Even in death, Winehouse is not granted privacy or respect

All that prurient poking into the singer's private life might have been part of the problem.

Amy Winehouse's sad, lonely, early death is a tragedy. It is a human tragedy for the young woman herself, and her family and friends; and a different kind of tragedy for the tabloid press who so enjoyed feasting on her misery and despair while she was alive. It will have to make do with feasting on the misery of her family, now the golden goose has gone.

It would be too much to hope that, in death, Winehouse could find the kind of privacy and respect she didn't have in life. Even from before the moment the blanket-covered body was taken away from the flat where life left it, it has been a feeding frenzy. Even when she died, the press still hounded her.

Today's Daily Mail, for example, has photos of Winehouse's tear-soaked mother and father looking at the fans' memorial that has sprung up in her street, along with a rather snippy colour piece about the apparent non-classiness of the tributes. It's not the only newspaper to be doing this. They're all feasting on the celebrity death, with varying levels of sincerity; some of the worst offenders in harassing and attacking Winehouse while she was alive are now repositioning themselves as grieving friends. It would be funny, if it weren't slightly sickening.

It's easy to sneer and make judgements on Winehouse's lifestyle, and post-Diana memorials in general; easy, too, to say "I told you so" or to think that this miserable death was a predictable thing. Because it's easy, a lot of people are doing it. It's more difficult, perhaps, to contemplate the way in which this life and death was gorged on by the writers and readers of redtops and trashy magazines alike, and wonder whether all that prurient poking into the singer's private life might have been part of the problem. That kind of question might raise uncomfortable answers; instead, it's simpler and less time-consuming to blame the addict for their "choices", and imagine that in a just world everyone is as capable as everyone else of avoiding the same destiny.

Now that Amy is dead, the paps can happily return to their well-worn perches outside Winehouse's residence, having been barred before, following a series of doorstep confrontations, photos of a tearful Winehouse outside (and inside) her home, and the usual intruding snatched shots of someone going about her daily life.

Perhaps in that gloomy street in Camden, there's a reunion of sorts going on; paparazzi are reminiscing about the time they caught Winehouse in an alleyway, or saw her bawling her eyes out in public, remembering the sky-high prices those photos made. Those glory days are gone now, of course. But how proud all those involved must be with their role in chasing a young woman struggling with addiction and personal problems, hounding her outside her home, and getting "friends" and hangers-on to dish the dirt on what was going on behind closed doors, when the lenses couldn't see.

Were we really fascinated by the stories of Amy's life, of her excesses, or her tempestuous relationships? We must have been; the photos and tales fetched high prices for those willing to do the dirtiest of dirty work, which means someone somewhere must have believed there was a strong market for them. In some small way, perhaps all of us who devoured the images and stories are in a way responsible for this most dreadful of outcomes. And all that's left is the grave, a fine and private place -- a private ceremony, and the end of a life.

Patrolling the murkier waters of the mainstream media

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I worked as a teacher – so I can tell you how regressive grammar schools are

The grammars and "comprehensives" of Kent make for an unequal system. So why does Theresa May consider the county a model for the future?

In 1959 my parents moved me from a Roman Catholic primary school to the junior branch of King Henry VIII, Coventry’s most high-profile grammar. The head teacher berated my mother for betraying the one true faith, but although she was born in Galway, my mum was as relaxed about her religion as she was about her native roots. Any strong feelings about the English Reformation had disappeared around the same time as her Irish accent. Her voice gave no clue to where she was from and – as a result of a wartime commission – the same was true of my father. Together, Mrs and Mr Smith embodied postwar Britain’s first-generation upwardly mobile middle class.

Their aspiration and ambition were so strong that my mother saw no problem in paying for me to attend a Protestant school. Why, you may ask, did my dad, a middle manager and by no means well off, agree to pay the fees? Quite simply, my parents were keen that I pass the eleven-plus.

King Henry VIII School benefited from the direct grant scheme, introduced after the Education Act 1944. In Coventry, the two direct grant schools were centuries old and were paid a fee by the government to educate the fifth or so of boys who passed the eleven-plus. When secondary education in Coventry became comprehensive in the mid-1970s, King Henry VIII went fully independent; today, it charges fees of more than £10,000 per year.

A few years ago, I returned to my old school for a memorial service. As I left, I saw a small group of smartly dressed men in their late seventies. They had strong Coventry accents and intended to “go down the club” after the service. It occurred to me that they represented the small number of working-class lads who, in the years immediately after the Second World War, were lucky enough to pass the eleven-plus and (no doubt with their parents making huge sacrifices) attend “the grammar”. But by the time I moved up to King Henry VIII’s senior school in 1963 there appeared to be no one in my A-stream class from a working-class background.

From the early 1950s, many of the newly affluent middle classes used their financial power to give their children an advantage in terms of selection. My parents paid for a privileged education that placed top importance on preparation for the eleven-plus. In my class, only one boy failed the life-determining test. Today, no less than 13 per cent of entrants to the 163 grammar schools still in the state system are privately educated. No wonder preparatory schools have responded enthusiastically to Theresa May’s plans to reverse the educational orthodoxy of the past five decades.

Nowhere has the rebranding of secondary moderns as “comprehensives” been more shameless than in Kent, where the Conservative-controlled council has zealously protected educational selection. Each secondary modern in east Kent, where I taught in the 1970s, has since been named and renamed in a fruitless attempt to convince students that failing to secure a place at grammar school makes no difference to their educational experience and prospects. That is a hard message to sell to the two-thirds of ten-year-olds who fail the Kent test.

Investment and academy status have transformed the teaching environment, which a generation ago was disgraceful (I recall the lower school of a secondary modern in Canterbury as almost literally Edwardian). Ofsted inspections confirm that teachers in non-grammar schools do an amazing job, against all the odds. Nevertheless, selection reinforces social deprivation and limited aspiration in the poorest parts of the south-east of England, notably Thanet and the north Kent coastline.

A third of children in Thanet live in poverty. According to local sources (including a cross-party report of Kent councillors in 2014), disadvantaged children make up less than 9 per cent of pupils in grammar schools but 30 per cent at secondary moderns. University admissions tutors confirm the low number of applications from areas such as Thanet relative to the UK average. Though many of Kent’s secondary moderns exceed expectations, the county has the most underperforming schools in the UK.

When I began my teaching career, I was appallingly ignorant of the harsh realities of a secondary education for children who are told at the age of 11 that they are failures. Spending the years from seven to 17 at King Henry VIII School had cocooned me. More than 40 years later, I can see how little has changed in Kent – and yet, perversely, the Prime Minister perceives the county’s education system as a model for the future.

This article first appeared in the 22 September 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The New Times