Amy Winehouse: To others she was known as Mummy

By Chas Newkey-Burden, July 28, 2011
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Amy Winehouse was called many things during her short, eventful life: a genius, a junkie, a diva, even a hooligan.

However, many of her friends called her something else: "Mum". Some of them even had her telephone number stored on their mobile phones as "Mummy". So much of Amy's dirty linen has been washed in public that you might be surprised that she had any secrets left. It might surprise you even more to learn that one of her biggest secrets was that she was a kind, loving and maternal soul.

When I researched my biography of her, first published in 2008, I discovered many surprising sides of Amy's personality. As we know, she harmed herself often, but Amy never harmed anyone else. On the contrary: she was a generous, thoughtful and caring woman who deserved the mother-figure status that her friends awarded her.

Although she was proud to have grown up in a Jewish household in north London, she was never a particularly religious person. She said she believed in fate, and karma, but added: "I don't think there's a higher power, necessarily".

As a child, she giggled as she dressed up at Purim. She did not enjoy cheder classes and often begged her father Mitch to let her off. However, as an adult she could recite the odd line of Hebrew and Yiddish. She often went to synagogue on Yom Kippur and would attend the Seder at Pesach.

Amy was never one to mince her words, as a journalist discovered when she asked what it was like growing up in a Jewish family. "Yes,"sighed Amy, "I'm a dirty little Jew." In one of the last interviews she gave, she compared her dress-sense to that of "an old Jewish black man". She wore a Magen David around her neck and was proud to be Jewish.

In 2009 she saved the life of a woman who had been flung overboard during a boat crash off a Caribbean island. It is that Amy who should be remembered. As well as remembering her enormous talent and majestic musical legacy, we should remember her warm and generous soul. If only she had been half as good at looking after herself as she was at looking after others.

An updated version of Amy Winehouse: The Biography 1983-2011 by Chas Newkey-Burden will be published on August 4 (John Blake Publishing).

Last updated: 1:07pm, July 28 2011