White was born in Streathbourne Road, Tooting, London, England, and studied at Hillcroft Comprehensive (later renamed Ernest Bevin College). He never achieved academic success, as he was often truant from school from the age of eight or nine, spending more and more time at "Zans", Ted Zanoncelli's snooker hall. The club was affectionately known as "Zans" and after Ted's death in 1978 it was handed down to his daughter. It was around this time that White met Tony Meo with whom he would compete in money matches in many venues. His natural aptitude for snooker led to a successful amateur career. After winning the English Amateur Championship in 1979, a year later he became the youngest ever winner of the World Amateur Snooker Championship, aged 18, a record since surpassed by Ian Preece and Hossein Vafaei.