David Gilbert: I’ve seen some dark times, I was shot to pieces
World Championship semi-finalist David Gilbert tells Desmond Kane why life is good on his journey from rock bottom to the cusp of snooker folklore.
"I’m not into flash cars mate. If I won the full Monty, I’d pay off the mortgage, take the missus on holiday wherever she wants and then I’m off to Ibiza with the lads. That’d be it."
David Gilbert won’t be short of ideas if he lands the £500,000 top prize that comes with lifting the World Championship. Not when he wondered where his next meal was coming from not so long ago.
The man from Tamworth has his own manifesto at this World Championship: to appreciate the privileged position he enjoys after being left almost broke when he dropped off the professional circuit in his early twenties.
Gilbert, 37, has yet to win a ranking event, but has reached the final of the World Open losing 10-9 to Mark Williams and to Kyren Wilson 9-7 in German Masters this season, defeats he has avenged here. He will collect at least £100,000 from his efforts in Sheffield, win or lose his semi-final with John Higgins. If he progresses to the final, he will double his money.
“What a massive turnaround for me, I can’t really put it into words how I’m feeling,” Gilbert told Eurosport..
“I was shot to pieces early in the season. I even thought about doing something else, but I’m glad to have stuck at it.
“It is hard for everyone on the tour. Even the very best in the world struggle now and again to enjoy the game.
“John Higgins has been speaking all year about how he is fed up with it, but he’s obviously won everything. It’s a bit different for me, I’ve won nothing. It’s a tough game at times. I never thought I’d see a six-figure cheque in my lifetime. The thought of half a million to the winner isn’t bad."
Gilbert lost his close friend Neal Cleaver to cancer just over five years ago, the man he believes is responsible for getting his life and career back on cue.
He cut an emotional figure after his 13-9 win over world champion Mark Williams in the last 16 sandwiched between a 10-7 win over Joe Perry and a 13-9 defeat of Kyren Wilson to touch down in the last four.
“My good mate who helped turn my life around eight, nine years ago. He passed away five-and-a-half years ago bless him,” said Gilbert.
"He was on my mind a lot the other night playing Mark, obviously with him being the defending champion. When this is all done and dusted, we’ll all have a good drink and toast to him.
"My mate was having tough time, and he said come and move in with me. It was like Men Behaving Badly for a bit, but we had some good laughs and cheered each other up. He told me to start making some better decisions"
Gilbert - who is married to Abi - believes his granddad was key to his decision to pursue a career on the green baize.
“I hope my granddad is looking down proud of watching me,” said Gilbert. “He used to play my uncle Mick on a Sunday before dinner, and he’d take me with him to hit a few balls.
“My dad got me a little pool table that they put in the garage and I’d get up every morning before school to whack balls about.
“I fell in love with it then. There have been loads of times that I’ve thought about walking away from it. I’ve got good people around me especially the missus. She’s got my back.”
Gilbert is nicknamed the Angry Farmer due to his farming background from Staffordshire, and bounces out to Faithless’s Insomnia. "I can't get no sleep" is an apt line for the bow-tied torture chamber of the World Championship.
He is using the SightRight technique adopted by Mark Williams on his way to winning the world crown a year ago. At the start of the year, he made the 147th 147 in the modern era of sport.
“I’ve had a few big learning curves especially this season with the losses in the finals. As hard as it was, they’ve really helped me,” said Gilbert. “I know how to calm myself down a bit and just focus.
“Matt Selt (fellow professional) came out with my nickname. I was a farmer, and a bit fiery. I still can be, I’m not perfect.
“This game is mostly between the ears because we can all pot balls. It doesn’t help getting too wound up.
"I’m a changed man. I’m married, not so much partying and I have a beautiful little daughter and a nice home, things I never thought I would have. Life is good at the moment. I can’t just be happy with what I’ve achieved so far. I’ve got to believe I can win it.”"
Somewhere in Ibiza there is a dancefloor waiting for Gilbert with Insomnia on the decks, but for now the hushed environs of the Crucible is as appealing as the sunset at Café Mambo.
Desmond Kane at the Crucible Theatre