Johnny White, hell-raising disco dance dad
'He thoroughly decent human being with a hunger for life that he needed to fill with people, experiences and love'
01 May, 2018 — By Dan Carrier
Johnny White at the ICA in 2015
HE had a dish named after him at Tufnell Park’s Spaghetti House, won street party disco-dancing competitions, was a brilliant mechanic and carpenter, a much-loved father, brother, husband and friend – and party-giving hellraiser of legendary proportions.
Johnny White, a man who both skipped and bulldozed his way through life, died in February aged 69.
His funeral last week at Golders Green Crematorium was packed with admirers who basked in memories of a man whose time was described by a school friend as something from the pages of a picaresque novel.
Born in 1948, Johnny grew up in Hampstead Garden Suburb.
He was the eldest of three brothers and early memories included Johnny filling up the family home with motorbikes – and legend has it that his mother eventually sold the house in order to get rid of the spare parts strewn about.
As a pupil at University College School he wasn’t academically keen, but scrapes were overlooked as he was a feared fast bowler and the school XI would have been less potent if he had ever been expelled. His youth was full of girls, parties and hijinks: his brother Richard recalled a childhood of burning curiosity as to how things worked, from daming streams on the Heath to building go-karts, riding bikes to more lawless pursuits.
“At eight years old, Johnny took me for a walk at 4am,” recalled his brother Kevin. “He found a JCB parked up on Wildwood Road. Once Johnny found it was unlocked and had some diesel, he bump started it and drove onto the Heath.”
In his early 20s, Johnny lived in Muswell Hill and De Beauvoir, a period in which he taught himself numerous building skills.
He had first chatted up Helen Scott-Lidgett when she was 14 at Golders Green tube station but it wasn’t until they were adults that they got together. They spent four decades living with their children in Boscastle Road, Dartmouth Park. His skills were varied – from sporting attributes to carpentry. He was also an acupuncturist, therapist, expert in Chinese medicine and a self-taught musician, becoming the energetic frontman for the band The Rugs.
He loved food but had frugal tastes. His favourite place to dine was the San Siro café in Highgate Road, while the Spaghetti House named a meal, the Monte Bianco, in his honour. It consisted of leftover vegetables doused in a white sauce and placed on top of a mound of spaghetti.
When Johnny wiped the floor with all contenders to win the Dads Disco Dancing Competition at the York Rise Street Party three years ago, some of the crowd believed the actor Bill Nighy had won it.
They were often mistaken for one another, and Nighy once stopped him on Parliament Hill, offered an outstretched hand and said: “Are you Johnny?” having heard about his local lookalike. Johnny was described by brother Kevin as a “thoroughly decent human being with a hunger for life that he needed to fill with people, experiences and love.”
His star burned brilliantly, and he has left many with deepest love and affection for a man of wit, wisdom, knowledge, knowhow and, above all, kindness.