As Amy Winehouse: A Family Portrait opens at the Jewish Museum in London this week – almost two years after her death – the singer’s best friend and The Voice 2012 finalist Tyler James shares his memories
Above: From the exhibition - a teen Amy at her grandparents’ flat
“I heard Amy sing before I ever met her,” Tyler James tells Stylist. “I was 13 when our teacher at Sylvia Young Theatre School picked us to record Happy Birthday for his nan. Her voice sounded like Ella Fitzgerald. We clicked and she became more than my best friend – she was my soul mate.
Amy was a real talent, but although she loved singing and writing songs, it wasn’t her plan to become famous. After we finished school, I begged her to put a tape together. Eventually, a cassette turned up at my mum’s house. I played it to my friend Nick Shymansky at Island Records and the rest is history.
Going on tour together in 2004 was amazing. Every night we’d both be on a high because we’d been performing. Amy used to put my name into her songs. In F**k Me Pumps from [Amy’s debut album] Frank, she used to sing, ‘a rich man, six foot two or Tyler’ instead of taller.
When we were 19, we went to Miami to write our albums. When we weren’t in the studio, we’d sit on the beach and she’d do crosswords while I listened to music. She was really intelligent – she loved books and poetry.
After I was beaten up in 2005 [by a gang of 10 men], I moved in with Amy and she nursed me back to health with chicken soup. People don’t know how mothering she was. She had the biggest heart and would do anything for you. And she made the best meatballs ever – it was her nan’s recipe. I used to eat them at least twice a week.
Above: Amy and Tyler together in Camden, London, 2007
When our relationship became romantic it changed our friendship by making us closer, but I’d never refer to Amy as my ex-girlfriend… She was like the other half of me. No one has ever understood me like she did. The day she passed away [23 July 2011] was the worst day of my life. When you lose the other half of you, you question whether you want to be here. Then you realise how many people love you. I think about her every day. When somebody who’s played a massive role in the person you are leaves this world, they’re embedded in your memories. That will never go away.”
Amy Winehouse: A Family Portrait; Jewish Museum London, 129-131 Albert Street, London NW1; until 15 September; £7.50; jewishmuseum.org.uk
Main photo: Amy Winehouse, photographed by Brooke Nipar for Missbehave magazine in New York, 2007