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In conversation with Mitch Winehouse, father of Amy

Posted on 11 February 2022

In our latest Academy session, Partner Sally Britton spoke with Mitch Winehouse, the father of late singer and songwriter Amy Winehouse, to discuss her legacy and the value of effective brand management.

In 2011, Mitch Co-founded The Amy Winehouse Foundation, which is now one of the UK's leading charities, working with young people to build their self-esteem and resilience.

Today, the Amy Winehouse Foundation helps thousands of young people feel supported and informed, so they are better able to manage their emotional wellbeing and make informed choices around things that can affect their lives. 

MDR Brand Management are proud to have been working closely with the Amy Winehouse Foundation since September 2020, celebrating, and protecting Amy's legacy as one of the world's greatest musical talents and style icons.

The Mishcon Academy Digital Sessions. 
Sally Britton

So welcome everyone and thank you for joining this Mishcon Academy Digital Session.  This is part of a series of online events, videos and podcasts looking at the biggest issues faced by businesses and individuals today.  I am Sally Britton, I will be hosting today’s event.  I am delighted to introduce my guest Mitch Winehouse, thank you so much for joining us today.  Mitch is the father of the incredibly talented Amy Winehouse who was an icon of music and style, who sadly passed away in 2011.  In 2011 Amy’s family and friends launched the Amy Winehouse Foundation and since then the Foundation has established itself as one of the UK’s leading charities working with young people to build self-esteem and resilience.  Mitch thanks so much for taking the time to speak to us today.  So perhaps we could start with her childhood?

Mitch Winehouse

Well she was always ambitious and she was a very precocious child who was a very loving child, she loved her family which was extensive, there were grandparents, uncles and aunts.  The house was full of love and activity and music but she was very mischievous, very mischievous.  I mean she would… we’d take her to a shopping mall and she would deliberately hide behind, behind the dresses or something or the coats so that we’d all freak out wondering where she was and of course she’d then jump out on us and things like that so she was very precocious but a lovely, a lovely child.

Sally Britton

Talking about precocious I heard you know, she went to theatre school, Sylvia Young?

Mitch Winehouse

Yeah.

Sally Britton

Tell me a bit about that?

Mitch Winehouse

She wasn’t badly behaved, all, all, all the pare… all the teachers loved her, all the kids loved her you know she was disruptive because she was so clever, she was doing, with people who was studying for an advanced mathematics degree, she was doing stuff like that so she was clearly bored, she wanted to go to Sylvia Young but she was disruptive and I said to her, ‘You can’t go.  If you are good for six months you can go next year’, so you know, she didn’t take any notice of me, she applied herself to Sylvia Young and she got in and just as an aside to that, one of the early projects after Amy passed away was we gave three scholarships to Sylvia Young so that three underprivileged kids could go through Sylvia Young and we would cover all the costs so we had auditions for those kids and they were just incredibly, incredibly talented and we finally settled on the three, on the three kids and it occurred to me of course that Amy went through the same process.  So I had no idea that she had that level of talent so you know, she was an incredibly talented child which really I kind of missed that, I mean I knew she could sing and dance but I didn’t realise she was that good to get a scholarship to go to Sylvia Young.

Sally Britton

She was a star, she really was an icon.  I mean when did you realise?  Was that obvious, I mean from a young stage?

Mitch Winehouse

You know I remember very clearly she was singing in a school show, I think she was eleven and she was singing the song from Annie, you know, Tomo… The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow and I said to my wife, ‘this is in the wrong key for her’ and of course she gets up and she sings this song and sure enough it’s in the wrong key and I remember saying to my, to my wife ‘thank God she can dance’ because you know, she didn’t understand about songs being in the right key for her and things like that and then the following year when she was twelve, just before she applied to go to Sylvia Young, she did an Alanis Morissette song, again at the school and my wife said ‘Oh crikey we’ve got to go and watch Amy sing again’ and ‘oh no’ and we went and all of a sudden now the song’s in the right key, she was fabulous but that’s when I thought she had a great chance.

Sally Britton
 
She was only was she, twenty, when she was running out Ivor Novello's?  So she quickly moved on to having a bit of ambition at Sylvia Young to being kind of multi-award winning singer.  You know, how, how was that transition as a family, how was it for Amy, how was it for you?  Was it very sudden?  Did you suddenly again, a bit like the talent, did you suddenly discover things had changed?

Mitch Winehouse

The album came out and there was… it was successful as a first album and as you say, she won a gra… an Ivor Novello award.  In those days she was a little bit more sort of focussed.  You know, she… it’s not that she wasn’t focussed, it was just that some writing and singing and performing wasn’t the be all and end all for Amy you know, if she had a boyfriend which was frequently, he would you know, it would be him, it would be her family, it would be her friends and you know, she wasn’t a slave to her art.  I mean I know that Carol King still sits at the piano for six hours a day, every day she writes a song and Amy wasn’t like that at all which in a way kind of makes it all more, more incredible because I remember we were in Spain, my mum and dad had a place there.  Amy came with us, she forgot her guitar, I had to buy her a guitar in the village where we, where we were staying and that’s where she basically put all cords down to Back to Black.  She literally said to me, ‘oh dad I’ve got write this album’ and the next thing you knew it was written.

Sally Britton

So just, I mean talking about kind of Amy and the transition to fame, she didn’t always want to be famous and obviously that kind of happened you know, maybe you know, not overnight but she was still very young when it happened.  In terms of becoming famous I mean obviously there were some difficult times in terms of kind of the press was obviously, obviously very kind of intrusive and things like that.  Do you think there was some parts of the fame that, that Amy enjoyed and the family kind of enjoyed some, some kind of good times during that time?

Mitch Winehouse

Well she did, you know she got a big kick out of it and very, very… as I did, I thought it was fantastic you know.  I was more star struck than she was but you know, very quickly it begins to become a chore.  When it becomes intrusive it was, it was terribly difficult for her.  Much worse later on after Back to Black came out you know, we’d be chased into the house by the paparazzi.  It would be raining and freezing and they’d be standing out there all night and she’d go and make them all tea and sandwiches and take them out to them and then the next minute they are chasing us down the road again you know, we didn’t know whether we were coming or were going.

Sally Britton

No it’s interesting that she, that Amy was there making tea for the very people who were you know, hounding her.

Mitch Winehouse

Well it was her character you know, she took a homeless person in to her home.  I mean can you imagine that, she did it.  That’s how she was with the paparazzi and sometimes her fans would turn up outside her door and she would take the fans into her home and make them something to eat.  She was a fantastic person, she really was.  In our family she was the greatest exponent of it.  She was just a great human being.

Sally Britton

In terms of like the Foundation, it’s probably a good time to maybe talk about the Foundation because you know, obviously it is a leading charity.  I think many people on this call have heard about it but perhaps you could talk a little bit more about what the charity has been doing?

Mitch Winehouse

Yeah when we started the Foundation officially the first thing we did, or one of the first things we did was the scholarships at Sylvia Young.  We were working with Children’s Hospices.  One of the early projects that we did was our Schools Resilience programme which is still going and that is working with people who are in recovery, going and speaking is not just about drugs and alcohol but other things that affect kids today, bullying, peer pressure, all those kind of things and of course they are the people that have been there and got the t-shirt you know, it’s no good me standing up and telling kids about drugs and alcohol.  Everybody that we employ in the Foundation is in recovery so the idea of the Foundation was (a) to create a pathway back to work for people in recovery but also to create a programme, the Schools Project, where we can work with people who are in recovery to go and talk to the kids and who better to talk to the kids than people who are in recovery.  So we have created Amy’s Place where they could come and stay with us and relax and enjoy their recovery in peace and soli… in peace and quiet and we are working with our partners who are Clarion Housing to find another property where we can, where we can create Amy’s Place number two.  We do also do some strategic funding so we, we have… we built a music room in Hayden’s Hospice which is a Children’s Hospice and we have ongoing music therapy in there for kids.  We have other strategic funding, a Cystic Fibrosis Charity that we work with as well and we have music therapy going on in there as well.  We do the best that we can but, but money is tight at the moment.  The last year, even though we’ve been in lockdown and things like that, it’s been very successful for us in terms of donations and we are now in our 11th year and we are probably in a better financial position than we’ve ever been in and we are very excited about the future.

Sally Britton

Something that happened when Amy passed was that people took advantage of her name and, and image.  Now that was happening already but there was a bit of an uptake around that time which was when we started working together.

Mitch Winehouse

Yeah someone had… we went to register Amy Winehouse Foundation dot com and some joker had already figured this out and got there before we did.  So we are now dot org, Amy Winehouse Foundation.org you know, so there’s no harm done but people have been trying to take advan… have taken advantage and Amy has been exploited incredibly and frankly continues to be exploited.  As a family we have to protect her, protect the Foundation and protect her legacy.

Sally Britton

Yeah absolutely and that’s absolutely the right thing and maybe we go on to a couple questions now that have come in from the audience and… so firstly, out of everything Amy wrote and sang, do you have a favourite song that you love the most?

Mitch Winehouse

Well not one that she wrote, I mean I loved all of her music but if you are asking me what, what her favourite, what my favourite song that Amy performed it’s Body and Soul because Tony Bennett was my idol and, and we were invited to meet Tony Bennett so my wife, Jane, myself and Amy went to meet Tony Bennett and we knew he was going to ask her to do a duet and he gave her a slip of paper with six songs on it and she said to him, ‘Tony I know what song I am going to sing straight away’ and he said, ‘what’s that?’ and she said, ‘Body and Soul’ and he said, ‘well why Body and Soul’, she said, ‘because it’s was my dad’s favourite’.  The feeling, I mean she was overawed just being with Tony Bennett and he was absolutely charming and of course we became friends and his son, Danny is a trustee of ours in New York, he’s one of our trustees and you know the royalties for that song which would have been split 50/50 between Amy and him, he donated all of the royalties to the Foundation in New York.

Sally Britton

The next thing which I think you probably expect this one might come, a couple of questions about this.  The documentaries that have kind of… the more recent one, there was one on the BBC and obviously the older one.  You know, what are your, you know, what are your thoughts on those documentaries in terms of being a true representation of Amy?  I think obviously we’ve talked about this before and then maybe a little bit about the film that might be coming, well is coming you know, we’d love to hear more about it?

Mitch Winehouse

The documentaries that, that just came out, there were two.  The BBC documentary is Reclaiming Amy and there was another big BBC documentary called A Life In Ten Pictures.  Both of those were superb and not because, not just because both of them portray Amy and the family in the way that it was, it’s the truth.  We were a loving family, we didn’t know what the hell we were doing.  The
Asif Kapadia film was a disgrace.  More and more and more people who were close to Amy were not involved in that documentary so her close friends, Naomi and Katriana, not in the documentary.  The… Reg her boyfriend, not in the documentary.  Chantelle, another close friend, not in the documentary.  So you’ve only got about four or five people in the documentary, some of them didn’t even you know, hadn’t even known Amy five minutes and they are passing judgment on, on this.  They knew how Amy looked in 2010, I gave them photographs of… ones of Amy and I performing together, she looked like Gina Lollobrigida, she looked fabulous.  Do you see that image in that film, no you don’t.  All you see is Amy looking her worst so you know, it’s a terrible depiction of Amy and a distortion of the truth.

Sally Britton

What’s next for the Foundation?  You talked about Amy’s Place 2 which is really exciting.

Mitch Winehouse

What we want to try and do is with the film and the… the film you know that could be as big as Hamilton.  Now if that’s the case, if that’s the case there is going to be millions of pounds hopefully coming into the Foundation.  The one thing, the other project that I forgot to tell you about is the project that we fund people through rehab who can’t afford to go through it.  So we want to be able to fund more people going through rehab.  In the last five years, of course two years of it we haven’t been able to do anything but the Schools Project, we’ve spoken to over a half a million kids at schools.  We want to make that a million kids that we speak to.  We want to create an Amy’s Place number 2 and a number 3 and a number 4.  There are no all-female recovery houses in Britain apart from Amy’s Place.  So what we want to do, and that’s a great question.  We just want to do more of the same.  We want to create more money so that we can help more people.

Sally Britton

You continuing is a fantastic legacy and something you can be really proud of.  So I think that brings us to a close, thank you so much for sharing you know, with such honesty and frankness about your family life, about Amy and the Foundation, it’s been a pleasure to talk to you today.  Thanks to everyone for joining and I hope you all have a good afternoon and I hope the sun shines in Tenerife Mitch.

Mitch Winehouse

The sun’s shining now.

Sally Britton

Good.

 

 

The Mishcon Academy Digital Sessions.  To access advice for businesses that is regularly updated, please visit mishcon.com.


Visit the Mishcon Academy for more learning, events, videos, podcasts and reports.

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