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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Radio as shelter: Grenfell Tower was too frightening to look at

No song seemed to fit the mood on Hayes FM.

“Amidst all this horror, I hope to bring you some light relief. Here’s James Taylor.” Two days after the Grenfell Tower fire, a popular community station a little west of the incident was uncertain what note to strike.

The repeated ads for alarms detecting carbon-monoxide leaks (“this silent killer”) and tips on how to prevent house fires (“Don’t overwhelm your sockets and cause a spark”) sounded perhaps a little overassertive, but then the one for a day-long course focusing on resisting gender stereotyping (“Change the narrative”) felt somewhat out of place. And no song seemed to fit. James Taylor’s “Shower the People” turned out OK, but the Cranberries’ “The Icicle Melts” was unceremoniously faded out mid-flow.

This does often happen on Hayes FM, though. There are times when the playlist is patently restless, embodying that hopeless sensation when you can’t settle and are going through tracks like an unplugged bath – Kate Bush too cringey, T-Rex too camp – everything reminding you of some terrible holiday a couple of years ago. Instead, more ads. Watch your salt intake. Giving up smoking might be a good idea. Further fire safety. (“Attach too many appliances and it could cause an overload and that could cause a fire. Fire kills.”)

Then a weather report during which nobody could quite bring themselves to state the obvious: that the sky was glorious. A bell of blue glass. The morning of the fire – the building still ablaze – I had found three 15-year-old boys, pupils at a Latimer Road school that stayed closed that day because of the chaos, sitting in their uniforms on a bench on the mooring where I live, along the towpath from the tower.

They were listening to the perpetual soft jangle of talk radio as it reported on the situation. “Why the radio?” I asked them, the sight of young people not focused on visuals clearly unusual. “It’s too frightening to look at!” they reasoned.

Radio as shelter. As they listened, one of them turned over in his hand a fragment of the tower’s cladding that he must have picked up in the street on the way over – a sticky-charcoaled hack of sponge, which clung like an insect to his fingers whenever he tried to drop it. 

Antonia Quirke is an author and journalist. She is a presenter on The Film Programme and Pick of the Week (Radio 4) and Film 2015 and The One Show (BBC 1). She writes a column on radio for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 22 June 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The zombie PM

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