SNOOKER guru John Virgo is no stranger to the pressure of performing in front of large audiences.
Famed for his outrageous, garish snooker waistcoats on BBC quiz show Big Break, John continues to amuse and entertain the TV masses - especially during the World Championships at the Crucible Theatre.
The 66-year-old started commentating for the BBC in 1986 and has not looked back since.
His trick shots and hilarious impersonations of snooker greats have become legendary and are matched by his dry sense of humour and quick wit behind the microphone. His passion and love for the sport come shining through on air.
“Peter Alliss has accused me once or twice of getting a little bit too excited but I wouldn’t have it any other way,” said John, the winner of the UK Championship in 1979.
“I have always loved the game and loved watching it. Some nights, when I’m not working, I will go back to my hotel room and watch the snooker.
“If it is a good, exciting, close match, I get involved in it. That’s where the excitement comes from. Each frame tells its own story. When you get near the end of your career and you miss a few balls that you expect to pot, then obviously you feel the pressure.
“I look at some of the players after they have missed a ball at The Crucible and I’m glad I’m sat in the commentary box!
“But there is nothing like the buzz and excitement of going out there in front of a packed crowd and also playing well.”
The BBC gave Salford-born John a two-day trial to prove his commentary credentials.
He said: “On the second day, the executive producer of the BBC at the time came up to me and said ‘You are doing a good job and I would like you to come in and do some more but just one thing, we’ve already got Ted Lowe!’
“I didn’t realise it but I was sounding too much like Ted! He was my mentor. I used to love his commentary. You can listen to someone who you admire and before you know it, you are impersonating them!”
As time has gone by, John feels his commentary style has changed.
“When I first started out, it was a case of letting the pictures do the talking,” he admitted. “Now it seems to have gone to an American style almost where they want you to talk more and to keep it going in between shots.
“Times have changed but you still get complaints from people who say you talk too much. You can’t please everyone. In the main, people are very complimentary about the commentary we all do.”
Does John fear making a mistake live on air?
“Being on live heightens your senses and makes you concentrate and focus a bit more,” he acknowledged. “That is a perfect way of getting rid of the nerves. It is a bit easier holding the microphone than the cue!”
John says the semi-final meeting between Judd Trump and Neil Robertson at this year’s Masters tournament was one of his favourite matches to commentate on.
“The atmosphere was electric and the match was great,” he said. “Funnily enough the Ding Junhui and Trump clash the year before was tremendous too.
“When it is a close match and you can feel the atmosphere and tension in the auditorium, it affects you as a commentator and hopefully brings out the best in you.”
Manchester United fan John plans on describing the action in the commentary booth for many more years to come.
He joked: “It is not in my hands but I will do it even if they had to wheel me into the commentary box!”
John is commentating on the latter stages of the World Snooker Championships in Sheffield.
He said: “I look forward to the 17 days in Sheffield. Even when I drive into Sheffield, I still get that buzz, although not as much as when I used to play.
“The atmosphere in The Crucible is amazing and if you can’t react and get up for that, then you don’t enjoy the job. I love watching snooker and it is a pleasure to be commentating on some of these matches.
“If I wasn’t commentating, I would miss mixing with people like Dennis Taylor, John Parrott and Willie Thorne, who have been friends and colleagues for many, many years. They were opponents when I was a player but we’ve got that camaraderie between us. That’s one of the reasons I look forward to coming to Sheffield every year.”