HomeTV and MoviesAmy Winehouse made secret visits to Barbara Windsor's house and would rehearse EastEnders scripts together
Amy Winehouse made secret visits to Barbara Windsor's house and would rehearse EastEnders scripts together
AMY WINEHOUSE loved making secret visits to Barbara Windsor’s house so the pair could rehearse lines from her EastEnders scripts, with the singer playing Peggy Mitchell.
Despite being in a private hospital having treatment for alcohol addiction, Amy would regularly sneak off to spend time with the late Carry On actress, who she saw as a “surrogate nan” after the death of her beloved grandmother Cynthia.
In an exclusive interview ahead of the tenth anniversary of Amy’s death at 27 from alcohol poisoning, her best friend Tyler James has revealed the highs and lows of their amazing friendship — and told how she once smoked heroin in Harrods and begged him to have kids with her.
Former singer Tyler, who himself battled alcohol addiction and is now clean, has written the book My Amy about his close friendship with the troubled star.
Remembering Amy’s visits to the soap legend in 2010, he told The Sun: “When she met Barbara it was as though she became a new nan figure for her.
“Amy was in and out of private hospitals being treated for addiction to alcohol but it was easy to sneak out and Barbara lived round the corner.
“Amy would always give her a massive hug when she saw her. You saw pictures of Amy looking off her head and out of her mind, but when she was with Barbara her upbringing and manners for someone older were on display.
“Barbara and her husband Scott would make us tea and sandwiches, and sometimes Amy would ask for a drink.
"Barbara was very aware of her problems and we’d all talk about how Amy would become like me — that she’d get there too, that she’d beat alcohol. Barbara was very supportive of that.
“Barbara was teetotal too but they had drink in the house for visitors.
“She’d ask Amy, ‘Are you sure?’ then say to me on the fly, ‘Is she alright to have a drink?’, almost asking for my permission because she didn’t want the responsibility.
“I’d just say, ‘What can you do?’ Amy could get a drink anywhere if she wanted one.
“It wasn’t like she was going round there to get drunk — far from it. It was always one drink, half a glass of wine.
“Though at times it was awkward. We’d be sitting there talking about sobriety, Amy talking about how proud she was of me and them both being proud of me, while Amy was drinking her wine.
“She had so much respect for Barbara, she could really be herself around her. She loved hearing Barbara’s stories.”
A huge fan of EastEnders, Amy would persuade Barbara to dig out her soap scripts so they could run through the lines, with the singer delighting in playing Barbara’s role of landlady Peggy Mitchell.
Tyler, 39, recalled: “Barbara loved it and she’d play Pat Butcher. Amy being Amy, with her accents and impressions, got right into it. There was a proper connection between them. When we left, Barbara always said to me, ‘Look after her, Tyler.’ It was a comforting place for her to go.”
When not sneaking out to see Barbara, Amy enjoyed her time at the private hospital.
Tyler said: “She loved it there. It had a spa and a gym. There’s room service, like a five-star hotel. Nice menu — you can order alcohol. She would do that when she was better. She’d stay there for a week, ten days, sometimes three weeks.
“She’d be hooked up to a drip. When she was lying on the sofa at home, drinking, I’d tell her she was destroying her body, not just her mind, and she’d say, ‘Oh why can’t I just be put on a drip at home?’”
As a patient, Amy also loved to top up her tan. Tyler said: “She’d go out the back of the hospital for a sunbathe. The staff would put some kind of stretcher out and she’d lie on that with her glass of champagne, sunbathing, covered in baby oil.
“Every now and then a fella from the kitchen would pop out for a fag break and see Amy lying there, topless, dripping in oil. She’d say, ‘Gies a light, darling’ and he’d never know quite which way to look.”
Amy grew up in North London but Tyler’s family were from the East End — an area that fascinated the singer and drew her to Tyler, who she begged to have children with.
Laughing, Tyler said: “Amy always wanted to be a gangster’s wife — that was her fantasy. She loved the fact that my family was from the East End and always said that one day we would have children together.
“There are twins running in my family and she wanted to be an East End mum like the mum of the Kray twins. We decided we would name them Marlon and Brandon.
“Amy was motherly, she would iron my shirts, make sure my tie was on straight if we were going somewhere. She begged me to marry her and begged me to have children.
'SHE WOULD HAVE BEEN A BRILLIANT MOTHER'
"She said, ‘Tyler, I hate this world, I just want things to be normal. Please, please can me and you just get married and have kids and have a life without all this s**t?’
“I thought about it. If she did have children, would that have made everything all right? What if it didn’t? Then you add a whole new dimension, of her not being well enough to be a good mother.
“There was no doubt in my mind she would have been a brilliant mother, a natural, but she just wasn’t ready. We made a pact that one day we would.
“It devastates me that she never became a mum because she would have, one day, been brilliant. It would have been her greatest achievement.
" I won’t ever have kids now because I think I was only destined to have them with Amy, and it was a promise we made to each other.”
Amy was close to Tyler’s mum Tina. So in 2007, when luxury London department store Harrods closed to the public so Amy and her friends could go shopping, Tina was lavished with gifts.
"Tyler said: “It was a friend of Amy’s who organised a night out in Harrods where they close the shop for you and everything’s free.
“We could have anything we wanted. There was someone walking around with limitless champagne on a tray.
“At one point, Amy and one of our friends disappeared into an upstairs back room to smoke heroin in the posh Harrods surroundings.
"When she came out we went shopping. But she didn’t get anything for herself. She kept picking out Mulberry bags for my mum, my sister and my aunt.
“Amy loved spending money. She was terrible with it and behaved like she’d won the Lottery.
“Instead of buying a house, we rented and she bought Louboutin shoes and Agent Provocateur underwear. She loved having fun. I like to remember the fun times.”
But Tyler was also a witness to the dark side of Amy's life, and tried to protect her.
He said: “I can never forget the tough times. But I only did for her what she would do for me.
“There would be times when she was up for five days straight doing crack without a minute’s sleep.
“I would stay up with her to make sure she was all right.
"Then she would fall asleep curled up next to me and I loved it because it was peaceful and quiet, just me and her together.
“And I knew that she was safe, she was happy, I was protecting her.”
Tyler still misses the star every day.
He said: “I don’t visit her grave because I don’t believe she is there.
"If I saw her today, I would tell her, ‘I love you more than anything in the world’, because I still do.
“I will never, ever stop loving my Amy.”
Extracted from My Amy, published by Macmillan on Thursday (£18.99)
JOY OF TRIP TO TESCO FOR MINCE
AMY missed the normal things in life such as going on trains or visiting the supermarket – and loved it when she got a rare chance to experience them again.
Tyler writes: “Amy missed being a normal person. She’d be writing her shopping list and you could see her almost forgetting that she wouldn’t be going to Tesco herself.
“I’d walk out with her list, go to the nearby Tesco garage and feel terrible, like I’d been given the ticket to Disneyland and she wasn’t allowed to come.
“One night I managed to sneak her there. She was low-key, hood up, walking into Tesco at 11 o’clock at night. It wasn’t busy and she picked out her things herself. She was absolutely made up.
“It was one of the best moments of her year. Forget private jets and touring, this was a special moment – when Amy picked up the f***ing mince in Tesco.”
Another time the singer threw caution to the wind and travelled on a packed Tube train – and no one believed it was her.
He explains: “She was sick of sitting in her £80k Land Rover in traffic and one day suggested we go on the Underground.
“I thought, ‘Let’s do it, what’s the worst that could happen?’
“We got dropped off at the nearest Tube station, Cockfosters. The Tube wasn’t busy, she looked like Amy, her hair was up, she wasn’t in disguise.
“As we got closer to London the carriage filled up. Amy was so famous every person did a double-take and I could see it on their faces: ‘It’s obviously not her, it can’t be her’.
“Amy was laughing. She whispered to me, ‘They don’t believe it’s me, brilliant – I can actually walk around!’
“We got to Camden Town station, got off the train and people went berserk, shouting, crowding towards her. They hadn’t seen her out in public for so long.
“Amy wasn’t scared, she thought it was hilarious. We ran up the escalators, got to the top. It was packed and Amy just jumped the barrier, like a lad.
“People were screaming and taking pictures, running after us. We got to the pub and Amy collapsed in a seat.
“It was the most fun she’d had in weeks.”
I’M ON THE HARIBO/OXO CUBE DIET
AS her first album Frank was released in 2003, Amy started to develop eating disorders anorexia and bulimia, which would be with her until she died.
Tyler said: “She told me, ‘I’ve started on this diet – the Oxo cube/Haribo diet.’ At the time it was so ridiculous it was funny.
“She invented it herself. If you fancied something savoury, you’d have an Oxo cube dissolved in a glass of hot water – beef or chicken. If you fancied something sweet, you’d have one Haribo sweet.
“I wanted to be thin myself. We had a phrase, ‘Eating is cheating’. ”
There were points where the star was healthy and would eat smoked salmon and scrambled eggs. But when she ordered buckets of KFC, Tyler knew she was going to binge-eat.
He writes: “Her security were asked to bring back buckets of KFC, or battered sausage and chips with jars of mayonnaise. It’s a very personal thing and I never screamed at her about it.
“I’d only ever say, ‘Amy, you’ve really gotta try and get a handle on that.’ ”
Exercise was part of her obsession.
Tyler writes: “In the year she died, Amy would spend a good three hours a day in the gym, cycling all the way through a movie. She got into buying fitness gear.
“She’d say, ‘If I don’t run five miles, I’ll go nuts. It sorts my head out’. ”