Charles Moriarty shares his fond memories — and a candid behind-the-scenes photo — of the late singer, days before the release of a new book about her life
Listening to Charles Moriarty talk about Amy Winehouse is like listening to any regular person remembering an old friend.
He recalls cooking for her, watching Sex and the City and old Paul Newman movies and dancing in clubs. “I always associate Amy with a slightly wicked laugh. She was a lot of fun and witty,” the London-based Irish photographer says.
Now in his 40s, he is sharing these memories, exclusively with PEOPLE, along with a candid behind-the-scenes picture taken from a New York photoshoot. The interview comes days before the late star’s parents release a new book about her life, Amy Winehouse: In Her Words on Aug. 29.
Moriarty’s work is featured in the biography that is a collection of never-before-seen family photos, journal entries, handwritten lists and letters. The book charts the “Rehab” singer’s life, through her childhood and teens, before the fame, substance abuse and tumultuous marriage to ex-husband, Blake Fielder-Civil. It comes 12 years after her 2011 death, to honor what would have been her 40th birthday on Sept. 14.
“There was a lot more to her than her downward spiral and exit,” the photographer says, echoing Winehouse’s father Mitch, who tells PEOPLE that his daughter was “just a normal Jewish kid from North London who did normal kid things…”
Moriarty captured that normal side of the singer with his camera. Winehouse was a 19-year-old on the cusp of fame set to release her debut album Frank and he was a college student when a mutual friend connected them in London 20 years ago.
Moriarty says, “I wasn’t a photographer. I merely had a camera that I used to take around with me to clubs to take pictures with friends. But I was told that whatever was going on with the record label wasn’t really what she wanted, so could I help her envision her image somehow and create something with her?”
What followed were two photoshoots — one in the U.K., one in the U.S. — and a lucky shot that would end up being her debut album cover. “She really wanted something to be authentic. She wanted people to see an image and understand it as being her and not something that was created by the industry for consumption,” the photographer says.
The first set of photos was taken in June 2003, a stone’s throw away from his London apartment. “We went out in the neighborhood, which is Spitalfields, Brick Lane and Old Street, and we shot one roll of film. Out of that one roll of film we probably got around 10 or 12 really good pictures,” says Moriarty who was joined that night by Winehouse and four of her friends who helped her with her clothes.
He adds, “We trusted each other straight off, which was nice… It was kind of like a bunch of friends just hanging out. Although, I have to say, I felt the pressure up until we got that shot with the dogs. All of a sudden something clicked, and the nerves went away after that.”
That “shot with the dogs,” will be familiar to Winehouse fans who own a copy of her first album, Frank. That image (pictured below), which introduced the singer to the world, happened by chance, Moriarty remembers.
He says, “A neighbor was walking the dogs and [our] mutual friend, Catriona was like, ‘Grab the dogs.’ So, the dogs were grabbed and it worked. It was the perfect distraction for her from the camera. There are no three shots of her with the dogs. It’s just the one.”
The second photoshoot took place later in New York. when he was given just 24 hours with Winehouse in between recordings. The pair spent the day in Soho, NoHo and the Tribeca area. “We bonded over similar upbringings in the sense that our parents had been separated, divorced, etc.,” he says. “We were both kids. She was 19. I was 21 and we were just trying to figure out where we were in the world and where we were supposed to land.”
That evening Mother Nature disrupted the friends’ plans, Moriarty recalls. He says, “Along came dusk and so did this massive thunder and lightning storm for around six or seven hours. Everything, all the locations were doomed. So, we just sat inside and eventually, because the rain wasn’t going to stop, I got my camera out.”
While they listened to Winehouse’s music, Moriarty took a series of candid shots, including the one above. “She sat in her bikini with a wrap and curlers in her hair, with a scarf tied around it and it was a wonderful, retro ‘60s look,” he says.
In another shot taken that night, which is featured in Amy Winehouse: In Her Words, the singer styled her hair in a beehive (much smaller than the massive one she would become associated with while promoting her 2006 album, Back to Black).
“She always knew how she wanted to look or how she wanted to project herself. She just hadn’t gotten to that place of confidence with herself,” Moriarty says. “Like any teenager, she was full of insecurities, as were we all about how we looked.”
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The photos from the New York photoshoot never made it to Winehouse’s debut album and the photographer never released them until after her death, in his 2017 book, Before Frank. He was inspired to do so after attending a screening of Amy, the Oscar-winning 2015 documentary about the star’s life.
“The first hour was like being in a room with an old friend. The second half was something that I hadn’t witnessed because Amy and I had lost touch over the years,” Moriarty says of the documentary. He wasn’t close to Winehouse when her substance abuse was tabloid fodder, media coverage he deliberately avoided. Although she ultimately overcame her drug addiction, she died of accidental alcohol poisoning in her London home in July 2011.
“I’d never seen her body bag coming out of the house. So, it was a horrid moment to witness that and not be able to run away because you’re trapped between people in the cinema,” Moriarty says. That said, he does believe the documentary “was a wonderful push to show the girl” he “spent time with and adored… just laughing and having drinks, watching old Paul Newman movies and Sex and the City.”
It's this old friend that he wants people to know. Moriarty says, “She was an incredibly talented, wonderful young lady who was just really finding her place. I would’ve liked to have seen where she’d have gone next. But unfortunately, addiction is cruel. She was at her best, a truly wonderful and generous, kind girl.”
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