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INTERVIEW WITH CHLOE GOVAN ON LATEST BOOK AMY WINEHOUSE: THE UNTOLD STORY


Tell us about your latest book, Amy Winehouse: The Untold Story.


As someone who has followed Amy’s career for close to a decade, I read Amy: My Daughter, an emotional portrait of a father’s struggle to cope with his daughter’s drug addiction. I also read various other biographies written about Amy – some good, some bad. However, all of these drew up more questions than they did answers. One of the biggest for me that still stood out as unanswered was: why would such a talented woman with seemingly so much to live for succumb so totally to self-sabotage and self-destruction?


I extensively interviewed Amy’s producers, musicians, friends and one of the backing singers who, of course, was backstage with her on the night of her final fateful show in Serbia, among others, to try to find out just why it had happened.


However I also turned to the professional perspective of psychoanalysts to give an insight into how Amy motivated and where her demons might have originated.


I looked into self-harm – from the reasons behind the urges to hurt oneself to the chemical process and reward system that makes it so habit-forming.


I also looked at love addiction. At times it seemed as though her toxic relationship with Blake was more addictive and difficult to give up than any of the Class A drugs she had a biological dependency on. Against all advice, she always went back to him, once having a tearful meltdown and trying to jump over a Eurostar gate back to London because she couldn’t bear to be separated from him for as little as 24 hours. I spoke to psychotherapists about what might have caused her extraordinarily intense fears of abandonment, looking at attachment theory, early trauma and primal life-or-death issues in the subconscious. I discussed disclosures from Amy and Blake’s friends about the “emotional S&M” they indulged in and the psychological processes that could have underpinned them.


I additionally examined the role of the media and the public in Amy’s downfall – did they perpetuate her more negative behaviour and, in her eyes, reward it by giving so much attention? Is it an indictment of a superficial society that a colourful personal life is often awarded more media coverage than worthy professional achievements?


Even at the height of her addiction, Amy revealed that she felt “ashamed” not to drink, even constructing false excuses about being on antibiotics – for someone as uncompromisingly straight-talking as her, quite a concession. Is it the fault of society for glamorising drug abuse and infusing it with a sheen of decadence?


In addition, I examined the psychology of self-sabotage and its possible roots in fear of failure and low self-esteem. In her early years, she was overlooked for parts in musicals at school in favour of her classmates, while in later years, after emphysema ravaged her vocal cords, she descended into depression, fearing her voice would never return to its former strength. Her backing singer Ade told me that at her final show, he feared she had taken a cocktail of sleeping pills - possibly as sedatives to combat the stage fright and fear of inadequacy.

Like any parents, Mitch and Janis Winehouse did the best they could for their daughter, but the reality was that for someone so unusually sensitive, life events hit her hard. Tragically, Amy was the true definition of a star – like her astrological equivalent, in order to shine so brightly, she had to be dying.


What makes Amy Winehouse: the Untold Story different from the competition?


No other unofficial book on the market has even a third of the interviews that this book contains – many of which feature those who had never spoken out about Amy in public previously. The book also has a unique psychological perspective, informed by psychoanalysts and my own background in psychology. Most of all, however, it is intended not just as an inside story on an enormously talented star, but also as a source of help to raise awareness for others experiencing similar psychological issues in their own lives.


Your report that Amy attempted suicide at age 10 has proved controversial – how would you respond?


While I didn’t take the subject matter lightly, I felt reporting it was the right thing to do – not least because Amy is far from alone. In 2007, more than 4,000 under-14s were admitted to hospital following suicide attempts in England alone – and those are just the ones we know about.

We shouldn’t shy away from thorny issues because publicising them as I have done can raise awareness, while ignoring them and declaring them distasteful is poisoning society. A reaction from one blogger to the notion that Amy might have attempted suicide at such a young age was to incredulously and dismissively assert, “Ludicrous!” –and that proves my point exactly.


A tenth of UK children are estimated to suffer emotional or mental health issues and yet the public reaction to disclosures like mine shows what a long way we have to go in recognising it. Anyone who responds: “Who cares? Just let Amy rest in peace” is either callous or simply isn’t thinking about the wider impact a public figure might have as a force of good – even from beyond the grave. Acknowledging this doesn’t sully or diminish her memory – it strengthens it.


Amy was deeply troubled and it was that side of her that made for her most profound song-writing. Just as Amy transcended her pain and turned it into something beautiful via the medium of music, discussing her problems openly will have an impact on today’s – and tomorrow’s – generation of troubled young people and help them to turn their own pain into something positive too.


Moreover, if you want to enjoy soul music, which is infused with pain, without looking beneath the surface to see and understand what inspired it, then you’re only listening with one ear. Her life was not a sugar-coated world of kittens, flowers and rainbows – it was a bleak and tortured one. Even when her star was lighting up the world, inside she felt perpetually dark.


Former government drug adviser David Nutt has claimed that we as a society could have learnt something from Amy’s death, but missed the opportunity – and I agree. As thorny as these topics are, I feel open discussion is what she would have wanted – helping others was, after all, the very essence of her character.


How has the overall response been to your work so far?


Some readers have been very positive and others quite the opposite. However, an account of Amy’s life wouldn’t have been honest or complete without an in depth discussion of her flaws – the demons that unjustly extinguished such a brightly burning talent. The book is a tribute to and celebration of Amy’s life whilst simultaneously examining – openly and honestly – the issues that led to her death.


Some have made a snap judgment based on the sensationalist previews they’ve read in the press. The tabloids are all about hard-hitting headlines – that’s the nature of the industry and it’s what sells newspapers. However, that’s not to say my book doesn’t go a lot deeper. Taken in context and read along with the rest of the script, it’s clear that it isn’t a sleazy tell-all but rather a sensitively portrayed account of a musical legend. Don’t judge a book by its headlines, because there may well be something more deep and meaningful underneath.


Some have accused me on cashing in and exploiting the misfortune of others, but I think there’s a world of difference between this and my own book. The founder and employees of a charity are paid a wage – are they cashing in on other’s misfortunes? No, the money they receive simply makes it possible for them to continue their work. Is Mitch cashing in on Amy because he wrote a book? Absolutely not – he’s celebrating the memory of his daughter.


I wrote the book because I loved and admired Amy and had a hunger to tell her life-story, like it had never been told before. If anyone who interprets this as cashing in and automatically thinks that the only possible motive for doing something could be money, I think their attitude says more about the type of person they are than it does about me.

Finally, what did you love most about Amy?

She broke the mould in a world of vacuous, soulless, manufactured pop and turned her pain into beauty the whole world could hear. There’s a beauty in suffering – sometimes it makes you thankful that there are things in your life that mean so much to you that they render you capable of feeling such extreme pain – and Amy’s music encapsulated that perverse beauty.


There was also an unparalleled honesty and authenticity about her work. She wasn’t writing music because she enjoyed it but because she needed that method of self-expression to survive. That authenticity translated into songs that touched listeners and penetrated their hearts like an X-ray. The emotion in her music spoke to anyone and everyone who’d ever had pain stored away.


She had no qualms about honesty when it came to interviews either. To Amy, S-Club 7 was “shit”, Dido was denounced as “the soundtrack to death” and she even indulged in some public prayer for Britney Spears to have more children if it only meant her early retirement from the music industry. She possessed the kind of blunt candour most people lose in childhood. There was no censorship with Amy – she didn’t airbrush out opinions that might have been offensive and she didn’t present a fake self-image calculated to appeal to the mainstream.


Some artists bandy about the notion of “being who you are” and “being true to yourself” as a clichéd selling point, but Amy really meant it – so much so that she never had to say it. She was a walking example of that notion.


Moreover, while she was the total antithesis of the polished perfection of your average pop star, she was beautiful in every way.


Although life might be fleeting, troubled and transitory, the legacy of music is forever – and while Amy’s heart may now have lost its rhythm, the beat of her music eternally lives on.




Amy Winehouse - The Untold Story is out now.