Exclusive: The Real Amy Winehouse

Exclusive: The Real Amy Winehouse

Blake Wood, author of a new photo book, reveals a rare side of his friend and renowned songstress.

Blake Wood, author of a new photo book, reveals a rare side of his friend and renowned songstress.

Photography: Blake Wood

This story appears in the pages on V115, our Fall 2018 issue. Head to shop.vmagazine.com to order your copy today!

Amy and I met through a mutual friend, Kelly Osbourne, on a Sunday evening, a very normal, chill night in. I was very surprised when Amy came down the stairs. I’d only ever seen her perform. She was a force to be reckoned with. Kelly had to work that night, so Amy and I went back to Amy’s apartment in East London. I stayed with her that week nonstop. I knew this was someone going through a lot; we connected. I felt there weren’t a lot of people at that time who were, A) sober around her, and B) able to speak up and help.

I think we both had this ability to go deep with people quickly, and not be bothered by it. We spoke about heartbreak; quite personal things. We both felt like outsiders, and found solace in each other. We weren’t the coolest kids in school. I’d never drunk or done drugs. Our friendship was separate from her addiction and substance issues. [Addiction] was almost like an uninvited friend. She’d go deal with that “person,” then come back and we’d be together.

The six Grammy nominations came out in 2008. I was like, “Oh God, you’ve gotta experience this sober, really enjoy it.” That was my mission for her. I stayed with her while she was in a facility, watching movies, playing cards, hanging out. Later on, when Tony Bennett announced [Winehouse winning] record of the year, I cried tears of joy. It was the first time I really saw her feel her impact. She was floored by it: [Tony] was the be-all-end-all for her and her father. The entire room was electric—we were all cheering and crying.

We went to Paris shortly after that for a gig. She was having a difficult time with substances. I was there by her side, with whatever she needed. She didn’t necessarily want to perform during that year, but because of the demand and the [Grammys], there was a push. Performing was really her gift; it was about being in a place to perform. After Paris, I realized it was time to heal, to help and better herself. That first six months was [about] kicking heroin; by December, she kicked crack. I’ll always be very proud of her for doing that. She was one of the strongest women I’ve ever met.

We got to breathe in St. Lucia. You can see it in the photos. She’s just soaking up the sun, fully relaxed. That was the first time I saw her completely sober, comfortable in her skin, just glowing. She had an innate connection to the island: It was safe, away from press. There weren’t wolves at our door. We read, meditated, hiked, did yoga; horseback riding definitely gave her a sense of freedom.

With this project, I wanted to show it wasn’t all bad at that time. I don’t think the documentary touched on the personal triumphs, and the good. These photos show this beautiful, loving light in her that the media didn’t share, or didn’t care about. They chose a narrative that would sell, but that’s not who she was at her core. I wanted to share the side of her the world really should know: the happy, loving light she was. It’s the eulogy she deserved. I’ll be somewhere public, her songs will come on, and whoever I’m with will look at me. I’ll be like, “I know, she’s saying hello.” It’s comforting.

Blake Wood as told to Devin Barrett.

Blake Wood's new photography tome, Amy Winehouse, is available now from Taschen and includes text by Nancy Jo Sales.

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