Dionne Bromfield – Amy Winehouse & Me: Dionne’s Story
Ten years after the passing of Amy Winehouse, her goddaughter & fellow singer-songwriter Dionne Bromfield opens up for the first time in MTV’s new documentary Amy Winehouse & Me: Dionne’s Story.
To say Amy Winehouse has had, and will continue to have, a profound impact on the music industry is putting it lightly. Any artist over the past decade in some way has been shaped by her — whether it be because of her confessional songwriting, her deep, expressive contralto vocals, or her unyielding stage presence. One artist that has felt the ripple effect of Amy’s musical legacy in a way no other artist could is her own goddaughter, Dionne Bromfield.
Although the videos are slightly grainy and out of focus, when watching clips of Bromfield and Winehouse performing together it’s obvious how unique and intimate their connection was; on stage, the two are a magnetic force; dancing around arm-in-arm, lovingly pointing and singing to one another. After learning of Dionne’s passion to pursue music professionally, Amy took Dionne under her wing in more ways than just being a godmother by signing the then-aspiring singer to her own record label, Lioness. When looking back, it now seems like a deeply poetic act; a way for Amy to help Dionne navigate an industry that was, at times, so turbulent.
This week marks the tenth anniversary of the passing of Winehouse, a talent so formidable those are still grappling with her loss. For the last ten years, Bromfield kept tight-lipped about Amy for a myriad of reasons, but the biggest was the fear of people attempting to monopolize on her grief and her close relationship with Winehouse. After being hailed as a one to watch herself more than ten years ago, Bromfield retreated; stepping away from music to do what she thought was navigating her grief privately. Instead, she put on a strong front and pushed her emotions down. Now at 25, after coming to terms with what she experienced as a 15-year-old, she feels in a place where she feels empowered to not just speak about her relationship with Amy but to also give the public the chance to see her for who she truly was.
As a way to honour Amy’s legacy and her undeniably huge impact on the music industry, 1883 Magazine’s Kelsey Barnes spoke with Dionne Bromfield about her decision to finally speak about her relationship with Amy Winehouse, the catharsis she felt while creating the Amy Winehouse & Me: Dionne’s Story, how Winehouse changed the music industry, and more.
Firstly, why was it important for you to take part in a documentary like this?
For two reasons, really. The first is that I wanted everyone to see the Amy that I knew. I think a lot of people knew of my relationship with her and knew she had a lot of love for me, but what they saw was very surface level; we weren’t allowing people to see how deep it really was. There’s such a kind and caring side to Amy that needs to be shown and I give a really great perspective and insight into that side of her. The second reason is that I had a lot of emotions that I kept really, really built up inside. I felt that to move forward, I had to let go of those feelings. Last year I knew I wanted to do something along the lines of a documentary and thankfully a couple of months later someone reached out to us and asked if I would be interested and now we have Amy Winehouse & Me.
You do have such a unique perspective and it’s such a beautiful tribute to Amy’s incredible life, legacy and timeless impact on the music industry. It reveals a very human portrait and perspective on Amy that not everyone had the chance to see. What insight do you think the documentary has for both fans of Amy’s and those who don’t know much about her?
I think if you’re a real fan of Amy’s you would know my relationship with her already but for someone that doesn’t, I think I give a really good account of the Amy behind the pictures and behind the music — like the Amy that was just with me and her Jheri curls! I really want people to see that she was more than just what they would read in the paper.
Yeah, we see the incredible bond you and Amy had and I feel like people see a new side to both of you through the archival content, along with how open and honest you are about your highs and lows. Was it difficult for you to be as open as you were in the documentary, especially after keeping a lot of it to yourself for so long?
I knew I needed to talk about this to move forward, but when you start doing it…. You don’t realize how deep it is and you wonder if you actually want to do it. The first couple of days I found it hard to really open up, but by the 5th or 6th day I started to feel lighter. Every day that would pass, I started feeling closer to my family and friends that I thought I was already close with, but there was a side that my friends hadn’t really seen of me before. I guess in the past I didn’t want to be too open because I wanted to let it rest because I feel like Amy is constantly spoken about — do I really need to give my two cents? Eventually, I just realized that I needed to speak about her and talk about the real Amy for me to grow and embrace this new chapter of my life.
I think it’s a really beautiful thing because you wanted to keep her close to you because she matters so much and you didn’t want anyone to take advantage of that special bond you both shared.
There’s so much of Amy out there musically, it felt like this was something that I should do. It’s done so tastefully that I felt like, by not doing this, I don’t allow people to see that side of her that I really believe should be the first thing you think of when you think of Amy.
It’s funny you say that because when I think back and think about Amy, I immediately think of the video of her winning the Grammy and her utter shock and dismay. It actually makes me emotional when I think about it. I wanted to ask, only if you’re comfortable sharing, what’s the first thing you think of when you think about Amy?
How funny she is! She had a massive mouth with this big fat laugh. When she laughed, the whole room could feel it. I always, always think of her laughing. I miss it. I also think of Amy darting around the house with her hair all up and she’s hoovering, or she’s reading a book or something small like that. People assume the things I miss are the big things — the travelling, the lifestyle — but it’s the mundane little things that I long for the most.
Did you find it cathartic to go back to the memories and reminisce?
Yeah, it was. Sometimes you have to go through an awkward space to move forward because, in this situation, it doesn’t have a happy ending; there is no fairy tale when the documentary is over. It was going to be uncomfortable to go through, but I believe you have to feel that way to get comfortable. Two or three years ago I wasn’t ready to go into that space but now, as a 25-year-old, it feels right.
Was there anything that surprised you when you were making the documentary? Whether it be something you forgot about or learned about yourself while making it?
I was surprised when I was speaking to my headteacher and she talked about the year before Amy passed away I was quite carefree and happy, but after she died I became very serious. I really thought I was hiding my emotions really well and no one could tell how I really felt inside. We tell everyone that we’re doing great and I thought I wasn’t showing how much I really felt, but other people could sense that I wasn’t great and all. I thought I had that under control back then.
You were only 15 at the time, too. That is such a formative time that would make it even more difficult to open up.
Yeah, absolutely. Talking is the easiest thing in the world for me, but telling people how I felt was hard for me to do. All I needed to do was open up and say, I’m not feeling too good today and then people would have helped me. I was brought up around a lot of strong women anyway so I felt like I have to be strong all the time — weakness is not something you show people. Let’s be real, when you look at Instagram & Twitter, no one ever posts I’m feeling sad today. Everything is nice and pristine and everyone sees the nice side you never really show anyone. I felt like I couldn’t do that. It felt really nice to be able to be in a place where I’ve let go and it’s made it easier for me to speak to journalists, people like you. I don’t feel like I’m not saying certain things because I don’t want you to know and I’m keeping Amy to myself. I’m actually sharing who Amy was and who I am.
You just touched on being raised by strong women. When doing prep for this interview I read that after the release of Back to Black, record companies sought out more experimental female artists, from Adele to Florence and the Machine. You’re an incredibly talented singer and songwriter as well and you’re signed to Winehouse’s record label, Lioness Records. Now that you have more context and experience in music, do you feel her impact on music for women?
Absolutely. There’s a lot of artists, even right now, that definitely have pulled from Amy and there will be more in the 10 or 20 years to come. When you have that much impact on music, there’s going to be this timelessness that never goes away. It’s cool to think about. When I’m long gone, I hope there’s going to be some young person who hears what I’ve released and thinks, that’s really good, I love that song. My first record was all soul, so I pulled from something that was 30-40 years older than me. I think that’s the beauty of Amy’s music and her writing…. People still listen to it and feel the same way as if it was the day it was first released.
Speaking of your music — I had an early listen of your new single Silly Love and although you can hear Amy’s influence on the track, it sounds completely you. The release of this single is a new chapter for you. How does it feel to be starting this new chapter of your career and moving forward?
It feels really nice. This is the most secure that I’ve ever felt in my whole career and as a person as well. Musically, I had to take some time out to really just get experience — like relationships not working out and all that. Silly Love is the most honest song I’ve ever written. It feels really nice that it’s coinciding with this other part of my life where I’m being really honest in the documentary.
Is there anything you’ve learned from Amy that you’re going to take with you during this next chapter of your career?
Just be truthful to yourself. The most amazing songs are the ones that last forever and they last forever because people relate to them and believe in what you’re saying. You can tell when someone is singing something because they experienced it. She, to me, always sang right from the heart. My best songs are the ones I’ve actually just put my head and heart on paper and allowed myself to be truthful.
I think that’s why her music will be so timeless for years to come. It’s why she touched so many people as well.
I stand by this — we will never get another Amy. That’s why she was so loved. People believed in everything she sang because it was so truthful.
She’s left behind this incredible body of work. What are some of your favourite songs?
I have different songs with different moods! I think my favourite one is Mr. Magic from her first record. My favourite one from her second record is Unholy War and Tears Dry On Their Own. tears around their own tears. There’s also a song called Half Time that I love because it’s very raw and authentic; it makes me think of Amy just playing guitar in our house. It’s lovely to listen back.
Lastly, when someone finishes watching Amy Winehouse & Me: Dionne’s Story, what do you hope they take away from it?
I just hope they see the person that Amy was — the real Amy that I know. I also hope people become more aware of the fact that just because people are struggling, they are more than their struggle. It’s important to be kind to others above everything else.
Interview by Kelsey Barnes
Amy Winehouse and Me: Dionne’s Story airs on MTV UK Monday 26th July at 10pm.