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Amy invites a journalist to her Camden home

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A Rolling Stone journalist who was invited to the singer’s Camden flat, tells how she witnessed at first-hand the shambolic squalor in which Amy Winehouse exists…

Dawn is breaking on a hot Sunday morning last month, and Amy Winehouse is inside her North London home, staring at her reflection in a dark tinted mirror, looking the tiny little body in front of her up and down, assessing the emaciated tattooed limbs, the jungle of a black beehive weave and the hallucinatory glow of her transparent green eyes.

All around her, Winehouse’s home is in disarray: discarded bags of crisps, crumpled nuggets of tinfoil, beer bottles, lingerie boxes and scattered old credit cards tell of a long night that hasn’t ended in weeks, maybe months.

While Winehouse’s Saturday isn’t really over, her Sunday has begun with a shriek.

The tabloids have hit the pavement and slapped her out of her weekend reverie with yet another high-decibel scandal.

This time it’s photographs and videos — leaked from a lost digital camera — that show Winehouse in various states of dereliction, all shot by her now-imprisoned husband, Blake Fielder-Civil.

What’s scandalous this time isn’t the pictures of Winehouse surrounded by crack pipes (there have been too many of those this year) but a video of her singing to Fielder-Civil a ditty chock–a–block with racial slurs: ‘Blacks, Pakis, gooks and Nips . . . deaf and dumb and blind and gay,’ she and a girlfriend sing.

The morning headline reads ‘Sex, drugs and racist rant’, but at Winehouse’s place, there’s no publicist or manager to be seen – no crisis management squad deployed to save one of the decade’s most successful female vocalists from public shame.

That’s not Winehouse’s style — it’s just her and a girlfriend. British singer Remi Nicole pores over the paper, annoyed, telling her friend that all this scandal has to stop.
‘All right, Remi, it’s over,’ says Winehouse bluntly.

‘No, but how did anyone know about you and Alex and Kristian?’ Nicole asks her, referring to alleged extra-marital dalliances by Winehouse reported in the Press.

‘They’re, like, all these Chinese whispers,’ says Winehouse sadly.

‘You need to get rid of the ***** around you who whisper,’ says Nicole, and after a pause, ‘what’s the point of him taking pictures of you with a crack pipe?’ referring to Fielder-Civil.

‘It wasn’t like that, babe,’ says Winehouse sweetly as she scours the floor in a stupor for a head scarf.
‘It’s important that you know that. You know a lot of things are more casual to me than they are to you.’

‘Yeah, like smoking crack,’ Nicole says under her breath.

‘It’s just incidental,’ says Winehouse. ‘He’s taking pictures of me because we were on our honeymoon, and he thought I looked pretty.’

She finds a red scarf with white polka dots, a la Minnie Mouse, and carefully fastens it around her head, tying it in a jaunty bow.

Winehouse lifts her black wifebeater vest and stares at her chest — the tattoo of her husband’s name thundering across her heart, barely encased by a grey polka-dot push-up bra.

‘Should I wear my Spanish top?’ she asks no one in particular.

Downstairs, a growing pack of paparazzi has gathered in a frenzy, inches from her door, with cameras at the ready, anticipating Winehouse’s response to the latest headlines.

For the past hour, Winehouse has been getting ready to meet the paparazzi: she’s been carefully drawing the dark, thick Cleopatra swoops around her eyes, over smudges of make-up past, her long, manicured red fingernails masking a black resin lining, her lip gloss glittering pink, foundation covering little scabs that dot her face.

‘What are you going to say, Amy?’ I ask her from the sofa where I’ve been slumped over, scratching notes for the past few hours.

At 4am, after I’d spent half the night outside her apartment, hoping for an interview, Winehouse had, much to my surprise, opened the door and invited me in for beer.

Since then, Winehouse has been pottering around her house in varying states of consciousness, disappearing every half an hour or so upstairs to her bedroom and returning to talk to me a little about her music, a little about her drugs and a lot about her imprisoned husband.

Through it all, she’s an attentive and open hostess, making tea and giving me extra pieces of paper to take notes.

Now, thinking about the waiting paparazzi outside, she keeps her eyes fastened on her image in the mirror.

‘I could just go out there and say . . . I don’t know.’ Her mouth is slack. ‘I don’t know, really.’ Winehouse gives her hive one last tease and trots gamely down the stairway.

She opens the door and on cue a firestorm of flashbulbs surrounds her, voices crying her name: ‘Amy! Amy! Amy!’

‘I guess I should apologise,’ she starts, fluttering her eyes, swaying her hips, flipping and tucking her hair innocently. ‘What next, Amy?’ they cry. ‘What are you going to call your new album?’

She smiles, making them wonder if she’ll answer, and then wickedly says, ‘Black Don’t Crack’.

This past year, Amy Winehouse has gone from being one of pop music’s most ascendant and celebrated talents to a tragi-comic train wreck of epic proportions.

Winehouse has insisted from the beginning of her career that she is a simple girl crazy in love with her man. Her life, her history and talent all seem barely worth talking about when one could talk about Blake, how fit he is, how perfect for each other they are.

‘We are so in love, we are a team,’ she rhapsodises to me. ‘Blake, Blake, Blake, Blake, Blake, Blake, Blake.’ It’s as if she’s putting herself in a trance.

The daughter of a taxi-driver father and a pharmacist mother, Winehouse grew up in a North London home where jazz voices such as Dinah Washington and Frank Sinatra were always on the record player.

AT 17, Winehouse got a record contract with Island, and in 2003 she released her first album, the critically acclaimed Frank. In 2003, she met Blake Fielder-Civil at a local bar. A handsome hanger-on from rural Lincolnshire, Fielder-Civil worked part-time on music video sets. Winehouse fell hard — his name was quickly tattooed on her chest.

They married in May 2007, but last November, he was arrested for the assault of an East End bar owner in June 2006. (Fielder-Civil pleaded guilty and has just been sentenced to 27 months imprisonment.) With her husband gone, Winehouse slid into despondency.

In January, after a clip of her allegedly smoking crack was released to The Sun, she was sent to rehab by her record label again. She didn’t stay long, and she happily tells me now that she did drugs the whole time.

Since the spring, there has been story after story in the tabloids, parading images of Winehouse wrecked and wretched, usually high and half-naked.

There were rumours of extramarital affairs, and she was arrested (and later released) on drug charges and cautioned by police for assaulting a man.

Winehouse says all of this is the product of heartbreak over being separated from her true love, whose name appears in a little heart pin she often wears in her hair.

‘To be honest, my husband’s away, I’m bored, I’m young,’ Winehouse tells me.

‘I felt like there was nothing to live for. It’s just been a low ebb.’

Winehouse is rarely alone. Her home is on a quiet cobbled lane off the main drag of raucous Camden, but throughout the night, musicians, dealers, masseuses, friends and fans come and go freely.

Outside, a nearly ever-present herd of paparazzi — mostly men in their early 30s — stand around smoking cigarettes. Winehouse is their meal ticket.

The paps jokingly refer to her as ‘the pied piper of Camden’ for her powers of enchantment.
Winehouse treats them like animals in her care — she makes them tea and, on several occasions, smacks them if they get too close to her.

In the hours I spend with her, her main concession to health is a large upright tanning bed, which she uses every day.

She often seems like she is having trouble staying awake, fighting to keep her eyes open. ‘I just took my night-time medicine,’ she says. ‘I’m so tired.’

Winehouse seems lonely, in search of a perpetual slumber party. ‘Women don’t try to use me,’ she tells me groggily.

Her trust is remarkable: at one point she even discusses her night’s outfit with two female teenage fans over her intercom.

Her arms are spotted with cuts and scratches, and she itches at them furiously as she wanders upstairs.

She offers me beer and then realises she doesn’t have any. She sends Nicole to ask a paparazzi to go buy it for her, and when he returns, she laughs at his request for money.

She floats into the kitchen, a sea of dirty dishes, to wash glasses for our beer.

She’s dazed and keeps losing track of what she’s doing, her eyes flicking around.

She spends ten minutes washing the glasses, fondling the edges slowly with the sponge and drying them with a big, filthy bath towel that sits on the counter.

I ask her what her next album will be like. ‘Same stuff as my last album but with some ska.’ Have you started recording it yet? ‘It’s not so much about recording, it’s about whatever.’

I ask what the songs are like. ‘When the songs are done, they’ll be all atmospheric and cool like that.’

She does a sort of Sixties, space age, Bond-girl dance, standing with one hip thrust to the side, wiggling her fingers, opening her mouth and making a ‘Whaaaa’ sound. ‘They might be like these girls I’ve been listening to, like the Shangri-Las.’

I ask her about Pete Doherty. ‘We’re just good friends,’ she says. ‘I asked Pete to do a concept EP, and he made a face. He wouldn’t do it. We’re just . . . really close.’

She pulls up the guitar, picks the chords to the Sixties song I Will Follow Him, puts down the guitar and disappears upstairs for a while.

When she returns, she teeters into the living room, moves the array of bottles and glasses aside and asks Nicole for a massage: ‘Press my face, Remi.’

She sits in front of Nicole, puts down a pillow and then jogs off to get massage oil and paper towels. ‘Will you just sit still?’ asks Nicole, who seems distinctly sober.

In a matter of minutes, Winehouse has moved Nicole again, this time to the sofa, and she’s burying her head into her lap as Nicole works diligently on Winehouse’s small, gnarled back. ‘I love Amy,’ says Nicole.

‘Yeah,’ says Winehouse, adopting a cute voice. ‘She loves me.’

‘Amy is a very honest type of person,’ says Nicole. ‘She blows my mind. She’s very special.’

From her lap, Winehouse mutters: ‘Special needs.’

‘She’ll hate me for saying this, but her heart is made of gold,’ says Nicole.

‘Made of wood,’ mumbles Winehouse.

‘She’s very democratic,’ says Nicole. ‘Diplomatic,’ corrects the lap voice. ‘I want to fall in love like Amy,’ says Nicole. ‘I think I’ve been in love before.’

Winehouse lifts her head: ‘No, no, if you had, you’d be dead because you weren’t together.’

Winehouse wants to show me her wedding pictures, but first she informs me that she wants to eat some food.

‘I’m on a strict pizza diet,’ she says perkily. ‘I’m on a strict put-weight-on diet. I love food. I’m just stressed out.’ She returns from the kitchen with an oozing white bread and banana sandwich, on top of which she sprinkles crisps.

She hands Nicole her laptop, caked in fingerprints and smudges, and asks her to show me the photographs of Winehouse and her husband kissing, the two of them mugging for the camera, passing pills to each other with their tongues. Winehouse gets up for more food. Nicole continues the slide show.

‘I’ve never been to rehab, I mean, done it properly,’ says Winehouse from the kitchen. ‘I’m young, and I’m in love. But it’s never been like, “Amy, get your life together.”’

It’s 9am, and outside the last paparazzi leave, shouting up: ‘Thank you, Amy!’

‘You’re welcome!’ she yells back, then she mutters: ‘You f***ing gooks.’ And cracks up.

She thoughtfully calls me a taxi and walks me downstairs, inviting me to join her a few days later for a private concert in Moscow, where she will be paid a reported £1 million to play for Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich. (A day later, her manager rescinds my invitation.)

After the show, the newspapers report that Winehouse was drunk and Abramovich’s organisers were sent into a mad scramble to search for a replacement.

They say she played hours late and without underwear. Her publicist, Tracey Miller, dismisses the rumours, insisting it went well.

Winehouse is scheduled to play at various festivals and concerts in Europe this summer. But last month, Winehouse fainted in her home and was taken to the hospital by her father.

‘They are just taking it one day at a time,’ says Miller. ‘In a way, it’s good she’s there.’

© 2008, Rolling Stone. First published in Rolling Stone magazine. Distributed by Tribune Media Services.

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July 30th, 2008

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2 Responses to “Amy invites a journalist to her Camden home”
  1. media kingdom Says:

    i never noticed until recently that Amy Winehouse has astoundingly huge hair

  2. hooka Says:

    This is my first time visiting your blog and i must say i like it very much.
    Your article was an interesting read.
    I will definetly check back here more often!

    hooka


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