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Nearest and dearest numbed by loss of Amy Winehouse

Published by in English ·

Why did they stand aside and let it happen? Where were the parents when she needed them most? Why didn't management intervene?

It's the grieving curve, as a doctor will tell you, and blame is a huge part of the process.

But Mitch Winehouse eloquently put all that misplaced criticism and wayward speculation to rest at his daughter's funeral yesterday.

During his eulogy in Edgware, at the crematorium in Golders Green, followed by a gathering at Southgate Synagogue, he handled himself with dignity and class. He held back his emotions as the day he feared for the past five years finally arrived.

Mitch would be the first to admit he hasn't always handled the spotlight well. But I urge you to remember this. He's a normal bloke - a no-nonsense East London cabbie with a tongue that talks him into trouble - thrust into the spotlight from nowhere.

But I can vouch for the authenticity of every word. The moving, heartfelt tribute to his daughter on the most difficult day of his life. I was invited to the funeral by her trusted manager Raye Cosbert on behalf of the family yesterday morning.

I need to be absolutely unequivocal about why I am writing about what happened inside. It is not a mawkish, claiming-of-credit exercise, boasting about being the only journalist there.

This is my chance to explain how normal these people actually are. They are an everyday family who happen to have had a hugely talented child.

They haven't been shouting about what has been going on behind closed doors because they were quietly trying to rebuild their daughter's life.

Hearing their stories at the Southgate Progressive Synagogue in North London reassured me about just how much was done to haul Amy back from the edge of an abyss in 2007.

It was clear how close-knit Amy's family are. A member of her touring crew pointed out that they all turned up together in the same numbers to see Mitch sing, just as they did to see Amy.
The "family" doesn't just include aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews and cousins. Her manager is more of a second father with security, band, roadies, crew and real friends treated like brothers and sisters.

Between them they'd brought Amy back from a crippling substance and alcohol addiction. But sadly the damage was done.

There was a conspicuous sense of frustration in the air at the Golders Green crematorium.

You could see it on the faces in the garden of remembrance after a tearful service for the cremation. The sun burst out from behind the clouds and famous faces, wealthy record bosses and working-class relatives embraced.

Bryan Adams cuddled Amy's closest pal Tyler James. The world-famous rock star had reached out to help her after she divorced a man who doesn't even deserve a mention here.

He gave her a place to stay in his Caribbean home to help her off heroin. Kelly Osbourne wept as she squeezed Amy's mum Janis. Trusted producer pal Mark Ronson mingled with family and shook musicians' hands. There was no sense of hierarchy or snobbery. All were united like a football team tasting a shock defeat snatched from the jaws of victory. Among them quietly efficient, hard-working and loyal PR men like Shane O'Neill.
Mitch shook my hand and thanked me for the sensitive coverage. Polite, warm and grateful when it could have been a chance for a dig over years of difficult reports.

Over a bagel at the funeral Raye, a gentle giant of a man, talked softly about the tiny frame of Amy - godmother to fellow singer Dionne Bromfield. Almost whispering, he said: "She was only 4ft 11.

"Her body just couldn't cope with what it had gone through."

It has been hard to hear pundits on TV tarnish a proud man like Raye's name. He loved her like a daughter, and Mitch thanked him for what he had done in his eulogy. He said: "Raye's our friend and brother. And more importantly he sits behind me at Tottenham."

But Big Raye, ever the professional, still hasn't started grieving.

He had a job to do, and within 48 hours of "his girl" dying, he had put together a fitting send-off.

It won't sink in for him for a while. He is still in work mode. You could hear his frustration as he recalled his last phone call to Amy. He rang her on Friday before he left for New York. The next call he got was from his wife, as he landed, to break the tragic news.

He told some of her family over a drink how he walked through immigration and security and took a flight straight back to the UK.

In between, he had the agonising job of breaking the news to Mitch.

Mitch's eulogy paid tribute to "Amy's security men who would smash down walls for her." He said: "I'd trust them with my life. They'd been instrumental in Amy's recovery over the last few years."

That sense of frustration once again that they hadn't checked up on her last Saturday morning.

At the crematorium guests queued to shake Mitch's hand, embrace Janis and offer some comfort to Amy's brother Alex.

Universal Records boss Lucien Grange, widely regarded as the most important and influential man in the industry worldwide, waited patiently in line to pay his respects. And he's a man who doesn't wait in lines. David Josef, boss of the UK label, was ashen-faced. The dad of two young kids, the gravity of the Winehouse family loss was etched across his face.

So much for the heartless cliché of money-grabbing music bosses.

A fleet of cars took the congregation on to Southgate, where the makeshift bar offered a choice of whisky or sherry. The alcohol remained almost untouched for 90 minutes. I indulged in my own little tribute - but got the feeling booze was the one elephant in the room. It has been the silent killer in Amy's story, while drugs grabbed all the headlines.

The immaculate hall had no sense of a morbid atmosphere. A lot of happy memories were shared. Jokes about Spurs' fortunes and funny stories about Amy filled the air. Her beloved Scottish tour manager Curly and backing singer Zalon laughed about nerve-wracking nights in front of huge audiences. A crew member joked of Glastonbury and how they struggled to keep the singer's white shirt clean before she went on stage.

Jewish food was laid out on a row of tables, with fish goujons and smoked salmon bagels hoovered up by hungry uncles over a cuppa.

As close family left for Mitch's sister's house, the band, crew, roadies, security and pals headed off to raise a glass in Amy's old haunt, Camden's Hawley Arms. The wake would go on long into the night.

My outstanding memory will be speaking to Reg Traviss. He's simply a broken man.

He had helped turned her life around, and looked like he was feeling the pain of the loss more than anyone in the room. The dawning realisation that he had only two years as her boyfriend - and that time had come to a sudden end. Still wide-eyed in shock, he spoke of the little things they were looking forward to. He had planned a family holiday with her and they'd shared their excitement about the wedding of a pal they were due at last Sunday.

All gone over the last few days.

I said my goodbyes to Mitch, Raye and Reg and left. Over the last seven years it has been difficult reporting the turbulent life of Amy Winehouse for The Sun.

I saw her in triumphant form and depths of despair - but we always got on. She recently told Reg "he was always all right with me. I liked him" - and that's enough for me.

I feel terrible that I doubted Mitch, questioning why he launched his own singing career.

He's just a lively, popular bloke who enjoys a bit of spotlight and a sing-song - nothing more sinister than that. And let's face it, we all have one of them in our lives.

But as Mitch told me: I am now a father to a little boy, like he once was to a little girl and no one is qualified to question that love - so look after it. If I've learned one lesson from my dealings with the Winehouse clan over the years, there it is. RIP Amy.





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