They finally made her go to rehab

They tried to make her go to rehab and this week, finally, she said yes. The 23-year-old singer Amy Winehouse may have shot to superstardom thanks to the song Rehab ­– whose lyrics insist she does not need help with her alcohol and drug use — but it is not easy to be the United Kingdom’s most in-demand performer while being drunk.

And so, last week, the long-predicted Winehouse crash appears to have happened. The increasingly erratic performer was admitted to a London hospital following an overdose of substances said to include cocaine, Ecstasy, ketamine and marijuana.

With her husband, Blake Fielder-Civil, she reportedly checked into an Essex clinic east of London after telling journalists: “I’ve scared myself this time. I know things have got to change. I have to sort myself out.” On Wednesday, after three days, they checked out — and reportedly headed straight for the pub.

Winehouse may be one of the most outrageously talented performers to emerge in Britain in some time, a whirlwind success in the United Kingdom and, latterly, in the United States, where her second album, Back to Black, entered the charts at number seven, the highest position to date for a British female solo artist. But of late her trademark brand of gloriously mouthy excess has spiralled into something more troubling.

Alarmingly thin and conspicuously drunk much of the time, the singer has recently cancelled several big gigs, citing exhaustion, and has increasingly displayed an appetite for punkish self-destruction that has won her comparisons with Sid Vicious, the Sex Pistols bassist who died aged 21.

“She’s obviously not happy and she obviously needs help,” says showbiz columnist Joe Mott. “But … she is absolutely her own person. The more you tell her to do something, the more she will go the other way. If she’s decided now to [seek help], it’ll be because she wanted to.”

Winehouse was born in 1983, her father a London cabbie and her mother a pharmacist. The couple divorced when she was nine. She attended the Sylvia Young Theatre School and was expelled for getting a nose ring. A spell at the Brit School for Performing Arts followed. Nick Williams, the principal, says she was an “independently minded” pupil, as good an actor as singer.

“You would have had to be mad not to realise that Amy was a very, very talented young woman and that she had what it took to be extremely successful.”

By 16 she was singing in jazz bands, her extraordinary Motown-era voice quickly winning her a record deal.

Mott, who worked alongside her at a showbiz news agency, recalls a serious young woman who “smoked a lot of weed” but was, he says, “always really anti other hard drugs apart from that — all that has crept up in the last year”.

By 2003 she had an album, Frank, a self-penned, jazz-influenced collection showing her acerbic lyrical skills. It sold respectably and won her a Mercury Prize nomination, but there was little to hint at the cartoonish tabloid rebel she was to become. Last year she was back with a new album and a startling new look — stick thin and heavily tattooed. (She at first attributed her weight loss to cutting back on marijuana, but more recently admitted to anorexia and bulimia.)

“I remember her PR guy before the second album came out saying ‘I think we could get Amy in the NME,’ and I said, ‘No way, she is the antithesis of what we do,'” says Krissi Murison, deputy editor at NME magazine. All that changed with the single Rehab. “With just the opening bars and those first few lyrics, the whole office just stopped. Everyone was saying ‘Oh my God, this is amazing, who is it?'”

If this truck-stop Betty Boop with the voice of Nina Simone is now one of the most-sought-after artists in the world — the US music magazines Rolling Stone and Spin had a spat over who would be first to put her on their cover — the singer’s life has been chaotic. She married Fielder-Civil, a former boyfriend, in May, six weeks after they had reunited. Then a succession of high-profile gigs were marred by slurred performances or last-minute cancellations.

Murison, whom Winehouse taught to play pool last year over several of her favourite Rickstasy cocktails (six measures of spirits without mixer), says: “You can have this lifestyle and be in the tabloids every day but fundamentally you have to keep it about the music or no one really wants to know.”

Martin Talbot, editor of Music Week, believes Winehouse’s problems may be exaggerated. “Yes, she has had her troubles, but she’s very young and has been catapulted to suddenly being an international superstar and that’s what she’s grappling with … the thing is, she absolutely can deliver.” — Â

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Esther Addley
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