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Book excerpt: Amy Winehouse and the ties that bind the ‘27 Club’

British singer Amy Winehouse performs during the Rock in Rio music festival in Lisbon in 2008.

Nacho Doce/REUTERS

From: Amy 27, by Howard Sounes. Copyright © Howard Sounes, 2013. Reprinted by permission of Penguin Canada Books Inc.

Amy moved into her new house in February, 2011, after lengthy refurbishment. She loved the house, delighting in showing it off to friends, as Kurt Cobain had shown off his Seattle mansion. "She seemed happiest at home," says [her drummer] Troy Miller. "I'd go round there [and] she'd always cook this meatball dish. That was her favourite. Very domestic. She was always making tea for people. Very welcoming …very friendly." Amy told her father she couldn't see herself ever leaving Camden Square. She didn't.

There were renewed concerns within the family that in returning to Camden Town Amy might be tempted into bad habits. It was always easy to score drugs in Camden and Amy could walk to [her favourite pubs] the Hawley Arms or the Good Mixer from her house. But she seemed to have lost interest in drugs, and sympathetic landlords chose to stop serving her alcohol, in agreement with friends, like Amy's stylist Naomi Parry, who sometimes stayed with Amy at Camden Square.

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"Naomi was in tears a lot, saying, 'My friend's drinking herself to death. If she comes [in], just don't serve her booze,'" says Doug Charles-Ridler, landlord of the Hawley Arms. Amy didn't stop drinking, though. "It was very rare I'd see her sober," says John Hurley, who helped his wife run the Good Mixer. As a reformed drinker, John saw the damage Amy had done to herself during the years she'd frequented their pub. "She went from rosy cheeks – she looked great – to gaunt … Although she went the way that she did via drugs, and the alcohol and that, it didn't change her personality. She was always still, right up until the end, a real sweet woman … She was like a lot of us: she got lost with all the drinking."

Amy was accompanied by minders everywhere she went – huge men, like Andrew Morris, who kept the paparazzi and drug-dealers at bay, and just as importantly kept Amy from going to dealers during her drug period. "Part of the agreement was that [if the minders saw] her enter any premises which was known to sell drugs [they] would go back to the record company, and they would give her a big fine," says John Hurley, but he notes that the heavies didn't stop Amy drinking if she was in the mood. Sometimes all they could do was help her home.

One evening a couple of months before she died local people saw Amy in just such a state. "You could see she was drunk," says Rozh, a Kurdish worker in the dry-cleaner's on Murray Street at the bottom of Camden Square. He watched Amy being helped past the shop by two of her minders, on their way back to the house. "They carried her home."

When she was on the wagon Amy would impose rules on herself, including no booze in the house, but she broke her rules. "There was never booze in the 'ouse, unless she wanted to have a drink," explains [her last boyfriend] Reg Traviss, "and then she would nip out and get it." As with many hardened alcoholics, Amy now favoured vodka, which she drank neat, and it wasn't always clear whether she was telling the truth about her drinking. Alcoholics drink vodka in preference to other spirits because it is colourless and virtually odourless and therefore easy to conceal. There is evidence that she lied on occasion about her drinking, such as when she told her father she hadn't had a drink in Brazil. Reg says that Amy would typically get up before him, when he stayed over, and go downstairs to make breakfast. It is possible that she used this opportunity to have a furtive nip of vodka to settle her stomach. It is what alcoholics do … Reg encouraged Amy to look ahead, beyond her music, to what else she might do with her life. "I said, 'Look, you're [27]. You can do anything. You're a young gel. You can do anything you like.'"

Outside music, Amy had been offered opportunities to design clothing for the Fred Perry company, and to appear in the TV show Mad Men. Reg says a part had been written for her, which would seem to have been an ideal fit, though her lack of a U.S. visa might have ruled the project out. He gave her a pep talk that sounds remarkably similar to the advice given to Kurt Cobain shortly before his death. "I said, 'Take a step back, have a look around and then maybe come up with something you haven't even thought about and do it … Even if you just do it for a year, six months, two weeks, whatever. The point is you can do anything. You haven't gotta just think, I've gotta go out and sing these songs all the time.'

"And she could. The world was her oyster, and she was very talented in a lot of other things that I don't think she gets credit for. I spent time discussing all that with her, and reminding her – not that she ever forgot, I don't think – just sort of reminding her that there was so many possibilities in life, particularly for someone so young who's in the fortunate position that [they] haven't got to go out and work every day."

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