Fairy-tale romances used to involve blushing brides and charming princes. Today’s ideal is messier but, as Amy Winehouse and Blake Fielder-Civil have shown, still potent
The Independent. 02 June 2007
Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes it most certainly is not. When the singer Amy Winehouse, 23, and the “music video assistant” Blake Fielder-Civil, 25, exchanged vows in Miami, in the company of a few friends, the event was that rarest of things in the celebrity universe – spontaneous. There was no publicity campaign, no deal with Hello! Just a £60 ceremony, a wedding breakfast of burger and chips and a 48-hour hotel room lock-in.
Equally endearing was the ensuing row with Winehouse’s mother, Janis, who was distraught at being left out. Winehouse has now agreed to hold “a large family bash” in London, to appease her mother, although she says her taxi driver father, Mitchell, is “going to kick my head in – he’s still got to pay for the proper wedding”.
You would expect nothing less from Winehouse, who, despite her patent star quality and two acclaimed albums, lives her life, and especially her love life, among mortals. Indeed, over the past two years we have learnt the finer details of her shambling, booze-fuelled affairs not because of leaks from “the Winehouse camp”, but because she has been easy to find.
“For a while it was ridiculous,” says one music writer. “On any night, you could wander into the Hawley Arms [by Camden Lock] and she’d be in there. So, you could have a drink with her if you wanted. If she wasn’t in the Hawley, she’d always be around and about – I once saw her in Nando’s ordering loads of chicken.”
Winehouse has not only been an easy mark for the newspapers, she has generated plenty of stories too. We know all about her old-fashioned sailor tattoos. We know about her favourite drink, Rickstasy – three parts vodka, one part Southern Comfort, one part banana liqueur, and one part Baileys. And, of course we know about her love life.
The most constant gossip staple has been Winehouse’s on-off affair with the man who has now become her husband. But, aside from his association with Winehouse, little is known about Fielder-Civil, except that he will soon appear in court on a GBH charge after a landlord was injured in a brawl in an East End pub.
“I used to go out clubbing with Blake,” says a friend, who did not wish to be named. “He’s kind of a charming bad boy. He’s the sort of bloke who’s got all the chat – who’s got a little twinkle in his eye. He’ll go out and misbehave and do who knows what, but he’d never let a woman go through a door second. He’s always called a ‘music video assistant’, or a ‘gopher’ but I don’t know about that. I don’t know where he gets his money from.”
In 2005, Winehouse had a brief relationship with the mysterious Fielder-Civil, before the pair broke up owing to the difficult fact that he already had a girlfriend. Winehouse was distraught, and is said to have written much of her award-winning Back to Black album about the break-up.
With Fielder-Civil off the scene, Winehouse drowned her sorrows, and then took up with a chef and musician called Alex Claire, with whom she enjoyed a stormy relationship until a much-publicised break-up earlier this year. Indeed, the biggest bit of publicity came when Claire was persuaded to sell his story to the News of the World, in a rattling read entitled “Bondage Crazed Amy Just Can’t Beehive in Bed”.
Claire’s story came during a riotous few weeks of press speculation. Winehouse would be seen out with Claire one night, and Fielder-Civil the next. Sometimes, she would make time to see both her exes in the same evening. The action normally finished in some kind of drunken row, or, as on one occasion in Camden’s Dublin Castle, with Winehouse selling kisses to punters for shots of tequila.
Claire claimed his relationship with the singer was fiery, and the break-up unbearable. “It’s like she cut out my heart, bit a chunk out of it, threw it on the floor and stomped all over it,” said the chef. “She’s scared to be happy. I hope she finds happiness one day. She needs looking after but I’m glad that’s not my responsibility any more.”
Commitment, it seemed, was the last thing on the singer’s mind. So it was somewhat out of the blue when Fielder-Civil, after an inevitable night on the tiles in April, asked Winehouse to marry him. A day later, Winehouse said yes. Cue another celebration.
Or perhaps it was not such a surprise. It was clear to anyone who spent any time around the singer that Fielder-Civil had never really left Winehouse. Indeed, despite her promises to Claire, Winehouse could not bring herself to remove the tattoo above her left breast that reads “Blake’s pocket”. It was not the only way in which Fielder-Civil stayed close to her heart.
“I saw Amy when she was on The Sharon Osbourne Show back in October 2006,” says a friend of the singer. “She had Blake with her. All the time she was talking about ‘her boyfriend’ – Alex – but was sitting on Blake’s lap and snogging him. She was saying, ‘read me out those text messages I sent you – the filthy ones.’ It was all pretty gross.
“It was clear that they were still together,” continues the friend. “There’s always been a kind of Fatal Attraction element to their relationship – it’s like they can’t live without each other.”
Now, the couple are happy as puppies. At her gig at Shepherd’s Bush this week, she spent most of the evening mouthing “I love you” at her husband (who, for good measure, has a new tattoo reading ‘AMY’ behind his ear). She told the crowd: “I don’t know if you heard, but I just got married to the best man in the world.”
If it had been Britney, or Paris or Lindsay Lohan, we would all be asking for the sickbag. But there is something deliciously unmediated about the continuing saga that is Amy Winehouse. Or perhaps she is just having her “moment”. Elton John says he worships at her feet. Lily Allen wishes she were more like her. Even Jo Brand is a self-confessed fan. But can it last?
“There is a definite trajectory to these things,” says the PR Mark Borkowski, “where someone like Amy Winehouse enjoys a honeymoon period. That’s happening now. It’s the summer, festivals are about to start, she’s just got married. The question is, how long can it go on?”
Winehouse is not somebody who exists purely as a celebrity. She made her name because of her extraordinary voice, and to a certain extent, her extraordinary style. So she does not need the publicity in the same way that someone like Paris Hilton does. But there will come a time, says Borkowski, when her liberal attitude to the media comes back to bite her.
“Like many people of her generation, she’s very comfortable with all the attention,” he says. “There’s a sense in which that whole circle – Pete Doherty, Kate Moss et al – are anaesthetised to it. But there is a value to keeping yourself out of the press. Because at some point, you may wish it to stop. That’s going to be difficult for Amy Winehouse. She and her husband have sent out signals that they don’t want to be left alone, and further down the line, I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw her hand in the lens of some paparazzo.”
If this ugly scenario does play itself out, Winehouse can always look to one of her favourite bands, the Shangri-La’s, for comfort. “I realised,” said Winehouse last month, “that the Shangri-La’s have pretty much got a song for every stage of a relationship. When you see a boy and you don’t even know his name. When you start talking to him. When you start going out with him. And then when you’re in love with him. And then when he fucking chucks you and then you want to kill yourself.”
Right now, Winehouse’s relationship with the British public is at its third or fourth stage. And if it ever gets to the fifth, it will be hard for Winehouse – whatever, at least we can expect another great album.