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Last Updated: Monday, 17 March 2008, 12:32 GMT
Who'd be a pop star's parent?
Amy Winehouse
Amy Winehouse went into rehab

By Denise Winterman
BBC News Magazine

What's it like watching your child climb the pop charts while plunging the illicit depths of stardom? When the dream starts to unravel parents of pop stars are often left watching helplessly from the sidelines.

Bringing up children is full of ups and downs, expectations and surprises. But what's it like when your child grows up and becomes a rock star, going from performing in the school play to selling out stadiums around the world?

And how does it feel when the dream starts to unravel and the drama of their descent is documented daily on the front pages of the nation's newspapers?

If one person knows it's Mitch Winehouse. The 57-year-old London cabbie has gone from watching daughter Amy's name appear in lights to seeing pictures of her apparently smoking crack splashed across the tabloids.

Mitch Winehouse
I just tell her we are all here to support her... that's how we are able to cope
Mitch Winehouse

Amy Winehouse's musical success is unquestionable. Last month she won five Grammys in the US. In Britain she had the top-selling album of 2007, shifting over two million copies of Back to Black.

But it has come at a price. Aged just 24, her drug abuse has triggered "life-threatening seizures", according to her father, and a high-profile stint in rehab.

Mitch was aware from the start about the problems that came with his daughter's unconventional career choice; difficulties most parents do not have to face when their offspring take their first steps on the career ladder.

"I went to see her at her first show. There was her name up in lights, it was a wonderful feeling," he says. "But at that point I started to worry because she wasn't used to being on stage. She was nervous so she'd have a glass of wine before hand. I remember thinking to myself this could get out of hand."

Surrounded by an entourage of managers, publicists, stylists and the inevitable hangers-on, parents can quickly find themselves pushed to the periphery. And they are forced to look on helplessly as their child's life - and often their own - starts to unravel.

Breaking the cycle

Pam Parkes has "been there". She'd always had high hopes for her son Ashley Walters, imagining him as an actor.

"It was all about breaking the cycle and him not being a statistic," she says. "To allow him to have as much opportunity as he could have and as much choice as he could have. From where I was sitting, watching him on national television, I said to myself 'you now have more choice'."

But Ashley's ambitions were for a different stage. Eight years ago he shot to fame under the pseudonym Asher D, as part of the rap outfit So Solid Crew.

Ashley Walters
Walters ended up in a young offenders' institution
But with fame came notoriety. So Solid became associated with guns, gangs and violence at their gigs.

"I just worried every single day while he was doing it about whether he was safe," recalls Pam. "It was all about will he still be here, will he survive this.

"If you watch someone from afar and are not convinced they are in control of what's going on around them, you worry because you know you can't intervene. There's nothing you can do. That was my feeling of panic."

Her worst fears were realised when Ashley was sentenced to 18 months in a young offenders' institution for illegal gun possession. Pam was left questioning whether she was in some way responsible.

"Whilst he was in prison everyday I used to say to myself this is my fault, was I wanting too much of him, wanting him to realise his potential which then led him to do something like music."

'Nurture and love'

For Mitch Winehouse, seeing pictures of his daughter and her husband covered in blood and unexplained scratches left him at his lowest ebb.

"Those pictures were horrifying for us as a family," he says. "I don't know what makes people want to do that to themselves. It's something that I've never known.

"As far as my family are concerned we nurture and love each other. We felt awful, we felt there was nothing we could do to stop it."

But when your child is a celebrity they are deemed public property by the press - and so are their problems. Parents find they are no longer able to sort things out in the privacy of their own home and their life becomes as much of a media circus as their child's.

Amy and Mitch Winehouse
Mitch wanted Amy to have a 'normal' life
Shut out from his daughter's world, Mitch took the unusual step of using the media itself as a conduit to reach Amy. The frankness of his feelings was played out in press interviews and TV shows programmes.

It was an unreal situation the family found itself in and it seemed the only way to intervene and get across their support for Amy. So how does he deal with such a surreal situation?

"I just tell her we are all here to support her," he says. "Things are ready for her if she decides to stop doing what she was doing. That's how we are able to cope with it."

He knows where things could lead if she doesn't get help.

"You'd lose your child and that's not going to happen, it won't happen, " he says. "That can't happen."

Ashley Walters is at least out of the headlines - making his way in the acting world, with a bright career ahead of him. But his mother says it is still not worth what they went through.

"I'd prefer him to have nothing of that but was here and safe. I'd reverse it all now and not have him spend that time in prison."

ONE Life: Rock Star Parents is broadcast on Tuesday, 18 March at 2235 BST on BBC One.

Add your comments on this story, using the form below.

Let's not fool ourselves; if a person doesn't want to be in the public eye, they don't have to be. There are far more musicians quietly going about their business than there are ones who feel compelled to lay their personal problems to bare in the media. Are we seriously meant to assume that Amy Winehouse is the only famous person with problems? No - she's just the only one that flaunts the controversy. As an aspiring musician myself, I have far too much respect for my parents and how it would reflect on them to ever go off the rails like Winehouse, Walters or Doherty if fame beckoned. It's not hard to remain relatively anonymous: just don't hire a publicist.
Doug Daniel, Glasgow, Scotland

So many people go through this why don't we hear about them too. It's only because these are celebrity families that it is in the news. Do we care if we never cared about the others?
Mike, Reading

Well done, Mitch: keep reaching out. Just don't forget your own worth and your own life. If she won't connect with you now, you have done all you possibly can and are a fantastic Dad.
Jill, Reading

Sorry Mitch, but caring dads do not carry out conversations with their daughters via the media, in the full spotlight of publicity. That conversation should be taking place in the family, not in the papers.
Chris Reed, Crawley, UK

People like Amy Winehouse, Pete Doherty etc are an absolute disgrace for treating their families and fans the way that they do. People like them will never change and do not deserve an ounce of sympathy from any of us.
Dave Abbott, Hull

I respect what both Mitch Winehouse and Pam Parkes had to go through. It would never be easy for a parent to watch their child self-destruct. I do think watching someone who has the world at their feet, then throw it all away, doesn't draw the same kind of sympathy as someone with nothing slowly enter oblivion. The sympathy can only be so much, when the person in question has the money, the family, rehab plan costing a small fortune drag them out of their personal hell. For the masses, the resources needed should their child ever enter a self destructive path would be unavailable. The issues Amy and Ashley went through are being experienced by hundreds of kids throughout the London boroughs, but they simply can't stop the vicious circle from turning due to these lack of resources. How about we stop publicising the plight of the Young, Rich, and Famous, and focus how we can help those who cannot afford two weeks at the priory costing the equivalent of a housing deposit? The phrase that easily sums up why these young rich and famous spiral out of control is quite simply, Too Much, Too Young (And in some cases, far too DUMB)
Simeon Brookstone, London

I have four kids. The second child draws like Leonardo. She is 13. We home schooled for years and then threw ourselves on the mercy of a private school. Why do I speak about this? Because I want her to be a normal child, a normal teenage and then a normal adult. To have a gifted child, especially in the arts, is very hard. You walk a fine line all the time. You want them to achieve their full potential but you desperately want them to be stable, normal and well balanced. The trick is achieving that and, yes, it is a trick. Much harder raising a child like this than a so called normal one.
Marion Johnson, Gillingham, Kent

What must be very hard for these parents and others (i.e. Pete Doherty's family) is the amount of backlash their children receive for their habits. I've read so many editorials and comments attacking and abusing these performers, calling them all names under the sun and blaming them for their own children's problems. People need to think about how their comments affect not only the individuals in question, but also their families. Negative comments won't help their recoveries and will most likely push vulnerable people such as Amy to abuse themselves further. They and their families have my sympathy and support.
Kelly, Salford

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