Fundraising in memory of a loved one is no easy feat. In the first of three instalments on charity work that has sprung from personal loss, Brigit Grant catches up with Mitch Winehouse on remembering Amy through the wide ranging projects of the Amy Winehouse Foundation.
On 23 July, Mitch Winehouse will be at Edgwarebury Lane Cemetery, standing beside his daughter’s grave saying Kaddish.
By his own admission, he is not a religious man, but being there with his family and friends on the third anniversary of Amy’s death is the natural thing to do.
Not that the multi-award winning singer is ever out of Mitch’s thoughts – “I hear her music everywhere I go,” he says, and notes how eerily uncanny it is that her songs come on every time he enters a room.
And the coincidences don’t stop there. “I often stay at the first flat she bought in Camden and last night while I was thinking about her, I heard three distinct knocks on the door. I looked out to see who it was, but no one was there.”
Any hint of Amy’s presence is reassuring for Mitch who tells me he’ll always grieve for his talented 27-year-old daughter, but the Foundation launched in her name to help house, educate and find employment for disenfranchised youth has been an emotional lifesaver for him.
“Before Amy passed away, I wasn’t particularly industrious,” admits Mitch, who is now a jazz recording artist and performer.
“But if there are any positives in her passing – and they’re not easy to see – I’ve been galvanised and my days are full of planning the Foundation’s future with my family, who are all involved.
“What could be better than doing something like this in Amy’s name? I just want to do more.”
The truth is that Mitch (pictured right with Amy) doesn’t know what he would do without the charity, as there are not enough hit albums or sold-out cabaret shows to compensate for the loss of his child.
And, sadly, he is not alone in this sentiment or response, as it is not unusual for a charity to be started in memory of one who has died young, and often tragically.
But creating a registered legacy for the deceased goes far beyond comforting the bereaved.
Run efficiently and with passion, it can provide solutions, resources, respite and even cures to thousands of people who may not even recognise the name on the charity’s masthead.
Not that this was ever going to be a problem for the licensed London cabbie. Having lived a controversial life in the full glare of the spotlight, Amy never lacked attention, but the respect for her iconic status as a musician enabled her father to set the Foundation up quickly and easily.
“The idea to do something came to me within hours of her death,” says Mitch. “I realised we either jumped in the hole with her, or did something to make her life matter.
“Stupidly, I also told the press and some idiot registered every domain name, so getting them back was our first hurdle.
“I also knew we needed money and by writing the book, Amy, My Daughter, got a £.1.5 million advance, which went straight to the Foundation.”
With advice from Comic Relief, the Foundation was good to go and Mitch rattles off their achievements to date.
There’s the food programme in Euston that feeds 60 homeless youngsters 365 days a year; a resilience programme for children in recovery in 50 schools and Amy’s Yard, which introduces disadvantaged young people to music.
And the next “big one” will be Amy’s Crash Pad, which will be a residential stopgap for the homeless before finding them permanent homes and jobs.
All of the Foundation’s aims were inspired by Amy, who moved a homeless person into her house and loved babies and children. When he talks about this, the tears come and he holds the necklace he wears, on which hang rings belonging to Amy and his late mother, Cynthia.
The thought of his girl never being a mother is hard to deal with and all the more so as his son, Amy’s brother Alex, is due to become a father in September.
“It’s a boy and will be named after Amy,” says Mitch. “But what will I tell my grandson about her?”
The Winehouse family all work for the Foundation, including ex-wife Janis, Amy’s mother, and current wife, Jane who is CEO, with all of Mitch’s earnings from singing going into the pot.
“Amy was a wealthy young lady and, as long as I don’t buy a fleet of Rolls-Royces, we are fine, which means everything else goes to the charity,” says Mitch.
Mitch is also in the process of setting up a jazz supper club in Camden, that will also house Amy memorabilia and provide another revenue stream for the Foundation.
- More information on the Amy Winehouse Foundation can be found at www.amywinehousefoundation.org