When Amy Winehouse was found dead in her bed on July 23 last year, the rumours started immediately. Some believed that she had committed suicide, others that she had died of a massive drugs overdose. It was said that she was depressed and that her life was in a mess.
One of the reasons that her father, Mitch Winehouse, decided to write a book about his beloved daughter was so that he could set the record straight about the way Amy lived and the way she died.
Contrary to all the rumours, Amy was in both a good state of mind and state of health, the night before she died. Winehouse says: “Amy was clean of drugs from 2008. But one addiction follows from another and the alcohol did kick in after that. But then she said to me in April 2011 that she was going to stop drinking and it would be similar to the way she dealt with the drug situation — it would take a while but she’d get there. In the last five-and-a-half-weeks of her life she didn’t touch a drop of alcohol. Unfortunately when she did have a drink on that evening she overcompensated for that time. This is a typical pattern of a person moving towards abstinence. She had a huge amount to drink. But she didn’t drink through unhappiness. The night she passed away she was in top spirits, singing and playing the drums. It was tragic but she wasn’t drinking because she was unhappy.”
Winehouse heard the news in the most shocking way imaginable. He was in New York when a call flashed up from “Andrew — Security”, her security guard. Knowing that Amy frequently used his phone to make calls, he answered the phone by saying: “Hello darling”. But it was not Amy. It was Andrew saying: “You gotta come home, you gotta come home”.
Winehouse asked immediately: “Is she dead?”; the security guard said: “Yes”.
He recalls the nightmare: “I was sitting on the plane on the way back to London, having heard that Amy had passed away and I felt my mind was slipping away. It was a physical sensation. I’d been ill the previous year and I thought to myself, I’m not going to survive this, it’s going to get me too. But when I got to Camden Square [Amy’s house], all my family were there to meet me and there were hundreds of fans and well-wishers. It was at that point I understood how I might survive.”
There is a popular misconception of Amy as alcohol and drug-drenched — a talented singer who could not manage her own career. This is total nonsense, Winehouse says. “She was astute. She knew what she wanted to do and most of the time she was proved to be right. She would say to me: ‘Dad, I’ve made my decision, I know what I’m doing and that’s that’. She proved to be right time after time. She picked great producers to work with in Salaam Remi and Mark Ronson. In the studio,she wasn’t a diva or anything but everyone knew she was the boss. Watching her work was terrific.”
Amy was a wilful, independent child who loved to play pranks on her father and mother Janice while growing up in Southgate, north London. On two occasions she deliberately got lost in Brent Cross shopping centre. She was attention-seeking but never nasty, says her father. In fact she was a loud but totally normal child. “Amy was very clever. At school, she was disruptive only because she was bored.”
Her career was short but Winehouse is angry with those who maintain she wasted her talent. “She produced two albums while she was alive which sold a total of 20 million. Just to put that into perspective, Michael Buble has produced seven albums which have sold 27 million copies. She could have produced more albums but I saw the turmoil she was in when she wrote Back to Black and I wouldn’t have wanted her to go through that again just for an album.”
Back to Black was and remains bittersweet for Winehouse. “It obviously ranks alongside the great albums but it is written about Blake, so it’s very difficult for me to deal with.” Winehouse blames much of Amy’s tragedy on her partner, Blake Fielder-Civil.
In the aftermath of Amy’s death, Winehouse found comfort from his family and friends and from a project that he conceived almost as soon as he had heard the news.
“Without my loved ones I’m not sure I would have survived. But that’s the great thing about the Jewish religion, you have the shivah immediately afterwards. It’s comforting to have people around you, but then following that, you have the weeks when you don’t have anyone there.”
At that point his work in founding the Amy Winehouse Foundation proved another life-saver through enabling him to concentrate on something positive. “We’re helping kids at the New Horizon youth centre and we are also trying to build a children’s hospice in north London. We need £10 million to build it.”
Winehouse’s favourite song Body and Soul, was the last one Amy ever recorded.
“She sang it with Tony Bennett,” he says. “That’s not a bad way to go out, is it?”