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‘There was no destructive side to Amy at the end of her life…what she needed was normality’

Amy Winehouse performs via satellite from London for the 50th Annual Grammy Awards held in Los Angeles, California February 10, 2008. REUTERS/Mike Blake

‘There was no destructive side to Amy at the end of her life…what she needed was normality’

Ten years after her tragic death, Amy Winehouse's best friend Tyler James reflects on her last years and the toxic nature of fame.

‘There was no destructive side to Amy at the end of her life…what she needed was normality’

There was no destructive side to Amy at the end of her life. She didn’t have a death wish, that wasn’t her problem at all. A death wish is not the same thing as alcoholism, addiction and not having what she really needed, which was normality.

For me, the biggest problem Amy had, of all of them, was being famous. Not every individual who becomes famous will have the outcome she did. But if you’re a certain kind of person, the kind of person who values freedom above everything, it’s a fast track to disaster, because of how much fame imprisons you, how much it inhibits ordinary life, how much it strips reality away from you. And if your self-esteem is shaky, which is the case for so many creative people, you have to deal with how you’re perceived, how you’re judged and how you’re ridiculed. Amy was all of those things. And all of that is incredibly unhealthy.

I blame being famous for how lonely she became; it cut her off from people and society, it stopped her being treated like everyone else. Everybody saw her as something other than just Amy. I blame the system that’s put in place around you, how you lose control over your life, how the machine keeps turning whether you want it to or not.

I blame the effect fame had on the people around her, so she couldn’t trust anyone anymore – her boyfriends, her friends, even her dad couldn’t be normal around her anymore, he couldn’t just be her dad. But I can see now, as an adult, that even though he was dazzled by her showbiz world, he was probably just as head-f****d by everything that happened to her as the rest of us. I’m sure he wishes, like I do, that Cynthia had still been around, not least to give him some proper support. Even though she would’ve had Mitch by the earhole and Amy by the earhole, she would’ve had plenty to say about everything. I’ve often wondered how that might have played out: the admiration and respect Amy had for her nan meant her words would’ve carried tremendous weight.

Amy was definitely someone who should never have been mainstream famous, who should’ve done a few small gigs a year, in places like the Jazz Café in Camden, while living a low-key, comfortable life. And she would’ve become a mother, which she always wanted to be. And her kids would’ve been her ultimate masterpiece.

In the last two years of her life there wasn’t much of a life going on. No people, no work, staying indoors. The worst environment if you have a tendency to drink. As her drinking escalated, more and more people couldn’t deal with her and her life became lonelier and lonelier. It was like a permanent lockdown with no way out of it.

The only thing that was ever offered to her was to be ‘Amy Winehouse’ again. Go on tour. Write another album. No one gave Amy the option to opt out. The human experience isn’t supposed to be about adulation. No one is supposed to be any more important than anybody else. There are billions of us. And we all want the same things: to fall in love, be loved, work, have a purpose, live in the real world alongside everybody else.

Love and admiration coming from people who don’t know you is no substitute for that. It’s an illusion, a projection of what they think you are or what they need you to be. And it is all absolute bollocks. Amy was just a person who had a few problems like we all do. Maybe more than others. But what happened to her wasn’t inevitable. I’ve clenched my teeth many times when I’ve heard people say it was: ‘Oh, she was always gonna die, she was a crackhead, a f**k-up, a loser.’ I’ve heard that in pubs and had to be pulled back from confronting some stranger, thinking, You don’t know her. One of the hardest things for me when she passed away was I got the impression from people who did know her that even they thought this was inevitable: Nick, Juliette, Lauren. The look on their faces said it all: Oh, Tyler, you poor bastard if you didn’t think this was always gonna happen.

But they didn’t see what I saw. She wasn’t a mess who never tried to sort herself out. She did. But in the last few months she’d often tell me she was tired. When I asked her questions about her life, when she’d had a few drinks, when she wasn’t The Other Amy, she would be straight with me. ‘I just don’t want this life, Tyler. Would you ever wanna be famous, really? I hate it. I’m bored of it. And I’m tired.’

She used that word a lot, through those last relapses: ‘I’m tired, I’m tired.’ Like she was tired of life. At twenty-seven years old. I think back sometimes to my council house in East London and my mum giving me a fiver to get to Sylvia Young’s every day. And meeting Amy. You never know, do you? What one chance meeting can do. The life it can lead you to. That kills me. We were only in the same class because neither of us could dance. Life is complicated and nothing is forever.

The older you get you start to see things in different ways. Everything you go through is all just a memory and a journey. Jesus Christ, the sh** she taught me. The lessons I learned. The emotions I felt because of her. She was a force. A little tornado, a thunderstorm. And in leaving me, she really made a man out of me. You have to grow up. That was a gift from her. And she keeps giving to me still, she’s teaching me, still.

That the beauty in the simplicity of life, that’s what actually matters. I miss her. I miss her so much. I love her. She’s my girl, she will always be my girl. And despite all of the madness and all of the trauma she put me through, I still love the bones of her. I just do. And I’m so grateful, I am so grateful, to have known that little nutter. Because no one knew her like I did. I am the luckiest boy in the world.

Extracted from My Amy by Tyler James, Macmillan, RRP $39.99.

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