hotel, after a lot of travelling etc, in preparation for a match the following day. He chatted to the fan for a good while, even though he was clearly tired out from his travelling.
The following day, he was waiting to enter the arena to play his match and as his name was called out, the fans started clapping. As Paul entered the arena and started to descend the flight of stairs, he noticed the fan from the night before. Amidst all of the film crew and applauding fans, Paul shouted out the name of the fan and asked if he had managed to get to the arena all right, given that the weather outside was so bad. Happy to keep cameras rolling, and delay the start of the game very slightly, it would appear that each and every one of Paul's fans was indeed very important to him, and examples of this are evident throughout the book. I did think that this made him even more endearing, given that he did achieve a certain degree of fame and fortune throughout his career.
Perhaps this fact is what made the last section of the book a bit more poignant. Not only was this dreadful illness and the accompanying horrific treatment being faced by a very young man who had his whole life in front of him, but the fact that said young man seemed to be 'such a character' made this worse somehow. I did find it quite touching to read about how Paul was such a 'cheeky chap' right up until the end of his life and was even brave enough to joke around with some of the nurses and medical staff when he was eventually admitted to a hospice... This time was a mere four days before he died, and I think it speaks volumes about the young man, given he knew what fate lay ahead.
Following my finishing the book, I did find that I was left feeling a bit sad. Not only because this young man lost his life so young and left behind a loving family, but because of what 'might have been' if he had been able to continue playing snooker. He not only managed to win the Masters title three times, but he continued to play the game so well that he managed to climb the ranks, and was at one point the fourth best player in the world... a hell of an achievement for such a young man.
All in all I thought the book proved to be a great read, if a bit heart-wrenching at times. This was something I expected, given the tragic nature of Paul's illness and the fact that he died so young, so I was kind of prepared for it. Some readers might find that it is a bit much for them though, which I can appreciate.
The fact that I enjoyed it so much and couldn't put it down means I can only award it full marks.
'Unbreakable' is available to buy for £11.69 from www.amazon.co.uk.