“I couldn’t listen to her music for the longest time. I used to go out and I would leave the room if it came on in a restaurant.” Dionne Bromfield pauses for a moment as we talk on Zoom, recounting how she coped at the height of her grief. “It took a long, long time but last year was the first time I went on Spotify and actually typed in her name. I see everything in a whole new perspective now, and I appreciate her voice so much more.”
It’s been a decade this month since the 25-year-old lost her godmother, Amy Winehouse, and the world mourned the death of an artist whose musical talents were beyond comprehension. Sharp-witted, often acerbic, her soulful, blues-tinged songs told stories of heartbreak, ferocious empowerment and gut-wrenching pain, garnering her five Grammys in her all-too-brief career. But to Bromfield, she was just Amy, “a normal north London girl. People only saw 10% of Amy with the music but she was a big champion of people she really loved, that was 90% of Amy.”
It is this unseen side of Winehouse which is explored in an intimate new MTV documentary, Amy Winehouse And Me: Dionne’s Story. Bromfield was only 6 years old when the two of them met. Winehouse had befriended her mother, Julie Din, through the north London Jewish community and the singer swiftly took Bromfield under her wing, becoming her biggest hype woman and mentor. Via previously unearthed footage, we see the extent to which Winehouse used her industry weight and célèbre to spearhead a one-woman campaign for the teenager’s success, uploading duets of the two to YouTube, orchestrating photoshoots together, attaching her name to projects to boost public interest and eventually signing the then teenager to her burgeoning record label, Lioness. A clip of Winehouse at the rollicking height of her fame performing as a backing singer for 13-year-old Bromfield on a television appearance is incredible to see. It’s this side of her that Bromfield wants to illuminate now, 10 years after her death.
“After she passed, I would get angry [that] I was always known as Amy Winehouse’s goddaughter rather than as me, Dionne Bromfield, a singer,” she recalls. “But then I realised how proud I was to be her goddaughter. I was so lucky that I was able to have someone like that musically, that could also mentor me personally with life. And she was a very, very happy person. And she was a lover of life.”
For the longest time, Bromfield tells me, she was unable to process her death, stuck in a chrysalis of denial and grief. As she nears the age Winehouse was when she died, it has become all the more poignant for her to address their relationship. This much is apparent when the film shows Bromfield finally returning to north London's Camden Roundhouse, the legendary venue where Winehouse made her final public appearance, alongside Bromfield, just three days before her death. It was the last time Bromfield saw her alive.
“It was honestly a massive healing process for me doing this documentary. I never really realised how much it affected me until November last year. I did think, ‘Is this the right thing to do? Should I let her rest?’ and then I thought, 'No, there's a side to her that I know that she would have loved for people to see,' and also for myself as an internal release.”
Throughout the documentary Bromfield talks to various people: Winehouse’s former teacher Sylvia Young; her personal assistant Jevan Levy, who was looking after Bromfield in Wales when the news broke that Winehouse had died; a grief counsellor; and a support group for young people who have lost loved ones to alcohol and addiction. This was of the utmost importance to Bromfield.
“At the time I felt like no one could understand what I've been through. And I was around a lot of adults at that time,” she admits. “I get a lot of young girls actually that message me, not so much on addiction but on mental health. I was glad they had someone to talk to.”
As much as the documentary is a celebration of the lesser known side of Amy Winehouse, Bromfield doesn’t take lightly the significance that the film could have at a time like this, in the midst of a global pandemic, when grief hangs heavy in the air.
“There's always hope,” she nods into the screen. “There is always hope, but sometimes you really don't think there is and you can't get out of your own brain. You honestly just have to take the first steps of talking to people, [even if] it's calling up somebody anonymously and venting. With the lockdown and the pandemic, there’s a lot of people that have been through a lot of things, whether it's death, losing a job, losing their house. You've got to tell people how much you appreciate them when they're here because you don't know what's going to happen.”
As we near the end of our conversation, Bromfield reveals the song from Winehouse’s unforgettable discography that she finally mustered up the strength to listen to that day. “‘He Can Only Hold Her’,” she smiles. “It’s a summer vibe, and it was a really, really hot day. I still find it very hard to listen to an interview of her or hear her talk, but singing, I can enjoy that now.”