Authors: Mitch Winehouse
Tags: #Biography & Autobiography, #music, #Personal Memoirs, #Composers & Musicians, #Individual Composer & Musician
This book is dedicated to my father Alec, my mother Cynthia and my daughter Amy. They showed me that love is the most powerful force in the universe.
Love transcends even death.
They will live in my heart forever.
You'll understand if I tell you this is not the book I wanted to write. I had been working on one about my family's history with my friend Paul Sassienie and his writing partner Howard Ricklow. It was due to be published this year.
I needed to write this book instead. I needed to tell you the real story of Amy's life. I'm a plain-talking guy and I'll be telling it like it was. Amy's too-short life was a roller-coaster ride; I'm going to tell you about all of it. Apart from being her father, I was also her friend, confidant and adviser â not that she always took my advice, but she always heard me out. For Amy, I was the port in the storm; for me, she â along with her brother Alex â was the light of my life.
I hope, through reading this book, that you will gain a better understanding of and a new perspective on my darling daughter Amy.
A huge thank-you to my wife Jane, for being my rock during the most difficult time of my life and for her continuing dedication and support; Alex, my son, for his love and understanding; Janis, for being a fantastic mother to our children; my sister Melody and all my wonderful family and friends, for always being there; my manager Trenton; my PA Megan; Raye and everyone at Metropolis; my agents Maggie Hanbury and Robin Straus, and the lovely people at HarperCollins on both sides of the Atlantic. And special thanks to Paul Sassienie, Howard Ricklow and Humphrey Price for helping me write this book.
I am donating all of my proceeds as author from this book to the Amy Winehouse Foundation, which we, Amy's family, established to help children and young adults facing difficulty and adversity in their lives. I intend to spend the rest of my life raising money for the Foundation.
I believe that through her music, the Foundation's work and this book, Amy will be with us for ever.
I'd like to say that the first time I cuddled my new-born baby daughter, on 14 September 1983, was a moment that will live with me always, but it wasn't nearly as straightforward as that.
Some days time drags, and others the hours just fly. That day was one of those, when everything seemed to happen at once. Unlike our son Alex, who'd been born three and a half years earlier, our daughter came into the world quickly, popping out in something of a rush, like a cork from a bottle. She arrived in typical Amy fashion â kicking and screaming. I swear she had the loudest cry of any baby I've ever heard. I'd like to tell you that it was tuneful but it wasn't â just loud. Amy was four days late, and nothing ever changed: for the whole of her life she was always late.
Amy was born at the Chase Farm Hospital in Enfield, north London, not far from where we lived in Southgate. And because the moment itself was quickly over, her family â grandparents, great-aunts, uncles and cousins â soon crowded in, much as they did for almost every event in our family, good or bad, filling the spaces around Janis's bed to greet the new arrival.
I'm a very emotional guy, especially when it comes to my family, and, holding Amy in my arms, I thought, I'm the luckiest man in the world. I was so pleased to have a daughter: after Alex was born, we'd hoped our next child might be a girl, so he could have a sister. Janis and I had already decided what to call her. Following a Jewish tradition, we gave our children names that began with the same initial as a deceased relative, so Alex was named after my father, Alec, who'd died when I was sixteen. I'd thought that if we had another boy he'd be called Ames. A jazzy kind of name. âAmy,' I said, thinking that didn't sound quite as jazzy. How wrong I was. So Amy Jade Winehouse â Jade after my stepfather Larry's father Jack â she became.
Amy was beautiful, and the spitting image of her older brother. Looking at pictures of the two of them at that age, I find it difficult to tell them apart. The day after she was born I took Alex to see his new little sister, and we took some lovely pictures of the two of them, Alex cuddling Amy.
I hadn't seen those photographs for almost twenty-eight years, until one day in July 2011, the day before I was due to go to New York, I got a call from Amy. I could tell right away that she was very excited.
âDad, Dad, you've got to come round,' she said.
âI can't, darling,' I told her. âYou know I've got a gig tonight and I'm flying off early in the morning.'
She was insistent. âDad, I've found the photographs. You've got to come round.' Suddenly I knew why she was so excited. At some point during Amy's numerous moves, a box of family photographs had been lost, and she had clearly come across it that morning. âYou've
to come over.'
In the end I drove over in my taxi to Camden Square and parked outside her house. âI'm just popping in,' I said, knowing full well how hard it was to say no to her. âYou know I'm busy today.'
âOh, you're always going too quick,' she responded. âDad, stay.'
I followed her in, and she had the photographs she'd found spread out on a table. I looked down at them. I had better ones but these obviously meant a lot to her. There was Alex holding new-born Amy, and there was Amy as a teenager â but all the rest were of family and friends.
She picked up a photo of my mum. âWasn't Nan beautiful?' she said. Then she held up the picture of Alex and herself. âOh, look at him,' she added, a mixture of pride and sibling rivalry in her voice.
She went through the collection, picking up one after another, talking to me about each one, and I thought, This girl, famous all over the world, someone who's brought joy to millions of people â she's just a normal girl who loves her family. I'm really proud of her. She's a great kid, my daughter.
It was easy to be with her that day: she was a lot of fun. Eventually, after an hour or so, it was time for me to go, and we hugged. As I held her I could feel that she was her old self: she was becoming strong again â she'd been working with weights in the gym she'd put into her house.
âWhen you're back, we'll go into the studio to do that duet,' she said, as we walked to the door. We had two favourite songs, âFly Me To The Moon' and âAutumn Leaves', and Amy wanted us to record one or other of them together. âWe're going to rehearse properly,' she added.
âI'll believe it when I see it,' I said, laughing. We'd had this conversation many times over the years. It was nice to hear her talking like that again. I waved goodbye out of the cab.
I never saw my darling daughter alive again.
*Â Â Â *Â Â Â *
I arrived in New York on the Friday, and had a quiet evening alone. The following day I went to see my cousin Michael and his wife Alison at their apartment on 59
Street â Michael had immigrated to the US a few years earlier when he'd married Alison. They now had three-month-old twins, Henry and Lucy, and I was dying to meet them. The kids were great and I had Henry sitting on my lap when Michael got a call from his father, my uncle Percy, who lives in London. Michael passed the phone to me. There was the usual stuff: âHello, Mitch, how are you? How's Amy?' I told him I'd seen Amy just before I'd flown out and she was fine.
My mobile rang. The caller ID said, âAndrew â Security'. Amy often rang me using the phone of her security guard Andrew so I told my uncle, âI think that's Amy now,' and passed the house phone back to Michael. I still had Henry on my lap as I answered my phone.
âHello, darling,' I said. But it wasn't Amy, it was Andrew. I could barely make out what he was saying.
All I could decipher was: âYou gotta come home, you gotta come home.'
âWhat? What are you talking about?'
âYou've got to come home,' he repeated.
My world drained away from me. âIs she dead?' I asked.
And he said, âYes.'
From the start I was besotted with my new daughter, and not much else mattered to me. In the days before Amy was born, I'd been fired from my job, supposedly because I'd asked to take four days off for my daughter's birth. But with Amy in the world those concerns seemed to disappear. Even though I had no job, I went out and bought a JVC video camera, which cost nearly a grand. Janis wasn't best pleased, but I didn't care. I took hours of video of Amy and Alex, which I've still got.
Alex sat guard by her cot for hours at a time. I went into her bedroom late one night and found Amy wide awake and Alex fast asleep on the floor. Great guard he made. I was a nervous dad, and I'd often peer into her cot to check she was okay. When she was a very young baby I'd find her panting, and shout, âShe's not breathing properly!' Janis had to explain that all babies made noises like that. I still wasn't happy, though, so I'd pick Amy up â and then we couldn't get her back to sleep. She was an easy baby, though, and it wasn't long before she was sleeping through the night, so soundly sometimes that Janis had to wake her up to feed her.
Amy learned to walk on her first birthday, and from then on she was a bit of a handful. She was very inquisitive, and if you didn't watch her all the time, she'd be off exploring. At least we had some help: my mother and stepfather, along with most of the rest of my family, seemed to be there every day. Sometimes I'd come home late from work and Janis would tell me they'd eaten my dinner.
Janis was a wonderful mother, and still is. Alex and Amy could both read and write before they went to school, thanks to her. When I came home I'd hear them upstairs, walk up quietly and stand outside their bedroom door to watch them. The kids would be tucked in either side of Janis as she read to them, their eyes wide, wondering what was coming next. This was their time together and I wished I was part of it.
On the nights that I didn't get home until ten or eleven o'clock, I'd sometimes wake them up to say goodnight. I'd go into their room, kick the cot or bed, say, âOh, they're awake,' and pick them up for a cuddle. Janis used to go mad and quite right too.
I was a hands-on father but more for rough-and-tumble than reading stories. Alex and I would play football and cricket in the garden, and Amy would want to join in â âDad! Dad! Give
the ball.' I'd prod it towards her, then she'd pick it up and throw it over the fence.
Amy loved dancing and, as most dads did with their young daughters, I'd hold her hands and balance her feet on mine. We'd sway like that around the room, but Amy liked it best when I twirled her round and round, enjoying the feeling of disorientation it gave her. She became fearless physically, climbing higher than I liked, or rolling over the bars of a climbing frame in the park. She also liked playing at home: she loved her Cabbage Patch dolls, and we had to send off the âadoption certificates' the dolls came with to keep her happy. If Alex wanted to torment her, he'd tie the dolls up.
When I did come home early I read to the children, always Enid Blyton's Noddy books. Amy and Alex were Noddy experts. Amy loved the âNoddy quiz'.
She would say, âDaddy, what was Noddy wearing the day he met Big Ears?'
I'd pretend to think for a minute. âWas he wearing his red shirt?'
Amy would say, âNo.'
I'd tell her that was a very hard question and I needed to think. âWas he wearing his blue hat with the bell on the end?' Another no. Then I'd click my fingers. âI know! He was wearing his blue shorts and his yellow scarf with red spots.'
âNo, Daddy, he wasn't.'
At that point I'd give in and ask Amy to tell me what he was wearing. Before she could get the words out, she was already giggling. âHe wasn't wearing anything, he was â¦ naked!'
And then she'd put her hand over her mouth to stifle her hysterical laughing. No matter how many times we played that game it never varied.
We weren't one of those families that had the TV on for the sake of it. There was always music playing and I sang around the house. We used to get the kids to put on little shows for us. I'd introduce them and Janis would clap and they'd start singing â well, I say singing â¦ Alex couldn't sing but would give it a go, and Amy's only goal was to sing louder than her brother. Clearly she liked the limelight. If Alex got bored and went off to do something else, Amy would carry on singing â even after we'd told her to stop.
She loved a little game I used to play with her â we did it a lot in the car. I'd start a song or nursery rhyme and she'd sing the last word.
âHumpty Dumpty sat on the â¦'
ââ¦ WALL â¦'
ââ¦ Humpty Dumpty had a great â¦'
ââ¦ FALL.' It kept us amused for ages.
One year Amy was given a little turntable that played nursery rhymes. It was all you heard from her room. Then she had a xylophone and taught herself â slowly and painfully â to play âHome On The Range'. The noise would carry through the house,
, and I'd will her to hit the right notes on time â it was agonizing to have to listen to it.
Despite her charm, âBe quiet, Amy!' was probably the most-heard sentence in our house during her early years. She just didn't know when to stop. Once she started singing that was it. And if she wasn't the centre of attention, she'd find a way of becoming it â occasionally at Alex's expense. At his sixth birthday party Amy, aged three, put on an impromptu show of singing and dancing. Naturally, Alex wasn't best pleased and, before we could stop him, he poured a drink over her. Amy burst into tears and ran out of the room crying. I shouted at Alex so loudly that he ran out crying too. After the party, Amy sat on the kitchen floor sulking, and Alex wouldn't come out of his room.
Despite such scenes, Alex and Amy were extremely close and remained so, even when they got older and made their own circles of friends.
Amy would do anything for attention. She was mischievous, bold and daring. Not long after Alex's birthday party, Janis took Amy to Broomfield Park, near our home, and lost her. A panic-stricken Janis phoned me at work to tell me that Amy was missing and I raced to the park, beside myself with anxiety. By the time I arrived, the police were there and I was preparing myself for the worst: in my mind, she wasn't lost, she'd been abducted. My mum and my auntie Lorna were also there â everybody was looking for Amy. Clearly, Amy was no longer in the park and the police told us to go home, which we did. Five hours later, Janis and I were crying our eyes out when the phone rang. It was Ros, one of my sister Melody's friends. Amy was with her. Thank God.
What had happened was just typical of Amy. Ros had been in the park with her kids when Amy had seen her and run over to her. Naturally, Ros had asked where her mummy was, and mischievous Amy had told her that her mummy had gone home. So Ros took Amy home with her, but instead of phoning us, she phoned Melody, who was a teacher. She didn't speak to her but left a message at the school that Amy was with her. When Melody heard that Ros was looking after Amy, she didn't think too much about it because she had no idea that Amy was missing. When she got home and heard what had happened, she put two and two together. Fifteen minutes later, Melody walked in with Amy and I burst into tears.
âDon't cry, Daddy, I'm home now,' I remember her saying.
Unfortunately, Amy didn't seem to learn from that experience. Several months later I took the kids to the Brent Cross shopping centre in north-west London. We were in the John Lewis department store and suddenly Amy was gone. One second she was there and the next she'd disappeared. Alex and I searched the immediate area â how far could she have got? â but there was no sign of her. Here we go again, I thought. And this time she'd definitely been kidnapped.
We widened the search. Just as we were walking past a rack of long coats, out she popped. âBoo!' I was furious, but the more I told her off, the more she laughed. A few weeks later she tried it again. This time I headed straight for the long coats. She wasn't there. I searched all of the racks. No Amy. I was really beginning to worry when a voice said over the Tannoy, âWe've got a little girl called Amy here. If you've lost her, please come to Customer Services.' She'd hidden somewhere else, got really lost and someone had taken her to a member of staff. I told her there was to be no more hiding or running away when we're out. She promised she wouldn't do it again and she didn't, but the next series of practical jokes was played out to a bigger audience.
When I was a little boy I had choked on a bit of apple and my father had panicked. So, when Alex choked on his dinner, I panicked too, forcing my fingers down his throat to remove whatever was obstructing him. It didn't take Amy long to start the choking game. One Saturday afternoon we were shopping in Selfridges, in London's Oxford Street. The store was packed. Suddenly Amy threw herself on to the floor, coughing and holding her throat. I knew she wasn't really choking but she was creating such a scene that I threw her over my shoulder and we left in a hurry. After that she was âchoking' everywhere, friends' houses, on the bus, in the cinema. Eventually, we just ignored it and it stopped.
*Â Â Â *Â Â Â *
Although I was born in north London, I've always considered myself to be an East Ender: I spent a lot of my childhood with my grandparents, Ben and Fanny Winehouse, at their flat above Ben the Barber, his business, in Commercial Street, or with my other grandmother, Celie Gordon, at her house in Albert Gardens, both in the heart of the East End. I even went to school in the East End. My father was a barber and my mother was a ladies' hairdresser, both working in my grandfather's shop, and, on their way there, they'd drop me off at Deal Street School.
Amy and Alex were fascinated by the East End so I took them there often. They loved me to tell them stories about our family, and seeing where they had lived brought the stories to life. Amy liked hearing about my weekends in the East End when I was a little boy. Every Friday I went with my mum and dad to Albert Gardens where we'd stay until Sunday night. The house was packed to the rafters. There was Grandma Celie, Great-grandma Sarah, Great-uncle Alec, Uncle Wally, Uncle Nat, and my mum's twin, Auntie Lorna. If that wasn't enough, a Holocaust survivor named Izzi Hammer lived on the top floor; he passed away in January 2012.
The weekends at Albert Gardens started with the traditional Jewish Friday night dinner: chicken soup, then roast chicken, roast potatoes, peas and carrots. Dessert was lokshen pudding, made with baked noodles and raisins. Where all those people slept I really can't remember, but we all had a magical time, with singing, dancing, card games, and loads of food and drink. And the occasional loud argument mixed in with the laughter and joy of a big happy Jewish family. We continued the Friday-night tradition for most of Amy's life. It was always a special time for us, and in later years, an interesting test of Amy's friendships â who was close enough to her to be invited on a Friday night.
I spent a lot of time with the kids at weekends. In February 1982, when Alex was nearly three, I started taking him to watch football â in those days you could take young kids and sit them on your lap: Spurs v. West Bromwich Albion. It was freezing cold, so cold that I didn't want to go, but Janis dressed Alex in his one-piece padded snowsuit, which made him look twice his size â he could hardly move. When we got there I asked him if he was okay. He said he was. About five minutes after kick-off he wanted to go to the Gents. Getting him out of that padded suit was quite an operation, and then it took another ten minutes to get him into it again. When we got back to the seat, he needed to go again so we had an action replay. At half-time, he said, âDaddy I want to go home â I'm home-sick.'
When Amy was about seven, I took her to a match. When we got home Janis asked her if she'd enjoyed it. Amy said she'd hated it. When Janis asked why she hadn't asked me to bring her home, she said, âDaddy was enjoying it and I didn't want to upset him.' That was typical of the young Amy, always thinking of other people.
At five Amy started at Osidge Primary School, where Alex was already a pupil. There she met Juliette Ashby, who quickly became her best friend. Those two were inseparable and remained close for most of Amy's life. Her other great friend at Osidge was Lauren Gilbert: Amy already knew her because Uncle Harold, my dad's brother, was Lauren's step-grandfather.
Amy had to wear a light-blue shirt and a tie, with a sweater and a grey skirt. She was happy to join her big brother at school, but she was soon in trouble. Every day she was there could easily have been her last. She didn't do anything terrible but she was disruptive and attention-seeking, which led to regular complaints about her behaviour. She wouldn't be quiet in lessons, she doodled in her books and she played practical jokes. Once she hid under the teacher's desk. When he asked the class where Amy was, she was laughing so much that she bumped her head on his desk and had to be brought home.
Amy left a lasting impression on her Year Two teacher, Miss Cutter (now Jane Worthington), who wrote to me shortly after Amy passed away:
Amy was a vivacious child who grew into a beautiful and gifted woman. My lasting memories of Amy are of a child who wore her heart on her sleeve. When she was happy the world knew about it, when upset or unhappy you'd know that too. It was clear that Amy came from a loving and supportive family.
Amy was a clever girl, and if she'd been interested she would have done well at school. Somehow, though, she was never that interested. She was good at things like maths, but not in the sense that she did well at school. Janis was really good at maths and used to teach the kids. Amy loved doing calculus and quadratic equations when she was still at primary school. No wonder she found maths lessons boring.