On the third anniversary of the passing of Amy Winehouse, Naomi Parry Amy’s closet friend and stylist talks with Cosmopolitan how she tried to save Amy Winehouse from Bulimia.
“I tried to save Amy Winehouse from bulimia”
Naomi Parry, 28, was one of Amy Winehouse’s closest friends. On the third anniversary of Amy’s tragic death, Naomi talks about the friend she dearly loved and why she’s supporting our partnership with eating disorder charity beat.
When singer Amy Winehouse died at just 27, the papers immediately drew one conclusion – that she’d died after a ‘drink and drugs binge’ or ‘suspected drug overdose’. An inquest found that she’d died of alcohol poisoning, after a binge that followed weeks without a drink. But those close to her knew there was another addiction Amy struggled with – one that, they say, also played a part in her death.
“I met Amy 10 years ago,” says Naomi. “It was just after the release of her debut album, Frank. I was out in London’s Soho, and so was Amy. My friend liked the look of her friend, so he sent them some drinks. They came over to talk to us and, as they flirted, Amy and I just clicked – we bonded over backcombing. “From the start, she was a bit restrictive with food, but as I hadn’t been exposed to an eating disorder before, I didn’t put it down to that at first. Even when I realised she had bulimia, I didn’t feel comfortable talking to her about it. It was something we just didn’t discuss.”
Naomi quickly became part of Amy’s circle – but, from the start, she was worried. “Amy had a beautiful, healthy body. But she soon became a shadow of her former self. When Frank came out, she was curvier and got a lot of stick for being ‘fat’. She wasn’t; she looked great. But if you’re thrown into the public eye and are already worrying about your weight, it’s going to be a huge factor.”
Staying in control
Naomi was a stylist and eventually they worked together. Like many sufferers of eating disorders, Amy was a high achiever – claiming to have cancelled gigs because she was such a perfectionist – and Naomi believes the bulimia stemmed from a need for control.
“Eating disorders aren’t just about how you look,” she observes. “I think Amy started to lose control in other aspects of her life, which led her to control her eating instead. Of course, that doesn’t just go with being famous: anybody can feel like that, and anything can trigger an eating disorder. The irony is, when you have such an illness, you actually lose control.
“I don’t think sufferers realise the damage eating disorders can do to their health – particularly one like bulimia, which puts pressure on your organs. I don’t think Amy had any idea it could do just as much damage, if not more, than drinking. I didn’t.”
How to help
Watching someone with an eating disorder can be terrifying, which is why Naomi wants to raise awareness of Beat, Cosmo’s partner charity. Beat is committed to helping sufferers and their friends and families.
“Seeing someone in the grip of an eating disorder can make you feel powerless,” says Naomi. “I moved in with Amy for five months, hoping to be a good influence. But how do you approach someone who doesn’t want to talk about it? How do you deal with it?
“I never forced her to eat. I tried to be healthy, lead by example and hope she’d take it on board. I introduced Amy to scrambled eggs and avocado. I’d cook breakfast and encourage her to eat it.
“I’d never say, ‘You need to eat this,’ or chastise her when she ate certain things, like sweets, which I knew she wouldn’t keep down. If you shout at someone with an eating disorder, or tell them what to do, you’re trying to take the control away from them. It won’t work.
“You couldn’t force anything on Amy anyway: she was her own woman, very strong-minded. She didn’t want anybody to think there was anything she wasn’t in control of. In the end, I decided to try to tackle it by letter. I couldn’t say what I needed to face-to-face but, if I wrote it down, she could feel angry or upset, then re-read and digest it. I spent hours writing it – I wanted to make sure everything I needed to say was there: telling her I recognised she was ill and that if she wanted to talk about it I’d be there.
“I left the letter for her to find and, although she didn’t say anything about it, there was a slight change. It didn’t last long, but it hit home a bit. I just had to keep plugging away gently, rather than going in all guns blazing.”
The real Amy
Publicly, Amy was widely perceived to be a reckless genius with an addictive personality, whose fame led to her self-destruction. But, to her friends, she was just Amy – down-to-earth, funny and fiercely loyal.
“For me, ‘Amy Winehouse’ is like a fictional character,” Naomi says. “Amy is the woman who ran around in jogging bottoms, with her hair undone and no makeup. We used to have movie nights, and she loved to cook – right up until her final days she’d cook for everybody. She was really warm and nurturing.
“She was one of the most amazing, inspirational people I’ve ever met. Not in terms of what she achieved, but how she was as a person. It didn’t matter where you came from, or how rich or famous you were, she’d speak to everybody the same way.
“She was hilarious too – the quickest person I’ve ever met. Even with all the traumatic shit going on in her life, she’d still bend over backwards for other people. She had the opportunity to hang out with the biggest A-listers in the world – but she always chose her friends.”
Despite the efforts of worried friends and family, on 23 July 2011, Amy – who had sold over 9 million albums and won five Grammy and three Ivor Novello awards – was found dead in her home.
“I still meet people who say, ‘Oh, it was drugs’,” Naomi says. “But it wasn’t. She’d been clean for a long time. She got off drugs on her own, using willpower alone. She was an alcoholic, but if that was her only problem, or if she’d only had bulimia, maybe she’d have been OK. I believe it was the combination of the two that killed her, because of the extra pressure her eating disorder put on her body.
“A lot of people clung on to the [drugs] idea; perhaps it was easier. The thought that you can die from an eating disorder is terrifying. Before this, I had no idea of the effects of bulimia – and no idea of the toll it can take on your body.
“I want to raise awareness of eating disorders, and Beat – supported by the Amy Winehouse Foundation, who are funding the relaunch of its website. So many people suffer in silence, it’s vital to tell people that there is help available.
“We’ll see more tragedies – but maybe we can stop some before they happen.”
Get help: “If you or someone you know is suffering from bulimia and you’re worried, remember that complete recovery is possible,” says Leanne Thorndyke, head of communications at Beat. “We work with many sufferers who have overcome their disorder, and with the right help and support you can go on to lead a healthy, happy life.” And, according to research, after treatment: 45% of sufferers make a full recovery and 27% improve considerably. To learn more about the illness and treatment options visit www.b-eat.org.uk
The Amy Winehouse Foundation was set up by Amy’s family in September 2011, on what would have been her 28th birthday. Find out more here at amywinehousefoundation.org
What is Bulimia And The Cause
According to Webmd, “Bulimia, like all eating disorders, is a complex physical and psychological condition.
The cause of bulimia is not clear, but it probably results from a combination of family history, social values (such as admiring thinness), and certain personality traits (such as perfectionism).
Your risk for developing bulimia increases if your parent, sister, or brother has the condition. But family history may be only part of the cause.
Stressful life events such as moving, divorce, or the death of a loved one can trigger bulimia in some people.”
How Bulimia Affects Your Body
The affects of Bulimia and what happens to your body is detailed in the Womens Health graphic below.
Alex Winehouse Reveals Bulimia Killed His Younger Sister
Drink and drugs took their toll but eating disorder fatally weakened Amy, says Alex Winehouse.
Alex Winehouse reveals the eating disorder Bulimia killed his younger sister Amy and not drugs in this interview with The Guardian.
Did Bulimia contribute in the death of Amy Winehouse as Alex Winehouse and Naomi Parry both believe?
If you or a loved one need treatment for bulimia, anorexia, or any other type of eating disorder. Please consult a medical professional for advice and treatment.