I saw Amy Winehouse three or four times in person at the London Clinic in December of 2009. I was there regularly, visiting my terminally ill father. Even in that environment, she was vibrant yet restless, surrounded by bodyguards, but somehow alone. My Dad commented on how sad it was that she was there from her addictions when she had everything going for her. He was right - if only she had known it herself.
The media after her death in July 2011, focussed on her alcohol and drug abuse. But they didn't mention her bulimia, nor the depression she wrestled with since she was a teen. The new documentary film on her life directed by Asif Kapadia sets the record straight, telling the tale of a brilliant woman who was plagued with self-doubt and deficient in resilience.
She was a happy child, but a troubled teen, finding her 'perfect' diet early on - eating a lot and then throwing up afterwards. In some old video footage she talked about being an ugly mug, because she looked different from others. But therein lied her beauty, a striking, unique charm that made her Amy.
Three quarters of young girls today don't like how they look and five out of six are worried about getting fat. Amy was one of those girls, one that society didn't save. If these confidence issues aren't addressed they seep into later life. Amy's bad relationships all stemmed from a belief she didn't deserve love. Her eating disorders and substance abuse weren't part of a 'rock and roll" lifestyle, but because she couldn't cope with the reality of who she was.
Confidence comes from loving what you do, not from external stuff such as image and fame. Amy loved her music but she was plunged into a world of live events, paparazzi and TV appearances, which was her worst nightmare. All she wanted to do was expel her pain by converting it into lyrics and music.
At the Amy premiere at Cannes Film Festival, we were able to honour her life, remembering that she was a woman of great achievement who struggled with many demons. Every single person in the cinema was moved to tears by her incredible story. Contrary to popular belief, she wasn't party mad or overly hedonistic. She was a girl in trouble that needed help and somewhere along the lines society failed her. Had she been supported during those vulnerable teenage years when she found fame, she could have coped better with life. Excelling at sport, music, or in your studies is not a guarantee of feeling good on the inside. The pressure to be perfect today is immense and it can be an addiction in itself.
At the end of the film Amy's bodyguard reveals that she regretted her stardom. She would have given anything to take it all back, to be able to walk down the street in peace. She is now known around the world for the very songs that made her ill, Back to Black about her toxic ex boyfriend and Rehab about well, the obvious. She just wanted to move on and compose some new work away from the media eye but the money machine kept whirring. Her father even brought a film crew with him when he visited her on retreat in St Lucia. Each time she reached a new milestone, the Brits, Grammys, singing with Tony Bennett, she would immediately relapse. For when you don't think you're good enough these goals are impossibly unattainable and at the same time they are addictive because they are the only proof of self-worth.
Let's make Amy's early departure a learning for us all to protect our children and those we love in trouble. For many, many people suffer from mental health problems that have been swept under the carpet for too long. Amy wasn't crazy, nor was she a wildchild. She was an ordinary girl with an extraordinary talent, and she just needed the tools to assist her - if the appropriate coping mechanisms had been imparted along the way, from childhood, through to her years in the spotlight, things could have been very different.
Amy Winehouse shone very brightly and she still does. She is a reminder to all of us to take care of those we love and build, not crush, their confidence. Self-harming, eating disorders and suicide are all on the rise and we need to curb this heart-breaking trend. Her loss is deeply tragic but she has left an incredible legacy and not just her music. She has pathed the way for our youngsters, to stand in their truth and truly believe in themselves.