Stress Binge

‘I begged them not to put her onstage’: Amy Winehouse’s stylist friend

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I met Amy in the summer of 2004. I was 19 and she 21. My first impression of her was that she was unlike anyone I had ever met before. She was casually cool, with a north London accent and heaps of confidence. We met in a bar in the West End and ended up gallivanting round Soho – the Raymond Revuebar for Gay Bingo followed by too many drinks at the Shadow Lounge, where she was politely asked to leave for being too rowdy.

Our friendship developed from there and there was mutual respect from the get-go. I can’t stress enough how normal we were as a group of young adults living in London, although perhaps looking back on it, that was just our normal. I suppose it was a bit strange that one of us had a team of people working for them and would be whisked away for weeks at a time to write and record. Her irreverent attitude made her intriguing but also normalised the situation. In the early days, we were totally unaffected by her success – she just happened to be an award-winning artist.

She was unlike anyone I had ever met before: Amy Winehouse by Palace Pier, Brighton, 2004.

She was unlike anyone I had ever met before: Amy Winehouse by Palace Pier, Brighton, 2004.Credit:Roger Sargent

I had worked in the industry since I was 16, when I assisted a fashion designer in my hometown of Fairford, Gloucestershire. By the time I met Amy, I had assisted two stylists and had started to work with some of the local bands in Camden. It was towards the end of 2006 that Amy asked me to work with her as her stylist. It was typical of Amy to want to create a family within her working environment, and I knew that I had been chosen perhaps more for my loyalty than my talent.

I had a slightly bumpy start in the role at Jools Holland’s Hootenanny show where Amy’s self-described “Shirley Bassey” dress slipped down as the tit tape came unstuck, unable to resist the weight of the double dose of “chicken fillets” that she’d stuffed into the strapless M&S bra.

The audience got a little more than they or Paul Weller, who she was duetting with, had bargained for, to the horror of her team and to my intense dismay. Amy took it all in her stride. She shimmied about a bit while rearranging her bosom like an absolute pro. Fortunately for me, the show was pre-recorded.

Stylist and friend Naomi Parry and Amy Winehouse leaving the Diner Bar in Camden after a night out.

Stylist and friend Naomi Parry and Amy Winehouse leaving the Diner Bar in Camden after a night out.Credit:Alamy

Although her look had started to develop during her early years in Camden, largely influenced by the characters living there – the rockabillies, punks, ska and indie kids – it was in 2007 at the BRIT Awards when she made her debut as the Amy Winehouse that is so recognisable today.

It was one of the few times she had allowed some time before the event to do a fitting. Even then, Amy had insisted on cooking first, something that with her was always quite an event and involved a fair amount of red wine – terrifying when in the same vicinity as a fitting full of loaned designer pieces.

Two hours after my arrival, and some rather flavourless meatballs later, I finally managed to get her to pay attention for 15 minutes to the clothes I’d brought. We had dresses from Preen, Moschino and Armani, which she planned to change into before, during and after her performance.

Amy Winehouse debuts her new look, developed with Naomi Parry, at the Brit Awards, 2007.

Amy Winehouse debuts her new look, developed with Naomi Parry, at the Brit Awards, 2007.Credit:Antony Jones/Getty

This was an exciting prospect as it would score us some much-needed brownie points with the designers I was desperately trying to persuade to move us up the hierarchical list of loanees. The acid yellow Preen dress was pulled in as a wildcard, which was something I always did, something that pushed Amy slightly out of her comfort zone. I wanted to steer her away from a carbon-copy rockabilly look and encourage her to modernise it slightly, drawing inspiration from her multitude of musical references.

Of course, no matter what I put her in, Amy was very much the architect of her ultimate appearance. It didn’t matter how armed I was with the correct underwear, tit tape, sewing kit, safety pins etc; she would always add the Amy edge, the imperfection of the look that ultimately was the ingredient that made her unique.

Clothes were often strewn all over the place and hung on door frames.

Her Jeffrey’s Place house had a stained ceiling that always looked like it was threatening to cave in at any moment. It was constantly being redecorated as Amy would often change her mind about a wall colour or discover some new kitsch vintage wallpaper she liked. Action Man wallpaper adorned the stairwell, while the spare room was covered in a repeating pattern of creepy Thunderbird puppets, and the living room featured bamboo paper not dissimilar to the paper decorating Del Boy’s council flat in Only Fools and Horses.

The furniture was all mismatched but the whole place had a retro feel to it and it contained a Smeg fridge to which she would fix notes and pictures. When Amy was tidy she was a “take Polaroids of your shoes and stick them on the front of their box” kind of girl, but more often than not she was incredibly messy — never unclean — just very untidy. Clothes were often strewn all over the place and hung on door frames. Whatever activity she was engaged in, perhaps listening to records or writing notes, she left the objects exactly where they were when she moved on to the next one.

Objects lay exactly where they were left in Amy’s house.

Objects lay exactly where they were left in Amy’s house.
Credit:Andrew Hobbs 

The year 2007 was a significant one for Amy. She had become internationally recognised, which for any musician is the ultimate achievement, but ironically it was also a contributing factor to her decline. She’d scooped up various awards and accolades, we’d shot the Back To Black music video in March and worked with David LaChapelle on the Tears Dry On Their Own video in May.

I was booked to work with her on the European tour towards the end of the year. Amy was also seeing Blake Fielder-Civil again and, knowing how toxic this pairing had the potential to become, everyone in her inner circle was nervous and the atmosphere changed quite noticeably.

I’m going to keep this brief and be as diplomatic as I can: Amy was no angel, and with a multitude of different issues brewing, she teetered on the edge of delinquency and frequently pushed the boundaries as far she could. Blake, on the other hand, brazenly pole-vaulted over them, and due to the type of person Amy was – “I don’t care if you don’t love me, I will lie down in the road, pull my heart out and show it to you” – she had already shackled herself to his ankles before anyone knew what was going on.

Amy Winehouse with her partner Blake Fielder-Civil at the Isle of Wight Festival in 2007.

Amy Winehouse with her partner Blake Fielder-Civil at the Isle of Wight Festival in 2007.
Credit:Jon Furniss/Getty

As Amy’s personal life became more chaotic, she became far more appealing to the paparazzi.

At this time, despite being her neighbour, I saw her only a few times a week briefly. By July 2008, we’d haphazardly made it through a BRIT Awards performance in February at which she held my hand right up until the last minute. In June, she performed at Glastonbury. She’d been buoyantly bouncing around backstage, chatting to Jay-Z, Beyonce and Jack White while I had practically gone purple with exasperation trying to get her into her dress only a few minutes before she was due onstage.

Getting clean was a long and gruelling process with several heartbreaking relapses.

It took three of us to hoist her into the corseted, beaded Luella dress, which I sewed her into. Topped off with some cocktail umbrellas in her hair, she tottered off to give the band the usual hugs, kisses and words of encouragement. Sadly, what started reasonably well ended with a member of the audience grabbing her hair and receiving a thump in the face in return, which became the main focus of the performance afterwards. Amy’s violence towards others became a running theme in the press for a while as people tried to taunt her to get a reaction.

When you are a kid and…

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