By Piers Hernu
Public face: But Amy used her bold image to mask a lack of confidence as she struggled with fame
Kristian Marr shows me the last text he received from Amy Winehouse – at 3.10am on the day she died. It reads: ‘I’m gonna be here always xx BUT ARE YOU OK? xxx.’
‘That was typical of Amy,’ he shrugs. ‘She was always much more concerned about her friends than she was about herself.’
Since it was the night before his birthday and a family gathering in Whitstable, Kent, Kristian was asleep and never replied to the message.
He recalls: ‘The next day I was waiting for Amy to call me to let me know if she was coming down to the seaside to join me. She was really excited about the idea of getting out of London.
‘Instead my dad took a phone call when we were on the beach and ran up to me while I stood skimming stones. He said, “I’m sorry, but I’ve got to tell you something that is going to be a big shock . . . Amy’s died.” ’
Kristian, a musician, is speaking to me in my flat just round the corner from The Hawley Arms in Camden where he and Amy were regulars.
Having known Kristian for seven years, it is distressing to see him coming to terms with the shock of losing someone who was his lover, musical soulmate and, most of, all best friend. ‘I just couldn’t take it in or feel anything for about 20 minutes,’ he says. ‘Then I collapsed in tears. I was absolutely devastated.
‘But that night she visited me in this incredibly vivid dream. I was with a group of friends. Amy joined us and I was astonished to see her alive.
‘Before I could speak she squeezed my hand, gave me a big smile and said, “I’m still here . . . I’ll always be here.”
‘The crazy thing is that recently I hadn’t been nearly as worried about her as I once had been. I knew what she sounded and looked like when she was in a bad way and I had honestly seen no sign of that for the past couple of years.
‘With her boyfriend Reg and parents popping round, it was difficult for us to spend time together but we spoke on the phone almost every day. Amy had realised that drugs were a dead end and she spoke of them with disdain – they were “old school . . . in the past”.
Night out: Amy and Kristian Marr together in Camden in 2008
‘The problem was that she replaced drugs with alcohol. White wine was her main drink and sometimes she would wake up and drink. It meant she lost track of days – for Amy there was no day or night, no Monday or Friday. Three months ago I popped round to her house one afternoon, found her asleep on the kitchen floor and had to help her to bed.
‘I was worried about Amy’s drinking but at the same time relieved that drugs were no longer part of the equation.’
Kristian adds: ‘I never let her drink too much when I was around. The last time I ever saw her was about six weeks before she died. We stayed in on her sofa and watched the movie Scarface. Amy wanted to buy some booze but I convinced her to just drink tea and chill out and watch the film. We both fell asleep on the sofa and in the morning I left her happy, knowing she was in a good way.’
Tributes: Singer's father Mitch reads letters left for Amy outside her home in Camden, north London
Kristian, 27, a guitarist and singer-songwriter in a band called Spring Heeled Jack, has been a tabloid regular as a result of his friendship with Amy and an on-off relationship with Sadie Frost.
Few knew Amy as well, or for as long, as he did. They met in the summer of 2003, when Kristian moved from Kent to Camden to pursue his music career. ‘I walked into a music pub called the Good Mixer and a friend introduced me to this incredibly sexy girl who was apparently a jazz singer,’
He says. ‘This was before the release of her first album and before the beehive – she had long straight hair and only one tattoo, on the back of her neck.
‘She beat me at pool – probably a good thing because I soon discovered that when she lost a game her pool cue was liable to go flying across the bar. She introduced me to her favourite drink – a “Rickstacy” – which had been invented by a friend of hers called Rick and was like an alcoholic milkshake.
‘We hit it off straight away. I remember thinking, “Wow, what an amazing girl – she can drink, play pool, sing and she’s got attitude!” But as I got to know her I realised that she had attitude because underneath the brash, ballsy exterior she had a lack of self-confidence.
‘Perhaps she didn’t recognise her own talent or was terrified of what it might bring – I think it was a bit of both.’
Although they were both in relationships with other people, they quickly became close. ‘She had a boyfriend, a local singer-songwriter called Alex Clare, and I was still seeing Sadie, so we just became best friends. We used to hang out in the pub but back then she was just a social drinker.
‘When it came to her career she was hard-working and focused. I think her later drink problems came as she struggled to deal with the pressures of fame. She may have smoked the odd spliff but she certainly didn’t do hard drugs. She was doing well but she never talked about her music.
‘It was probably almost a year after I first met her that I started hearing the album Frank [Amy’s debut] on the radio. When you’ve known someone for a long time and they’ve kept strangely quiet about their music you don’t expect it to be up to much so this came as a massive surprise.
‘The first time I saw her perform, at the Jazz Cafe in Camden, the whole package just blew me away. Her attitude on stage, her voice – it was incredibly fresh to see and hear.
‘Amy loved to play guitar and people wouldn’t necessarily associate her with that.
She first picked up a guitar around me back in her new house in Jeffreys Place, Camden, early in 2004 and we often used to sit up playing into the early hours – me playing blues and her playing jazz.’
Soon afterwards, Amy began working on the album which would make her a worldwide star, Back To Black. It was a massive hit, selling 1.85 million copies in 2007 alone.
Kristian says: ‘It felt like her success came almost overnight and suddenly my friend was this international megastar. I didn’t see much of her for nearly a year after that because she was on tour and she’d got back with her former boyfriend, Blake [Fielder-Civil] and all this craziness was going on around her so I just kind of took a step back.’
Amy text Kristian at 3.10am on the day she died and said: 'I'm going to be here always xx BUT ARE YOU OK? xxx.'
When Amy reappeared in Kristian’s life, the huge impact fame had had on her was immediately obvious, and worrying. ‘In the summer of 2007 I suddenly got a phone call from Amy saying she was back. That night we went out but things had changed dramatically from the last time I’d seen her. She had a lot more tattoos and was a lot louder and wilder than she had been.
‘Before, she’d been excited by any attention from the paparazzi, but this night they hounded her everywhere we went. It seemed like the whole of Camden stopped and stared when she walked down the street.
‘Suddenly we couldn’t just pop to the pub and play pool because people would start acting weirdly around her. That really started to get to her.’
It was also difficult to miss the fact that Amy had developed a problem with drink and drugs. ‘She’d be at home on her own bored and having a drink because she couldn’t go out anywhere without the world staring at her,’ says Kristian.
‘Amy had developed into two characters. There was the person who most of the general public thought she was like: an alcoholic, addicted to drugs, a physical mess, prone to fighting – but behind closed doors she was not at all like that.
Her public persona was all about putting on an act because she felt threatened, which is why she came across as being defensive. Underneath all of that she was a really family-orientated, giving, loving person.’
Last year, when the pair found themselves single at the same time, their friendship developed into something more.
‘One evening I went round to her house in Baker Street and we just ended up in bed together which happens sometimes when you love someone and you’re very close – it just seemed natural,’ says Kristian.
‘We talked about it after a few weeks and decided that our friendship was too special and new circumstances meant that we should return to a platonic friendship. I was happy just to be her friend and there for her whenever she needed me.
‘She always loved cooking and last summer would knock up some fantastic dishes for me but she never ate much herself. The other thing we did was play a lot of music and write songs together.
‘One night we were asleep in bed together when I suddenly felt this furry thing brush against my feet. I immediately shook Amy awake and we stood there in the middle of the room terrified of what animal we would find had been sharing our bed with us.
Eventually I plucked up the courage to whip back the duvet and we were both greeted by the sight of Amy’s beehive – we giggled ourselves back to sleep.’
Amy generously did whatever she could to help Kristian in his career.
‘I’d just started a rock band and Amy paid for us to go to a studio in Camden with one of her producers to rehearse and record an album,’ he says. ‘She loved hanging out while we were playing and she would then take us all out for dinner or order a takeaway. Her favourite song of ours was this duet I wrote about a girl I was seeing called ‘So Strange’ and about four months ago she came to the studio while we were recording it.
‘She said, “Right, let’s get in there and sing it.” With one microphone between us we did one take and she absolutely nailed it. Her voice was incredible – raw, husky and very like Janis Joplin.
‘I wrote another song on the album, about Amy, called She Cries Real Tears. She had said to me on the phone once, “By the way, you’re the only person that makes me cry real tears.” She meant she was sad that because of the past, friends and exes that we couldn’t be together.
‘The song tries to sum up what Amy’s like and how lonely she had become. How she used to get dressed and do her make-up and make herself look beautiful and have nowhere to go. It’s about her giving in and putting up her white flag of surrender. The first time I played it to her she cried.’
Crying himself, Kristian says he is struggling to come to terms with losing Amy. ‘We’ve all lost a really kind, sweet and talented person,’ he says. ‘I’ve lost a soulmate and a love of my life.
‘I’ve been feeling pangs of guilt since her death about whether I could have done more to save her. I honestly don’t think that there was anything more her family, friends and management could have done.
‘Amy’s death really hurts but I take a lot of comfort from what she said to me in that dream, “I’m still here . . . I’ll always be here.” ’