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A father's sorrow
7:00am Saturday 21st July 2012 in Books
As the first anniversary of the death of Amy Winehouse approaches, her father Mitch is still trying to come to terms with the loss of his talented daughter. He talks about the lifelines which have kept him from going insane, including a charity he has set up in her name and the book he has written which charts her life - and death - in all its triumph and tragedy.
By Hannah Stephenson.
Like so many grieving parents whose children's lives have been cut short, Mitch Winehouse has thrown himself into work since the death of his famous daughter, Amy.
His focus over the last year has been to raise funds for the Amy Winehouse Foundation, a charity he set up to help young people facing difficulties. He's also pursued his own singing career and written a harrowing book, Amy: My Daughter, with proceeds going to the charity.
"The grief never goes away. You learn to live with it but I will never recover, as long as I live," he says.
"I lost my dad when I was 16 and he was 43. That was terrible. This is 10 times worse. But strange things happen to you. You have a deep instinct to survive, in spite of yourself."
He has written the book, he says, to help his own recovery, but also to set the record straight over any misconceptions that Amy was still on drugs when she died.
He blames her descent into cocaine and heroin on her ex-husband, Blake Fielder-Civil, whom Mitch describes as 'the biggest low-life scumbag that God ever put breath into'. He is currently in prison for burglary and possession of a fake gun.
It was when they split up that Amy started to recover, he says, but Back To Black became a noose around her neck because the autobiographical album was all about her doomed relationship with Fielder-Civil.
"The nature of the songs made it hard for her to feel as excited as you might expect about the album's reception and success. Whereas people might walk along the street humming Love Is A Losing Game, to Amy it was like a knife in the heart, a reminder of the worst times."
Despite this, Mitch says his daughter had been drug-free for nearly three years prior to her death.
Indeed, an inquest found that she had died from alcohol poisoning and there were no traces of drugs in her bloodstream. The coroner recorded a verdict of misadventure.
"To be able to write it all down was cathartic for me," says Mitch. "I wanted people to know what a lovely, generous, charming, wonderful person she was, even during those dark periods.
"I wanted them to know how hard she was trying to deal with her drug addiction - which she was successful with - and moving towards her alcoholism.
"The last five-and-a-half weeks of her life were spent not drinking. Unfortunately the last two days she drank an awful lot, but that's a typical pattern of someone who's moving towards total abstinence."
Not everyone shares his sentiments, though. "I still get people [saying on the internet] that she was a drug addict and asking why would you want to put a statue up in Camden Town for a drug addict?
"Clearly they haven't had any kind of addiction in their family. If they had, they wouldn't be speaking so harshly about somebody who dealt with their addiction in such a positive way."
Yet the book leaves little doubt that Amy Winehouse was every parent's nightmare - a massive music talent but with an attitude that seemed to lead her on the path to self-destruction.
Exasperation, frustration and helplessness are all words that spring to mind when you read Mitch's account of the rebellious girl from Southgate, north London, who went on to become a millionaire recording artist. The multi-award-winning Back To Black became the UK's best-selling album of the 21st century.
Mitch had been around during so many of the tumultuous times: throwing drug pushers out of her home, taking her to detox centres, picking up the pieces when she was arrested for assault, when she failed to turn up at important recording sessions or arrived late and drunk at gigs.
"She was like every other kid - absolutely lovely most of the time and sometimes she was bloody horrible!" he reflects.
But her childhood wasn't without its share of heartache. Mitch and Amy's mum Janis split up when Amy was 10, and he went to live with his now second wife, Jane.
"At the time I didn't think it had that much of an impact on Amy but if you listen to one of her records, What Is It About Men?, it's clear she's fed up [with men]," he says.
Though she lived with her mother until the age of 16, Amy remained close to her father, who introduced her to jazz and the music of Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin.
Her first album, Frank, released in 2003, received instant acclaim but it was Back To Black, in 2006, which propelled her to international stardom.
Today, the anxiety Mitch felt while Amy was battling her addictions has been replaced by grief, and a guilt that he can now actually sleep at night, even though his daughter is dead.
"I'd go to bed and think the phone would ring every night while Amy was ill with the drugs. I was in a state of anxiety all the time. Now I'm not," he says.
"The most awful thing of all has happened, Amy's passed away. I'm not worried that the phone's going to ring to tell me Amy's sick, because she's not here."
After her death, Mitch sought psychiatric help because he couldn't rid himself of the image of her in the mortuary.
"Although she looked lovely and she was at peace, I didn't want that memory. The psychiatrist helped me to replace that memory with another, of Amy just laughing.
"I wanted people to know how funny Amy was. Even during those terrible, terrible times, we managed to laugh."
He still can't listen to her music or watch her videos, but hopes counselling will enable him to pass that barrier in time.
Amy's £3m estate has gone to her parents as she didn't make a will, but the money will not be funding the charity. Mitch wants Amy's family, including her brother and his future children, to benefit from her legacy.
Her house in Camden is on the market for £2.7 million. Mitch and his family plan to go there on the first anniversary of her death to pay their respects.
Of course, Mitch has not gone without his share of criticism. He was such a vocal, visible presence in Amy's public life: the cabby who gave it up to look after Amy's business interests but ended up looking after her on a much broader level.
There have been suggestions that he pushed her into doing concerts when she wasn't fit enough, although he insists that it was Amy who was doing the pushing, and allegations that he launched his own music career on the back of her success. But he says Amy nagged him to record his own album.
"She launched my music career, it was nothing to do with me," he says.
"She drove me mad. I had a music career years ago, which no one knew about. Whenever she did a show, she'd get me up on stage and we'd do a couple of songs."
The foundation is his lifeline now, and so is music. "I want to carry on singing. You know, you can go to the best psychiatrists in the world, but the best medicine is singing," he says.
"If Amy's looking down, she'd tell me to carry on singing."
:: Amy: My Daughter, by Mitch Winehouse, is published by HarperCollins, priced £20. Available now.
:: July 23 is the first anniversary of Amy Winehouse's death.
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