Amy Winehouse: the anti-Diana of 2007
In our era of bland, rehabilitated celebrities, let’s give thanks for the diva with the beetle-black beehive who put the naughty into the Noughties.
It doesn’t say much for 2007 that one of its main events was the anniversary of something that happened 10 years earlier. But Lord bless us our hearts, on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of the death of Lady Di, we were cheered by 12 months of reprints of her in that tiger-print swimwear; tabloid sales just haven’t been the same without her.
Ever since old blondilocks screeched across the tarmac, we’ve been looking for a national heroine to pin up and save from herself. And from 2007’s international handwringing over pop star Amy Winehouse, it looks like we may finally have found one. Embarrassed, perhaps, by our 1997 mourning sickness, in 2007 we embraced Intensive Caring. We cared very much about everyone and their mental health; the government banned smoking, frowned on fat people – and the media instituted a national campaign to get Ms Amy Winehouse to go to rehab.
The year began quietly in the Winelodge, as a hundred thousand teenage girls, dispatched to bed on half a dozen Bacardi breezers, woke up to find Back to Black in their Christmas stockings, and, just dumped by some 25-year-old wazzer (who has a car), wailed along when Winehouse declared she didn’t ever ‘want to date again’ she just ‘oooohhwooooh needed a friend’. Amy didn’t want to go to ‘Rehab’, she was going to ‘Wake Up Alone’, let the ‘Tears Dry on Their Own’, and go ‘Back to Black’. High five, Winehouse, and high five binge-drink Britain. Let’s create and not drink responsibly: that was the message of Wineworld.
All in all, Winehouse often drank more than the recommended monthly allowance in half an hour, and seemed gutsy, ballsy and all-out fabulous for it. With her piratical dress sense and Sixties bouffant, she was touted as a Vogue cover girl, apparently pursued by the high priestess of fashion herself, Anna Wintour. All in Wineworld was up, up, up. But in every success story, there has to be a cad. And so it was with Winehouse, who, glowing in a nation’s adulation, had a Diana-style roll-call of cads (hound-dog Hewitt to dodgy Dodi) sandwiched in one absurdly named beanpole: Blake Fielder-Civil. Fielder-Civil, having rejected her when she was a second-rate soul singer straight out of the Sylvia Young Theatre School, came scuttling back when she was a platinum diva. He was the one whom Amy had drank herself into a pit over, from which she bellowed out an album of award-winning songs. Winehouse, you see, knew there was no 12-step programme or rehab course for a broken heart. Like all great artists, she salvaged what she could from disaster and refused to sit about, whingeing and purging herself of ‘negative energy’. If Winehouse had a chakra she would have sliced it up for her daiquiri.
So she got married to the man of her dreams and spent most of July and August this year in a Camden boozer celebrating. I like to think that I might have done the same, and that spiked readers would have understood. Unfortunately, Winehouse’s public didn’t understand: they didn’t like the fact that, after getting back from black to life with Blake, she started singing while inebriated, and even worse stopped turning up for concerts altogether. For them, realising that Winehouse had problems was like the moment when Daily Mail readers realised that Di had a sex life. It seemed that, with Winehouse’s nuptials, there came heroin, and crack too, and Winehouse ended the summer in hospital, sporting ‘the dead eyes of a fish’. Back from that little melodrama, she hit the gig circuit again after the summer months, with the London Lite newspaper excitedly charting every up and down – from when she flashed her knickers at the ICA to when she got booed in Manchester.
In November, Fielder-Civil was arrested after allegedly trying to buy off witnesses in his forthcoming trial for allegedly assaulting a pub landlord, and Winehouse went Back to Black again. One of the most endearing incidents of my Winehouse year was when she told a baying crowd to ‘just wait’ until her husband ‘got out of incarceration’ – not just because when incoherently barracking she still had the wit to use high-falutin’ verbiage, but because, despite his trilby-wearing, 12-syllable name and wiry appearance, she had absolute confidence that her man could take on a 100-strong crowd single-handed. Nothing says ‘I love you’ like blank delusion.
There’s probably no point rehearsing the old argument that rock stars of the past went through far darker drug doldrums than Winehouse has, and that she will probably be OK. Because if you agree with me in loving Winehouse, you’ll agree with me no matter what. And if you don’t, then you’ll want to send a stern and abusive letter (in which case, go ahead – I’m no longer based in the spiked office, dahling). But much as you might like to scream ‘Jimi Hendrix! Kurt Cobain!’ at me, and the names of other rock stars who died or killed themselves, I’ll shout back ‘Ozzy Osbourne, Keef Richards, Mick Jagger (dammit), Yoko Ono, Jarvis Cocker… ALEX JAMES FOR CHRISSSAKE’. And then I will get bored, because I will stop remembering hedonist surnames. ‘Lemmy from Motorhead!’
In 2008, I am not expecting – as the online magazine Salon scandalously is – that ‘Amy Winehouse [will] die soon’ (1). I believe she will probably clean herself up when she’s good and ready and going on to a stonking third album release. So stop it with your conspicuous compassion, your vicarious AA-ing, your 12-step sympathising – Amy will be OK.
This year Winehouse has emerged as the high-charged, anti-Diana in drag, penning heartbreak into concrete pound signs. No high-gloss ’do for Winehouse; she has a beetle-black beehive made of steel. No smarmy Harrods playboy for our Amy; she’s got a bad-assed ponce with a penchant for GBH whose name is tattooed across her left tit. No premieres, thanks, she has to go visit said ponce in the lock-up. No spa weekend, her skin’s done up in tatts thanks. And ‘no, no, no’ to therapy sessions, cheers, she’ll suck up the hurt, turn it into belting and brilliant music, and come out the other end. And then she’ll go back gigging, like the trooper she is. Amy will not appear on Panorama – but she might cancel a string of concerts to shoot pool in ’Ackney.
She has a voice sent from Aretha Franklin and the misery chords of Leonard Cohen. Thank 2007 for Amy – she just about managed to make the noughties look a bit naughty.
Emily Hill was staff writer at spiked and now reports at the Londoner’s Diary for the Evening Standard.
Emily Hill said Britney and Amy Winehouse were right to refuse to go to rehab. Brendan O’Neill looked at Brad, Angelina and the rise of ‘celebrity colonialism’ and welcomed us to the People’s Republic of Bono. Mick Hume outlined the importance of trashing celebrity culture. Or read more at spiked issue Celebrity.