News of The World - March 1999

BLUE WATCH STAR'S RED HOT AT POKER

The gambler's face is instantly recognisable as he gazes unblinking across a smoky room and pushes another pile of chips over the green baize.

"Royal flush." Even the voice is familiar as the other card players fold in defeat and watch a fortune disappear across the table.

Former London's Burning favourite Ross Boatman has come a long way from fighting fires as TV's Blue Watch hero Kevin Medhurst. He is now one of Europe's top ten poker professional poker players, winning massive pots of up to 20,000 in five-night gambling marathons.

"Playing poker for a living is a crazy lifestyle and very unhealthy," says Ross. "You can lose touch with reality. Real life happens during the day, but I don't see it most of the time because I live a nocturnal existence. The private games are the hardest because they can go on for 30 to 40 hours and the stakes can get a bit scary. I've been in games where players have lost 40,000 in a long session."

It was three years ago that Ross turned his back on his 100,000 a year job in London's Burning. He had played fire-fighter Medhurst for seven years- through many of the glory episodes. Ross, 34, told the News of the World:

"The best win I've had since I left TV was in a casino in Paris. The standard in Europe isn't as tough as Britain and by the end of the first night I was up three grand. I was really in form. By the end of the run I'd won more than 20,000 and had a big fat cheque in my pocket. It was one of the greatest highs I've ever had. I don't normally celebrate when I win because I know a loss can be just around the corner, but I went on the town that night. I remember dancing and thinking, 'twenty grand for a week's work, this is the life for me. If I carry on I'll have a big house in a few years and be sorted.'

But poker is a cruel game. I went to Paris again just before Christmas and this time I couldn't do anything right. I played far too open and when I started losing I began to chase my money. My whole game went on tilt and I was even losing great hands to players who were getting miracle cards. It got worse and worse and by the end of the week I'd lost 15,000. That's when you feel the pressure. After that trip I didn't want to play poker any more. I was no where near going skint, but I needed to take a step back, so lately I've been playing in smaller games for just a couple of grand a time to get me back in form. If you're a professional player you have to forget about the losses. If you start to play bigger to get the money back you're on the way out." Ross has not been seen on television or in showbiz circles since leaving the series, but many in the entertainment industry thought he had simply slipped into hard-up obscurity.

But Ross is now officially ranked No.6 by the European Poker Player's Association and will soon play for the European Championship in Austria- plus the 15,000 prize money that goes with it.

"I have pretty much vanished from the acting world since I left Burning," admitted Ross. "People probably think I've ended up broke and on the dole like so many other actors who leave a big show. But I'm doing all right. There's a whole community of professional players and I know most of the people. My No.6 ranking doesn't count for much to the pros in the big cash games, but it means I must be doing something right. There'll be 27 players in the final and I want to win the title. It would be a big achievement and something to be proud of." Despite the adrenalin-fuelled highs of poker, RADA-trained Ross hasn't lost all his ambitions to act. Last year he had a small role as a disturbed Gulf War veteran in ITV's detective series A Touch Of Frost with David Jason. It will be screened this month. The show gave him a taste to perform again. "Doing Frost was great," smiled Ross. "It was the first television work I'd done since leaving Burning. It wasn't a big part but it was an important one. "Acting will always be my first love and I don't want to be a poker player for the rest of my life. I'm available to prepare for a script if one comes along and I haven't given up altogether. I'd be passionate to act if I got a decent job, but I'm not so desperate that I'd take anything that comes along, like saying a couple of lines in The Bill. I only really miss acting when I'm losing. When I'm winning I couldn't care less." Ross has not been in touch with anyone from London's Burning since he left. "I'm proud of being in the show and it's thanks to it that I can afford to play poker." He said. "But Burning is another life to me now. I'm not the type to look back because I live in the present. I watched an episode of the new series the other week when I was taking a break from poker and I was amazed how different it is now. It's nothing like the series I was in. Kevin was a good character and it would be fun to bring him backing a few guest appearances." Ross still gets recognised by TV fans in the street all the time. He says, "I get all the usual comments like, 'Where's the fire, mate?' but it doesn't bother me. Some people say they wish Kevin was still in the show, which is nice. When I tell them that I play poker for a living now, they're amazed and don't really believe me. People automatically lump you in as a gambler, but I don't see it that way. I don't rely on chance like the punters who play dice or roulette. I am well ahead of the game financially and have my head screwed on tight. If it all goes wrong and I go broke, then I'll get a normal job but somehow I can't imagine that happening.

"A lot of actors dream of winning an Oscar, but I've never seen myself in that sort of category. Sure, I would like to do good work, but if I had to choose between an Oscar and winning the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas there'd be no contest. I want the title-besides the European one-and I'm going for it this year. "Besides you win a million dollars in that competition. . . you don't get prize money with an Oscar!"

 

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