Snooker legend Jimmy White tells Sportsmail of his drink and drug-fuelled past
We meet over breakfast. Appropriately for a man who has spent a long time in dark rooms, as well as dark places, he is as white as his name. His face is full. But, given how he spent most of his 52 years, it is a minor miracle that he is here at all, let alone in seemingly good health.
James Warren White, who was born in Balham, the son of a proud and hard-working carpenter, had a cavalier disregard for authority from the start.
As a nine-year-old he bunked off school to play for money in the snooker halls of south London, with their working-class codes of conduct. The days, he says, when keys on string were left in people’s front doors.
One of the extraordinary early tales is of Mad Ronnie Fryer, a minder/bouncer at Zan’s snooker club. When the police came in one day, Ronnie hurtled down to the cellar. The police sent down a massive Alsatian, White tells me, though in the book it is a Rottweiler. ‘The next thing you know, there was this horrible, strangling noise and the dog, with a snapped neck, was thrown back up the stairs.
‘Ronnie had killed the poor thing with his bare hands. I was 12 going on 35.’
White, nicknamed 'The Whirlwind', has earned closed to £5million during his lengthy career
White puffs on a cigarette during the Embassy World Snooker Championship at the Crucible in 1994
I was flirting with death...and blew £30, 000 on drugs in a month
Then there was Dodgy Bob, a black cab driver who drove him and his pal Tony Meo up and down the country to earn so much money that he soon had £10, 000 saved. But generally the cash came and went, gambled away on horses, cards, dogs.
But the mayhem had barely started. He was not only drinking to oblivion but on cocaine. He went to clinics to get clean of both.
In all, White reckons he spent £200, 000 on drugs and £2million gambling. He weaned himself off cocaine in 1994, stopping at some unspecified date later. He calls the stuff Devil’s Dandruff.
‘Cocaine is a mental drug. Unlike heroin and drink, your body does not need it. It is only your mind telling you to have it.’
The nadir came during one hedonistic month when, to use his phrase, he was sucking the Devil’s d***’, namely smoking crack cocaine.
White believes he spent £200, 000 on drugs and £2million on gambling
Whit, pictured as a fresh-faced 22-year-old, tells all in his eye-opening new book
Former snooker legend Tony Meo (left) trains with a teenage White in 1978
‘I was flirting with death but didn’t give a s***.’
‘I had a secret account with £30, 000 in it, and I just kept on going to the hole in the wall to be able to buy the drug. Within 27 days I had blown the lot.’
The drug turned White paranoid. He and his snooker-playing friend and fellow crack user Kirk Stevens (now also reformed) would sit by the door waiting for the police.
One time in a Kildare hotel they set fire to the furniture to make firewood to cook the drug. ‘When you are on crack cocaine the first hit is the only hit you get all night. You are just topping up after that. It played with my brain and I decided I would never touch it again. Sometimes I think back to it and I shake with fear.’
White was off crack, but the coke and vodka binges continued. He was even on both booze and drugs until 7.30 the night before the 1993 World Championship final against Stephen Hendry. It was a spiral. His marriage with Maureen was turbulent and ended in divorce.
Even his hair transplant went spectacularly wrong. They were ‘butchers’ and pulled his face so tight it was agony. The surgery left a ridge in his head so wide you could roll a penny down it. He later had a thatch, and is wearing a black hat indoors when we meet.
White is currently ranked 51st in the world but believes he can become world champion
White, who was diagnosed with testicular cancer in 1995, claims he asked if he could have a snooker ball to replace the removed testicle
I had cancer, so I asked the doctor to replace my testicle with a snooker ball
There was also testicular cancer. The doctors offered to insert a ping-pong ball in place of the removed testicle. ‘I asked if they could put a snooker ball in there instead, ’ he says. ‘They said it would be too heavy and point-blank refused.’
Still, he had a son after his treatment, Tommy, now 16, to go with his older four girls. Before the book was published he sat Tommy down to tell him what he would reveal in it. ‘He was a bit shocked, ’ says White, with understatement, ‘but it was all a long time ago now’.
The book contains three fabulous — if, in at least one case, seriously macabre — stories about unlikely meetings.