By Andrew Atkinson Chief sports editor

Villamartin based snooker star Willie Thorne has been diagnosed with leukaemia. Thorne, 66, posted the shock news on Twitter, saying that he is starting chemotherapy in Spain.

“I realise everybody is having a tough time mine’s just got worse, I’ve been diagnosed with leukaemia,” said Thorne.

“I’m devastated, start chemotherapy Thursday. I’m in Spain where the healthcare is hopefully second to none.

“Love to you all, Willie x.”

Thorne’s Twitter message on Wednesday

Thorne made his professional snooker debut in 1975, reaching a career high ranking of world number 7 in the WPSBA rankings.

On retirement he took up a media post with the BBC as a snooker commentator. He was reportedly declared bankrupt after amassing £1m in gambling debts.

Thorne split from his wife of 24 years, former Miss Great Britain Jill Saxby, 59, who left Villamartin and returned to England.

Former athlete Sally Gunnell sent a message: ‘Stay strong’ to which Thorne responded: ‘Thanks Sally always been a fan can’t stop crying at the mo.’

Former colleague and friend John Virgo tweeted: “Terrible news about my friend Willie Thorne, my thoughts and prayers are with you buddy. Stay Strong.”

Thorne was diagnosed with prostate cancer, which required surgery. He later suffered with depression.

Thorne peaked in his snooker career in the 1980s, winning The Classic, a prestigious tournament held in Bournemouth, in 1985. He was runner-up in the Coral UK Championship in 1985, losing in final against Steve Davis at my home city, Preston Guild Hall, where I reported on snooker for 20 years.

Thorne, whose commentating contract for the BBC ended in 2018, was a popular player with fans during snooker’s heyday years at the time of late snooker legend Alex ‘Hurricane’ Higgins.

In November his £475,000 detached house in Broughton Astley, Leicestershire, was reportedly repossessed due to non payment of a mortgage.

Thorne, who was teaching snooker to ex-pats in Spain, was nicknamed ‘Mr Maximum’ after a 147-break in the 1987 Coral UK Championship in Preston against Cliff Thorburn.

The 66 year old, who moved to Villamartin last year, decided to remain in Spain, when his wife Jill returned to the UK in November.

Recently he promoted former England football star Paul Gascoigne’s ‘An Evening with Paul Gascoigne’ which was held Spain last June.

Thorne, who has raised thousands of pounds for Charity, through his ‘Willie Thorne Charity Golf Classic’ event in Spain, has spoken about his gambling addiction in recent years, a compulsion that brought him to the brink of suicide, having been saved by wife Jill.

During his time in Villamartin Thorne has been working as an after-dinner speaker.