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Gary Wilson: From "child prodigy" to World Championship semi-finalist

The former factory worker appeared on the junior version of the popular show Big Break.

When Crucible semi-finalist Gary Wilson made his first television appearance in 1995, Stephen Hendry still reigned supreme and Findus Crispy Pancakes were an ailing staple as opposed to a full-blown case of food nostalgia.

The then nine-year-old Wilson was one of a handful of future professionals picked to star on 'Big Break: Stars of the Future', a junior version of the hugely successful Jim Davidson-fronted programme which pulled in 14 million viewers at its peak.

"I suppose I was a bit of a child prodigy," said Wilson, who continued his improbable journey from the production line of a local Findus factory to a place in the last four of the World Championships with victory over Ali Carter on Wednesday.

Gary Wilson
Gary Wilson appeared on Junior Big Break at the age of nine (BBC)

"They show the clips of the first series of Big Break when I was only nine years old and my feet were swinging off the chair.

"Being on TV at that age I didn't know what was going on – I just wanted to get on the table and play. It was all bright lights, massive crowds and a bit much at the time.

"When I got back to school the teacher made a big fuss and showed the class the newspaper – it was pretty embarrassing. I got a lot of stick."

Instead of maintaining his early trajectory, Wilson, having initially turned professional, endured six years off the main tour in which he took a series of jobs including as a taxi driver and a barman, before ending up at the then Findus factory in Longbenton, close to his home.

"Everybody loves the Crispy Pancakes – I'd be making them if you had any of them," added Wilson. "Sometimes you would be in the minus-18 freezer packing them up.

"It was horrible but at the same time, it was good memories with the people I used to work with. I had some good mates who worked there and I miss a bit of that."

Gary Wilson
Wilson cruised into the Crucible semi-finals (Richard Sellers/PA)

Wilson's guaranteed payday of at least £100,000 at the Crucible this year will easily eclipse his earnings from his former careers – not least the scant rewards of ferrying famous faces around Tyneside during his stint on the taxi rank.

"I used to have a few Newcastle footballers in my taxi," added Wilson.

"The odd person from Geordie Shore, and the lead singer of Def Leppard – I took him to pick his Porsche up at Yarm train station.

Def Leppard
Wilson has had Def Leppard in the back of his cab (PA Archive)

"It was only when we were 15 or 20 minutes down the road when he started revealing who he was and I thought, why didn't you just tell me? I'm not bothered.

"Just tell us straight away – oh, by the way, I was in Def Leppard, did you know? I would have gone, 'aye great, how much are you giving me?' I got about an extra couple of quid, I think."

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