THE BEST A MAN CAN GET | Razor’s Big Interview
Les Gillett realised every bowlers dream at the World Indoor Championships – winning the World Indoor Singles Championship.
The 51-year-old defeated five-time singles champion Paul Foster MBE in a thrilling final that went to the final bowl of the tie-break.
Bowls International’s Matt Wordingham caught up with Les following his victory at Potters Resort.
Les Gillett had often been referred to as the bridesmaid at the World Indoor Championships.
‘Razor’ had previously reached four singles semi-finals at Potters Resort – unfortunately coming on the wrong side of the scoreline on all four occasions.
This year, he put that right.
Gillett has previously enjoyed success on the east coast of England, partnering Mark McMahon to glory in the pairs in 2002 and Jason Greenslade in 2017, but victory over Alex Marshall MBE in the semi-final ensured new ground in the singles event.
“It didn’t really feel like a world final to me as I was so relaxed – I wasn’t nervous or anything,” Les said as he recalled the day of the final.
“The only time I got a bit emotional was when one of my daughters came up to hug me before the final and I told her not to. I knew it would have set me off, but I didn’t want to think of it as a world final as I just wanted to go out there and make a good account of myself.
“I think when you truly consider the situation you’re in, that’s when you fall foul of worrying about everything and not concentrating on what you need to do.”
Les prepared for the final as he had before every other match during the Championships.
“I had been having a couple of Jameson’s after each game and I sat with Greg Harlow and his wife Kay,” he said, recalling his preparation for the biggest game of his life.
Les went to bed at 10 pm, before heading down to the portable rink for an early morning practice session as he had been doing throughout his time at Potters.
“Practice wasn’t going particularly well ahead of my first game in the singles, so I’d been going down to the green to have a practice at about 5 am every morning. The place was all locked up and I had to get the key code from the cleaner to let me in.”
Priced at 28/1 by the bookmakers prior to the event, the Melton and District IBC star truly defied the odds at the Hopton-on-Sea venue.
“It was great to have so much support in the crowd who were very vocal when I bowled a good bowl, and equally clapped good bowls by Paul too.
“The crowd support from my family and friends was probably my fifth bowl during the final, encouraging my bowls down the green, just as much as other people in the crowd were supporting Paul throughout the match.”
Les was cheered on in the final by wife of 20 years, Sadie, and daughters Millie, Eliza and Jessica, along with a number of clubmates from throughout the years.
Les won the final five ends of the opening set to snatch it away from Foster, before the Scot stormed back in the second set to take the final to a tie-break.
“I knew from Paul’s reaction after delivering his final bowl that he didn’t like it as he almost turned his back on it within a couple of seconds,” said Les as he recalled the final end of the tie-break.
“I only had 30 seconds to play my final bowl as I had already used all of my time-outs, so I didn’t have much time to think about it other than when I was walking back to the mat.
“I played my first bowl on the forehand, followed by two runners, but then decided to play my preferred backhand for the last bowl.
“I stood on the mat and was shaking life a leaf, whilst also thinking ‘don’t be heavy, don’t be heavy’,” he said.
“When I let the bowl go, I thought it was really good and not one part of me thought it was heavy. As the bowl started to break, my friends in the crowd started cheering so I put my hands in the air – but then I thought ‘hang on, this isn’t going to stop in time!’
“It was a big release after Paul had shook my hand at the realisation of what I had actually achieved. I went a bit crazy; it was a totally surreal scenario.
“It’s very surreal, but I’m quite humbled by the whole situation.
“It doesn’t make me any different, I will still be the same person and whether I can reach the heights of those previously and manage to defend the title is yet to be seen – I’ll certainly be looking forward to it.”
Whatever happens next year, the success that Les achieved this year will be etched in history, and it’s certainly been a long time coming.
“I didn’t know how I was going to hold it together to speak to Rishi (Persad) after the final, as it was such a relief to win that title after so many years of trying.
“It was a big hurdle to get over the semi-final and winning it certainly seems like a monkey off your back. Will I ever win it again? I don’t know – there’s so many good people coming through.
“I know that now whenever I walk onto a bowls green, there’s going to be a target on my back for my opponents to perform better against me.”
Remarkably, in the 44th staging of the World Indoor Championships, Gillett became the first left-handed bowler to scoop the open singles title.
“I wasn’t aware until seeing a message on Facebook from David Rhys Jones at about the quarter-final stage, but I didn’t want to think anything of it.
“It’s nice to be recognised as the first left-handed person to win it.”
The full interview with Les can be found in the March 2022 issue of Bowls International, which can be purchased here
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