John Sturgis

Are we on the verge of forgetting Amy Winehouse?

Are we on the verge of forgetting Amy Winehouse?
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Before she became associated more with tragedy than comedy, there was a joke which went: ‘What’s Amy Winehouse’s favourite tube station?..High Barnet’.

Not the best joke admittedly and one that required a degree of knowledge of rhyming slang - but it did anchor the beehived chanteuse and the borough she came from together in the popular imagination.

I should be clear from the outset that I’m a fan. For me she was the last great pop star. Back to Black is one of the best albums of all time and she isn’t remotely out of her depth in that dead-at-27 club alongside Kurt Cobain, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin et al. Even if she was out of her depth in life.

It seems strange then that ten years on from her terrible death - the anniversary falls this Friday - there is, in Barnet itself, practically no sign of her ever having existed. Even Google seems to fail on pinning her down anywhere palpable here, despite her spending more of her 27 years here than anywhere else. Yet there are reminders everywhere in the streets of my neighbourhood.

Most obviously, we live just a few doors along from her childhood family home, number 45 in a street of suburban semis midway between Southgate and Arnos Grove on the upper reaches of the Piccadilly Line. Older people on our street WhatsApp group recall her playing in the street and, yes, singing in her back garden.

She also went to the same school our children have all attended, a large modern comp lately restyled as an academy.

They tried to make her go to rehab in her local branch of The Priory, overlooking Grovelands Park, where we walk our dogs. There was a story near the end about her jumping out of the taxi taking her there to buy a final bottle of vodka from an off-licence in Southgate Green. I seem to recall that the store afterwards briefly changed its name to ‘Amy’s Winehouse’ to acknowledge the incident - but I can find no record of that happening now so perhaps it’s a mis-memory from another Amy annecdote.

But I do clearly remember coming back from watching a school sports day in July 2011 and passing all the showbiz hacks and TV vans milling around outside Southgate Synagogue on the day of her funeral.

There is no plaque on any of these places. There are no piles of incense and tea lights in Whitehouse Way, N14 as you still get in Père Lachaise for fellow 27 Club member Jim Morrison - or flowers, as you still see in Highgate for George Michael.

There are no plans anywhere in Barnet to celebrate her this week, nothing.

Even her old school chooses never to mention her and our children all agree: they’re all about discipline leading to high attainment and, in fairness, have sent hundreds of first-generation-to-do-so kids to university by this method.

But Amy just doesn’t fit with any of this. She’s an anti-role model. And it’s as if she is being disowned, not just by her old school but by the wider area.

Perhaps part of this may be because she decamped south as soon as she found any success. If only seven miles to Camden - it’s hardly the Beatles leaving Liverpool. But it was there that she became famous and then infamous and it’s with Camden that she remains more popularly associated. Camden was the stage for the messy performance that was her celebrity life and then her death.

I also feel close to her for another, more uncomfortable reason: I was working in news on the tabloids at the time when her life was becoming an almost daily circus for their readers. I knew a lot of the hacks outside the synagogue the day they mourned her; I even stopped to say hello. When I call up that story of The Priory taxi stop-off for vodka I see a good friend’s byline. And it’s not an especially proud feeling.

The 2015 documentary, Amy, was unsparing in its depiction of what happened: how damaged she was, how ill-equipped to cope with the attention and how her attempts to escape it - via the drink and the drugs and the terrible boyfriend - only created greater interest and greater scrutiny.

And all of us who played any part in that scrutiny - as well as those who could arguably have intervened more effectively to deflect it - must feel a degree of complicity for how things played out for Amy. I know I do. And that I suppose informs my feeling of being haunted by her.

But I do wish she wasn’t such a ghost around here. I don’t think she should be unmentionable in school - they should put her face on the prospectus, put a bust of her head and her amazing hair in the assembly hall. Really they should rename the actual school after her.

She’s the greatest thing ever to come out of here, the highest heights of Barnet, our queen. It would be nice if we could hail her as such.

Written byJohn Sturgis

John Sturgis is a veteran Fleet Street news journalist

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