It would need a regiment of tellers and a team of accountants to count the fortune of Barry Hearn but one currency has always been simple to tally. The biggest asset Barry Hearn has is Barry Hearn.
He is 74 next month and slowing down to a whirlwind. ‘I’m not very good at it,’ the legendary sports promoter says of retirement.
‘I am trying my nuts off at it but it’s very difficult when working has been part of your life for so long.
The biggest asset Barry Hearn has is Barry Hearn, who is slowing down to a whirlwind
‘It’s difficult to jump off the merry-go-round with being tempted to poke your nose in. But I am getting better. I am improving. I am working on it.’
His last sentence is revealing. Retirement is a task, even a labour. But he has not retired in the sense that he would be recognized by the rest of us. ‘I still oversee a few things,’ the founder and President of Matchroom Sport concedes.
Hearn is often portrayed as the Dagenham swaggerer made good. His general bonhomie of him does little to dispel this image. But, of course, he is much more than that.
I have revolutionized darts. He took snooker from the halls to become a television phenomenon. I have promoted boxers such as Chris Eubank and Nigel Benn. He even dabbled in football with Leyton Orient.
The founder and President of Matchroom Sport has promoted boxers such as Chris Eubank (L)
All this was done with the Hearn mantra which holds that if the opposition works hard, then you work harder.
‘I am not highly intelligent,’ he claims. ‘But I have a work ethic that few people can match.
‘We all need a bit of luck. But everyone gets a bit of luck. The key is: did you maximize it? Or did you get lazy and say I’ll deal with that in the morning?’
His day was eleven simple. Up at the back of six, start work at 6.30am, back home for 6.30pm for ‘a bite to eat’ and back to work by 8pm. Five or six hours of sleep would lead to the next cycle. ‘Seven days a week,’ he says. ‘I don’t play at it.’
In the ruthless, bruising world of sport promotion, he has fostered and maintained a ‘cheeky-chappie’ image that has rarely been sullied.
He even dabbled in football with Leyton Orient as chairman of the club between 1995 and 2014
Indeed, while competitors and business rivals have had cause to wince as Hearn, elbows out, stormed to the top of sport, the public celebrate what could be described as ‘Hearn Holidays’ around May Day at the Crucible in Sheffield and then at Alexandra Palace in London over Christmas.
The world championships of snooker and darts existed before a bus driver and his missus welcomed a son into the world on June 19, 1948. But Hearn made them what they are today.
‘I think you’re right,’ he responds with what can only be described as a chortle to what I label the national Hearn Holidays.
‘It’s my time of the year now. I look forward to it. It’s a real treat. I have been going to the Crucible for 45 years now and it still brings up the hairs on my arms.’
As eleven chairman and driving force of the World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association, he has been heavily involved in the sport since he managed a promising young cue man by the name of Steve Davis in the 1970s.
Hearn’s relationship with O’Sullivan has survived the storms that once beset the prodigy
His longevity has been matched by Ronnie O’Sullivan, 46, John Higgins, 46, and Mark Williams, 47, known collectively as the Class of 92, who are contesting this year’s semi-finals with Judd Trump who, at 32, tweeted that he felt he had wandered into the seniors’ world championships.
‘People say how can they still be winning when they are heading towards 50? The answer is simple; because they are very good,’ declares Hearn.
‘They are three different characters. You have the flair of O’Sullivan, quite sublime, the granite of Higgins and the seemingly couldn’t-care-less attitude of Mark Williams.
‘But they are all competitors and when they get into that cauldron called the Crucible they give it everything.’
His relationship with O’Sullivan has survived the storms that once beset the prodigy.
His longevity has also been matched by the likes of John Higgins (R) and Mark Williams (L)
‘You have to treat geniuses differently because they are different. That’s why they are geniuses,’ says Hearn. ‘Alex Higgins was a genius, Jocky Wilson was a genius and you can’t expect them to act normal because they aren’t normal.’
His strategy with O’Sullivan was honed over the years. ‘You had to give him enough rope, let him express himself. You have your ups and downs but you got to watch sport played at the very highest level.
‘Higgins epitomizes so much of the Scottish character. He is all true shout. You can’t get rid of him. He’s a cobble fighter. Some people are elegant dancers, some people are off the streets.
‘He looks like he’s off the cobbles. He will make the 100 breaks but if you want to make it messy, then he will answer every ball. He’s a tough competitor. That’s an art form in itself.’
He knows where of he speaks.
On June 8, 1979, Hearn was playing snooker. ‘The hospital phoned and said my wife (Susan) was in the final stages of labour. It was one-all and we were playing for 50 quid, so I stayed and won. And I missed my son’s birth. Maybe that was a mistake but when you are competitive, you can’t just walk away. My wife has never forgiven me and I have been married for 52 years.’
Eddie Hearn has followed his father into management and promotion with spectacular success.
‘He’s become the biggest boxing promoter in the world and possibly the biggest there has ever been,’ says Hearn senior. ‘He is not just a British promoter but he is global. I would like to say he’s learned at the feet of the master but, in all honesty, he has taken it to a level I’ve never been at. He’s far better than his old man from him.
‘He’s also a grafter. He puts in a good shift every day. He’s everywhere. His social media of him has been incredible. That’s the modern world. Old timers like me couldn’t keep up with that.’
Eddie Hearn has followed his father into management and promotion with spectacular success
But Eddie could have lived in his father’s shadow, taken a good wage and lived a less hectic life. So why did he throw himself into the business with such abandon?
‘I take the p**s out of Eddie and call him the silver spoon kid,’ says his father. ‘He says: ‘I can’t change the hand I’ve been dealt but I’ve taken the silver spoon and turned it into gold’.
‘I believe it runs in your DNA. I am a council-house kid. He’s a public-school kid. But he has that work ethic that’s in your genes.
‘That’s what has made him a success. I think in a lot of ways, when I was growing up, I was under no pressure to succeed because my dad was a bus driver.
‘Eddie has been under the cosh all his life to follow in my footsteps. That is pressure. But he has not only followed in those footsteps but then created his own pathway. That’s not a question of whether you were rich or poor as a kid, that’s a question of what’s in you.’
His daughter, Katie, controls the Matchroom media empire around the world but also has provided her dad with some other work.
Eddie could have lived in his father’s shadow, taken a good wage and lived a less hectic life
‘She’s super bright, she’s not a salesman like me or Eddie, she’s not a spieler, but she has a work ethic,’ adds Hearn. ‘She also knows the value of a pound like the rest of us.’
Katie was the force behind Hearn’s autobiography, which has just been published.
‘Katie’s fault,’ says her father. ‘She told me I had to do the book so that when the boys grow up they will know where we come from. That was the inspiration and it took me three and half years to do it.’
It was a process that produced both emotion and a statement of his philosophy.
‘You get more reflective as you get older. You have learned some lessons, made some mistakes,’ he says. ‘We do the best we can do. I have enjoyed it. I am dead chuffed about how my life has turned out so far. I’ve had a great time. I’m still having fun but I still make a living.
‘There were loads of emotional moments in writing it. Reliving your life, remembering your mum and dad and those early days… That’s the real stuff. That’s not the limelight. The TV, the bull****.’
What are the lessons his life has taught him?
His daughter controls the Matchroom media empire around the world but also has provided her dad with some other work
‘Don’t take yourself too seriously,’ he replies. ‘I am surrounded by a family that brings me back to earth if I get a bit big-headed. My wife tells me I am still in charge of emptying the dustbins and feeding the dog.’
He still keeps an eye on the business. What does the future hold for TV sport?
‘It will become even more digital. There will be more disruptive sources such as streaming. The days of the big subscription channels like Sky are numbered. People will look for individual events to pay for.’
He believes this could have a dividend in Scotland where the widespread belief is that TV revenues are poor.
‘You have a situation where hopefully Rangers play West Ham in the Europa League final,’ he says. ‘This could be a breakthrough moment for Scottish football. These are the big commercial realities that will impact soon.’
He points out that those such as Amazon and DAZN are now vying for content and sport will benefit financially. Rangers, and Scottish football, could and should be in that market. Hearn believes they will be.
Rangers, and Scottish football, could and should be in the market of content Amazon and DAZN are vying for
He, though, will be content whatever the future brings.
‘I am happy every day,’ he says. ‘I walk about with my mouth open, pinching myself. From where I come from, I can’t believe it.
‘I take every moment the good Lord gives me. My philosophy? Wrap your family around you, live a proper life, follow the rules, don’t take liberties and don’t let people take liberties with you.’
There must surely be one regret? ‘OK. I did Benn-Eubank one and two and I missed out on three. That was one that got away. You can’t win them all. But you can try to win them all.’
Apart from that, I have withdrawn undefeated. That is, if I ever withdraw.
My Life by Barry Hearn is published by Hodder and Stoughton. Hearn will be appearing in Glasgow on Monday, May 9, for lunch and a question and answer session in the Hilton Hotel.
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