Genius with a cue – but a clueless father
Punch-ups with his wife, binges with a Rolling Stone and millions blown away… Jimmy White’s daughter on life with the snooker ace
00:36 GMT, 17 May 2012
The first clue Lauren White gives that there was nothing remotely ‘normal’ about her childhood is when she rifles through the family album.
There’s a Rolling Stone at her wedding; a family snap taken by the Queen’s cousin, Patrick Lichfield. But there is a particularly poignant photo of Lauren and her dad.
She is aged four, dressed in a mini-tuxedo and bow tie, and holding a tiny snooker cue. Grinning widely next to her is her father — the snooker ace Jimmy ‘Whirlwind’ White.
Chalk and cheese: Lauren White today with her father the snooker champion, Jimmy White
Lauren looks as pleased as punch to be a miniature version of her dad. But nearly 30 years on, are the parallels still welcome
Even when that picture was taken, Jimmy was becoming as well-known for his heavy drinking and gambling as for his sporting brilliance. The Whirlwind was well on the road to self-destruction.
And by the time Lauren had her own children — Alfie, now six, Sonny, four and Summer, two — Jimmy had lost millions, been convicted for drink-driving, cautioned for drug possession, and ended up bankrupt.
He also had gone down in history as the best snooker talent never to have won the World Championship. He made it to the final six times but never clinched the title.
Jimmy, now 50, admits had he spent less time intoxicated and more time in the practice hall, things might have been different.
But the pressures were huge. Just this week, world champion Ronnie O’Sullivan — who clinched the title for the fourth time this month — pledged to protect his own son, also four, from snooker’s harsher realities.
'Dad would go out, often to do something normal like the shopping, and just vanish for days. Sometimes we'd read what he got up to in the papers, but often we never knew'
He said he’d prefer Ronnie Jnr to play a ‘healthy’ sport, like golf, than spend his time in dingy snooker halls.
Lauren, 32, says: ‘My dad came from that world, and still thrives on it. I think any sportsman has to make sacrifices. In our case, the family life was the thing to go.’
She can’t deny that Jimmy’s life-story makes for a rollicking read, though. ‘It’s like something out of a film. When you look at everything he’s been through, it’s a miracle he survived to tell the tale,’ she says.
Perhaps it is more remarkable that Lauren — the eldest of Jimmy’s five children — has written a very different tale.
Her childhood was about as dysfunctional as it got. ‘With hindsight, it was crazy,’ she says. ‘Dad would go out, often to do something normal like the shopping, and just vanish for days. Sometimes we’d read what he got up to in the papers, but often we never knew.’
Even as a young child, Lauren knew her family wasn’t ‘normal’, thanks to her dad being part of the first wave of sports stars who lived like rock stars. ‘I’d notice other people didn’t live this way,’ she says. ‘All the other kids would get the school-bus home. I’d always get it to whichever restaurant my parents were in that evening.
‘My mum didn’t cook. It never occurred to them.’ Jimmy and Lauren’s mum Maureen got together in their early teens — when he was making money in South London snooker halls instead of going to school.
Maureen wasn’t a homebody and loved accompanying him around the country as he made a name for himself. Just as Jimmy was turning professional, Lauren was born, in 1980. There was a gap of eight years before her siblings started to arrive — three girls then a boy, now 13.
Mini me: Father and daughter when Lauren was aged four
The family lived in a succession of flats while Jimmy slogged his way up the world rankings. Lauren says: ‘The trappings weren’t important then. Mum wanted to be close to her own family. And she’d be off travelling with Dad anyway. It must have been quite exciting, that life.’
But the marriage was volatile, as Jimmy admitted in his autobiography. He described the punch-ups after he came home from a bender, and wrote harrowingly about waking up to discover his wife had found other women’s phone numbers in his pockets then scrawled them over the walls of their home.
Lauren says: ‘There were fights, tears. Dad would go AWOL and Mum would hit the phones to find out where he was. ‘One of Dad’s great mates was, and is, Ronnie Wood. Once they arranged to go Christmas shopping together and disappeared for days.’
But Maureen, now 51, was far from downtrodden, Lauren says. ‘She gave as good as she got, and I think they loved the drama.
'At Christmas, my sisters and I would wake up to find our bedrooms filled with… well, everything'
‘Even as a child I remember thinking, “This is stupid. Just grow up.” Some people assume you’ll go off the rails yourself but that just didn’t happen. At first, having a dad like mine was a bit cool. I’d get to hang out at the Hard Rock Cafe with Bruce Willis. But as a teenager, you must have something to rebel against. I didn’t — because there were no rules.’
As we chat, Lauren refuses her daughter more cake, and says: ‘Maybe this is my rebellion. I’m strict with my own children. I insist on proper meal times, proper home-made food.
‘My attitudes to everything, family life, money, drink, are about as far from my dad as it’s possible to get.’
She is married to a teacher, Jon Albert, and leads, she admits happily, ‘the most boring life you could imagine’.
But what of Jimmy’s life He has certainly slowed down, but when I’m at Lauren’s Surrey house, he shows up in a flash car with the number plates ‘Cue Boy’.
And he whistles when I comment on how well Lauren’s life has turned out. ‘Sometimes out of madness comes sanity, I suppose,’ he says. ‘But I certainly can’t explain it.’
The fact he is still playing is largely down to his family, who rallied around when he hit rock-bottom, and bankruptcy, in 1996. They helped him with his alcohol and gambling issues, and supported him when he was diagnosed with testicular cancer in 1995.
Then four years ago he and Maureen split. Lauren says: ‘They are both with other people now — and happier for it. They were just too alike for it to work.’
Lauren has taken charge of her father’s finances, saying: ‘Dad doesn’t really understand money. We are not sure how many millions he has lost over the years. He only has one credit card now, and everything he earns comes through me.
'Snooker is his life': Lauren doesn't think her Dad will ever stop playing
‘To this day, I’ve never taken a penny off him. I don’t feel, and never have, I’m owed anything.’
He does like spoiling his grandchildren, though. Lauren says: ‘My children go over to his house and the first thing he’ll say is, “Let’s go down the shops,” which is exactly what he did with me.
‘If he won a tournament we’d all get to go to Harrods and fill our boots. It was a case of, “Have whatever you like.” At Christmas, my sisters and I would wake up to find our bedrooms filled with. . . well, everything.
‘Was it guilt I don’t know. It was only when I started to spend Christmases with my husband’s family, who gave ‘normal’ presents, little things like socks, I realised our way probably wasn’t healthy.’
‘But oddly enough, I am grateful that he always insisted on us going to private school. I thought it was crazy at the time. I’d say, “Dad, we cannot afford this.” I’m kind of glad he didn’t listen.’
Lauren finds it hard to condemn her father’s behaviour. ‘When he did come home, he was incredibly loving and fun. I don’t think he set out to hurt anyone,’ she says.
‘I never didn’t feel loved by my him or my mum. I just don’t think they understood how to parent.’
Jimmy remains one of snooker’s most loved figures, and Lauren says: ‘People assume it’s this big tragedy that he never won a World Championship but I’m not so sure. Being a loser made Dad popular. People can identify with him.’
‘Snooker is his life., always has been and always will be. I don’t think he will ever give up.’
Jimmy White’s testimonial, including a match against Ronnie O’Sullivan, is on June 2. See www.whirlwindtestimonial.co.uk.