Amy Winehouse would have been 40 this September, and it’s hard to believe it will be 12 years next week since her death aged just 27. But even now, interest in the troubled singer with the powerful jazz voice shows little sign of waning.
As well as the much-heralded film, Back To Black, being shot this year with director Sam Taylor-Johnson at the helm and Marisa Abela in the starring role, there’s also a book of Amy’s musings and jottings, called Amy In Her Words, due out in August. There are even plans for a Broadway musical.
And to all those who accuse the Winehouse family of cashing in, Amy’s father Mitch Winehouse retorts: “People say we are only doing it for the money – well we are! But it’s not for us, but for the Amy Winehouse Foundation, helping disadvantaged kids.”
Mitch and Janis Winehouse divorced when Amy was young, but they are still a hands-on team running the charity in their famous daughter’s name. The foundation, which has modest offices in north London, has a commendable track record of assisting under-30-year-olds with drug and alcohol issues.
Cabbie-turned-singer Mitch once claimed to have suffered a nervous breakdown after being portrayed as an exploitative father who profited from Amy’s fame.
Today he is mostly at peace with her legacy.
The new biopic, in which he is played by Eddie Marsan, has his blessing, even though a previous Oscar-winning documentary, Amy, in 2015, made him swear he would never again cooperate with a production.
But for Amy’s mother, Janis, the journey to acceptance has been much harder.
“I don’t do grief,” she admits. “It is only now, after all this time, it has hit me. I am really feeling the loss.” Janis has been re-examining her life as it changed again dramatically when her second husband, Richard, died a year ago aged 71.
“For the first time ever I am truly alone,” she says. “Of course, I grieved for Richard – we were childhood friends, he was always part of our extended family – but what surprised me was that it seemed to open up the wound of losing Amy; a pain somewhere deep inside me.”
Amy Winehouse sits with her father Mitch
“I thought I had coped with it rationally, but it was raw. Everywhere I went seemed to hold memories. I was going into shops and hearing her on the radio.”
This sudden, unexpected outpouring of grief and emotion was especially hard for the retired pharmacist because, as she admits: “I am not a sentimental person; I have a scientific brain and I’m not one to dwell on emotions.”
The polar opposite to her effusive, garrulous ex-husband Mitch, Janis is proud to be part of the “stiff upper lip generation”, and insists her motto in life when bad things happen, is: “Get on with it.”
Back in 2003, she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.
Coupled with losing her second husband, her physical condition has recently deteriorated and she now struggles to walk unaided.
It has all been a strain for this fiercely proud and independent woman, not someone prone to introspection. “It’s a strange life because I get stopped in the street because of Amy,” she continues.
“People know who I am. Who would ever think they would give birth to a famous person? But when Richard died, I have been left with time – too much time to think, to mull over the past, and that’s not me. Mitch tried to help; he worries about me.”
“He took me to view a luxury retirement complex with supported living, but it was full of 90-year-olds. I’m not ready for that yet.”
When Amy died on July 23, 2011, Mitch channelled his grief into positive action by setting up the Amy Winehouse Foundation. Janis, Mitch and Mitch’s current wife, Jane, are trustees, and not just in name.
They are hands-on – personally attending drug education schemes, fundraising and lobbying ministers for better care.
Thanks to their sizable inheritance, the Winehouses are independently wealthy and Mitch is the first to admit he could afford to retire. “But I don’t want to live it large,” he says.
“Living it large, for me, is when we go into a children’s hospice and give chimes to a blind child. There is no feeling like it in the world. If we can help one family, we have done a good job.”
Mitch remembers being in New York City when his daughter died of an accidental alcohol overdose. On the plane back to the UK, he repeatedly heard Amy telling him to set up the charity.
“It was like she was on the phone to me,” he recalls.
“The thing is, nobody knows how kind she was. It still hurts to remember the names she was called like ‘wino’ and ‘junkie’, but she did many good things for those suffering from neglect; she took them in, gave them money, paid for medical help.
“I want people to know the other side of Amy.”
The singer died intestate but left more than £4million before taxes, plus property. Like many posthumous celebrity estates, huge royalties continue to come in through music sales and merchandising.
Amy Winehouse hugs her mother Janis Winehouse
Amy Winehouse’s father, Mitch, mother, Janis and step father, Richard Collins
Janis admits she never has to worry about money again, but she lives modestly in Richard’s old house, surrounded by Amy’s memorabilia.
“Originally, I wasn’t keen on the new film, to be honest,” she admits. “I feel women of my generation get pushed into the background. After all, it was me who gave birth to Amy.”
Janis is being played on-screen by TV actress Juliet Cowan, famous for her role in the Doctor Who spin-off series, The Sarah Jane Adventures.
Despite her initial reservations, Janis has now, like Mitch, visited the Ealing Studio film set and taken an interest in the new biopic.
But digging up memories of the past has been painful.
Janis admits she was devastated after Mitch left her when Amy was just 10-years-old. He had been having an affair with a woman he worked with, ever since Amy had been a toddler. “He even brought his work wife home with him,” she recalls.
Janis certainly endured a great deal as a busy young mother. One of the few times her feelings got the better of her was when her husband Mitch started staying away from home more often.
“He was pretty much living with the other woman,” she recalls. “He kept saying he was ‘away on business’. But I knew exactly where he was – in Chingford.
“One day I got the kids in the car and I drove them to Chingford, parked up outside and looked up at the flat window. ‘That’s where your dad is,’ I said. They were missing him. And I thought: ‘I’ve found you, matey!’ We didn’t have a big row, though. That’s not my style.”
Janis studied for two university degrees while bringing up Amy and her older brother, Alex.
The children were often left in the care of Mitch’s mother. Even now the Winehouses bicker over the source of Amy’s mental health issues – depression and bulimia.
“She was on Prozac as a teenager, but Mitch doesn’t accept that,” says Janis.
The Winehouses can, however, agree that Amy was always respectful in their presence. She never used drugs in front of them and asked permission before drinking a glass of wine. Now 12 years on from their daughter’s death, Janis is philosophical about the family tragedy.
“Now that I’m getting older, I sometimes wonder if Amy could still have been here,” she says. “But I don’t do ‘should haves’ or ‘could haves’.
“Yes, we have inherited wealth as a family, but we would rather have Amy back than all the money in the world.”