Review by: Vicky Unwin

Film: Amy

Director: Asif Kapadia

Stars: Five

This cannot be an objective review. Amy and our daughter. Louise, died within a few months of each, both from drugs. Her poison was alcohol, Louise’s was ketamine. They used to hang out in Camden together, playing pool at The Good Mixer. There is even a scene in the film with one of Louise’s friends. Both of them were clean when they died, although Louise had never been an addict like Amy, just a ‘recreational’ user. How daft that word is, when it leads to death.

In the wake of their deaths, Mitch and I got to know each other through our work in trying to educate people about the dangers of drugs, of which alcohol is of course the biggest killer of the lot. We even had a joint event at the House of Lords, where Mitch sang with one of Louise’s best friends, Tim Arnold, the Soho Hobo.

So Asif Kapadia’s film is laden with sad and poignant memories for me. I wasn’t sure if I could bear to watch it, let alone write about it, especially knowing Mitch’s objections to his portrayal.

As in Senna, Kapadia’s BAFTA award-winning documentary about the eponymous Brazilian racing driver, there is no narrator: the movie is fashioned from a series of film clips taken by family, friends and lovers. The voices are mainly Amy’s, peppered with conversations and reminiscences. Of course Kapadia exerts editorial control in directing us to the scenes from her life he wishes us to see, but leaves us to judge for ourselves as to who bears responsibility for the hounding of Amy Winehouse. 

Naturally Amy is the star of her own picture: she shines out from the first time she sings happy birthday as a child, a small girl with an enormous, grown-up voice. Where did this North London Jewish girl get that? Jonathan Ross remarks with glee on her voice being ‘common’ at one point, something they both shared in addition to their family background.

As we see her growing up and getting up to all sorts of teenage mischief, we do sense that she is looking for a father-figure: Mitch himself admits that he left the marriage when she was very young; Janice, her mother says he was ‘never there’. Why else would she latch on to unsuitable boys, ending up married to the vain, drug addicted Blake Fielder-Civil, who unashamedly sought and revelled in the lime-light and admits to being her dealer. Less unsurprisingly he abandons her when she is on the skids.

Through all of the alcohol and early drug abuse, her personality and sense of fun shine out. Although her girlfriends despair of her, they still love her and rescue her; Mitch, despite his absence, was also always there for her. He was a devoted and loving father and would have done anything for his ‘Daddy’s girl’  – the tattoo Amy had on her shoulder. OK, so it wasn’t so smart to turn up in St Lucia with a film crew, something I am sure he regrets to this day. It does not cast him in a good light; but I will stick up for Mitch – he adored his Amy.

I know he came running when she picked up the phone and cried for help, time and time again. I know he uttered the the now-famous sound-bite, ‘Amy doesn’t need rehab’ – he claims the word ‘now’ was cut – which she used to dramatic effect in her haunting song of that name. As she says when she wins the Grammy (winking mischievously when Justin Timberlake’s name on the short-list is read out) – it is ‘so boring without drugs’.

The music is of course key to the film and her song-writing is largely autobiographical, from the obvious Rehab, which gets increasingly ragged as it is played throughout the film, charting her descent into hell, to the much earlier and ominously foresighted words, ‘Played out by the band / Love is a losing hand…Though I battle blind / Love is a fate resigned’, through to her heart-breaking duo with Tony Bennett in the closing scenes ‘My life a wreck you’re making/You know I’m yours for just the taking/I’d gladly surrender myself to you, body and soul’.

I remember seeing Amy perform at Nelson Mandela’s birthday celebrations with Louise. She was at the height of her addictions, clutching the hem of her dress, her skinny little legs and emaciated body just above us on the stage. She could barely get the words out. Louise was visibly shocked by her appearance. It was the last time she saw her.

The sad truth is that you can’t stop people from being what they are, but you can try and save them from themselves. Amy had an addictive personality from a young age, fueled by her prodigious talent, and had agents and the media forcing her into situations, which she wasn’t strong enough to cope with. They were ruthless in their exploitation of this fragile talent, when they should have been shielding and protecting her.

How poignant her words, early on in the film, when she says that she wouldn’t survive being famous. We know she didn’t, but Kapadia’s masterful direction somehow allows us to feel there could be a different outcome.

If only, you keep saying to yourself, if only…

Vicky Unwin


Do you Dare to go Dry this December?

10 Reasons to be Dry this December

It’s the last day of November and the traffic is hectic, the shops are heaving, the party invites are flooding in and your relatives are already squabbling over whose turn it is to host the Christmas get-together.  Your head is spinning and your to-do list is getting longer by the day.

Same old, same old – every flippin’ year… but… why not make this year just a bit DIFFERENT?

No I’m not talking about cancelling Christmas but I am talking about a whole new way of coping.  Yes I’m talking about a DRY DECEMBER!

I know it’s crazy, I know it’s “off the wall” but sometimes it feels good to swim against the tide…

So here we go – 10 reasons to be dry this December…

  1. December is a madly busy time – chances are that whatever your profession you will be busy at work, busy socially – and of course busy creating that “perfect Christmas” for your family.  If you give up alcohol for December you can actually claw back a lot of time.  Time usually devoted to planning drinking sessions, drinking and then getting over the drinking.
  2. Everybody does “Dry January” but only the seriously cool people do “Dry December” and then start the new year feeling fantastic – rather than exhausted and poisoned with excess food and alcohol. Always remember that “sober is sexy”
  3. There is never a perfect time to give up or cut down on alcohol – there will always be a party, a wedding or that “teambuilding” event coming up.  In fact December is just about the most crazy time to take a break from the booze – but maybe crazy is how you roll?
  4. You will reduce your stress as you “take control” – you will sleep better and steam through your “to-do” list and even begin to feel slightly superior to your pals as they struggle with their hangovers…if your friends give you a hard time just tell them you are doing 30 dry days to raise money for Earthchild – maybe they will even join you…
  5. You will have a wonderful excuse for avoiding the dreaded “office party” – “I’m taking a break from alcohol at the moment so think I will give it a miss this year” – let somebody else do the “walk of shame” through the open plan office the morning after the office Christmas party.  You can be sure you will hear about exactly who did what to whom before the day draws to a close.
  6. You won’t have that anxiety in your heart about the amount you are drinking and the nagging thought that you really must do something about it come January – you will be way ahead of the game this year…
  7. Action is the key – “Just Do It” – at least get through those first few days in December “alcohol free” – and if you can’t manage it then maybe you do need to seriously think about addressing your relationship with alcohol.
  8. You will lose weight!  We are surrounded by super-fattening foods during December and after a glass of wine or two we just get stuck in.  Staying sober means you can stay in control of what you are eating and drinking.  As an extra bonus you can opt out of the dieting misery train that we are all supposed to board come January 1st.
  9. A lot of people worry that they cannot enjoy themselves without alcohol – but think about it – what makes a good Christmas?  – being with your family and seeing the joy on the children’s faces as they open their presents – or knocking back the booze?
  10. At the very least a sober Christmas will be an interesting experiment – even if you hate it you will have tried – and who knows – you may even discover a whole new side of yourself…

To help you on your way WorldWithoutWine have launched their “Dry January Challenge” which in fact can also be “Dry December” if you dare – just make a small donation by clicking HERE

In return you will receive a daily motivational e-mail from WorldWithoutWine to keep you on track for 30 days.

We are raising money for the Earthchild Project – just as we did last year –  check out this 5 minute movie we made about how we spent the R30,000 we raised last year..

Thanks for reading!

Dry January Challenge – 2018!

So excited about our 2018 Dry January Challenge!



Yet again WorldWithoutWine has teamed up with the fabulous Earthchild Project in a fundraising project to provide children in Khayelitsha and Lavender Hill with yoga and life-skills classes.

This is our third year of working together and the generosity of our donors has meant that so far we have been able to sponsor more than 300 children.

Over the past 12 years Earthchild have taught yoga to thousands of children in disadvantaged areas.

Yoga is a powerful and practical tool that supports the physical, mental and emotional development of the child.

Yoga empowers vulnerable children to transform their lives and communities.

Just R250 provides a child with weekly yoga and life-skills classes for a year


This is how it will work:-

In order to participate you will need to resolve to give up alcohol for a 30 day period.

The registration period is open from right now to the end of January so just pick your 30 day window – for example you might decide to be dry from 1-30 January or if you are still on holiday during early January you might prefer to choose 15 January-15 February.  You can even register on 31 January and end on 2nd March.  Or if you are anxious to get started or just like to be different why not sign up right now and go for a Dry December (!)

Once you have decided on your dates please reflect on how much you would have spent on alcohol during those 30 days and divert that money (or a proportion of it) to Earthchild.  Just a couple of bottles of wine comes in at R250 which already covers one child’s yoga classes for a year – how many bottles do you get through in a month?  Enough to fund several children’s classes perhaps?

So once you have decided how much you can afford to donate please click HERE and make your donation.  Then email me at with the dates of your “Dry January” and I will set up your daily e-mails.  BTW for the benefit of our regular donors I have written a whole batch of new Daily Mails for this year!

So lets have a healthy start to 2018 and help (at least) 120 kids have a better 2018!

I look forward to hearing from you!

janet x

Coins in a Jar

I connected with another Soberista a couple of months ago via her blog which you can find on FaceBook @coinsinajar – do check it out.

I was so impressed with her approach and her commitment that I invited her along to a workshop to inspire the participants – and she did!

She was also kind enough to write about the workshop so if anyone is wondering exactly what happens at our workshops then here is Jo’s review:-


“I was lucky enough to attend World Without Wine’s workshop two weeks ago. It was held at Janet’s lovely home in Cape Town. What a relaxed and welcoming environment.

The morning started with a coffee as everyone started arriving. There were 8 of us in total (I think!) as well as Janet and Mandy obviously, who run the course.

What struck me straight away was how welcoming Janet and her team were. I was a bit apprehensive at first, but as I got chatting with the others, I began to feel more relaxed. After all, we were all there for one very clear common reason: Alcohol. And the negative effects it was having or had had on our lives.

We all sat around Janet’s couch where there was ample space for all of us to be comfortable. The first thing we did was share why we were there, our relationships and history with alcohol. Each story was different but equally as eye opening. I just felt so fantastic to be sitting with this group of amazing, like-minded women who understood me and me them. To tell others your story and you just see the click in their eyes- they get what you are saying as they too have had enough of alcohol running and ruining their lives. It’s that simple.

After the shares, we received some important facts about the dangers of alcohol. We all know how bad it is for our health but just how bad and to see it in black and white was a good lesson. I particularly enjoyed our “prac”, which was to pour into a wine, whiskey and beer glass, what we think were the safe limits of alcohol consumption per unit. Very interesting. I’ll just say that I was drinking a woman’s weekly limit EVERY night. Scary stuff.

After a lovely lunch and more coffee, we had a guy come and chat to us that had not drunk for a year, after attending the course. It was informative and inspiring. Listening to him was great as he seemed so happy and alive, without having drunk for so long- something we all want to aspire to. Obviously, as we all do, he has stresses and strains in his life, but has just chosen to not numb them with alcohol, focussing on his health and family instead. Janet also read us her goodbye letter to alcohol which was deeply moving and just resonated with me so much. Her words could have so easily been mine.

We then watched a video and got some really cool info in the form of a “Toolkit”, in other words, how to cope with going to parties etc and also on how to moderate for those who wanted to go that route.

Some tea followed and then each of us spoke of our action plans and what we were going to do going forward. Some chose to cut down or moderate and others decided it was time to say cheers to the booze forever.

At the end of the workshop we had some alcohol- free drinks in the form of “what to drink when you don’t drink drinks” and I was amazed at the variety. Non- drinkers really do have options. I particularly enjoyed the Duchess gin and the JC Le Roux champagne. There was also a nice beer but I forget the name.

Everybody was so supportive and encouraging and there was really nowhere else I would rather have been that day. I’ve already been in contact with some people from the course and being on the wattsapp group and private FB page is so comforting. Knowing that others are on the same journey as you are.

And by the sounds of it, it only gets easier and easier and more rewarding and it’s super awesome to be a non-drinker.

Well done Janet, you guys rock and the amount of people you help, inform and inspire is incredible. I would highly urge anyone who wants to change their relationship with alcohol to give this course a go. Nothing to lose. Just a better and healthier life to gain.”


Octsober – Vicky’s View!

It’s been a while since we asked Vicky to write something for us – it’s not easy to catch her in one place as she is such a globetrotter – Barbados, Switzerland, Costa Rica, Nicaragua – and that’s just the last few months!  She has written some beautiful pieces for us which you can catch up with HERE – and today you can read her views on Octsober:-


Why I didn’t do Octsober…

This may sound like heresy for a WWW audience, but bear with me!

Like many of us, I love a drink at the end of the day – and sometimes at lunchtime at the weekends. And yes, I do sometimes exceed the 14 units per week which is now the amount recommended by British doctors.

But I don’t feel the need to give up the booze for a whole month, and here’s why.

Everyone is different, so an addiction can be as little as the need to have one drink a day, or a whole bottle. Years ago a friend of mine, who drank no more than a glass every day, decided she was so reliant on it that she went into rehab.

My trick to maintaining my peace of mind is to have 2-3 alcohol free days per week. This is in fact the routine recommended by the Royal College of Physicians. Their reasoning is very simple: it takes the liver at least a day to recover from drinking alcohol so as long as you give it some free time you can keep it healthy. It is also reassuring to discover how easy it is to have alcohol-free days. My rule is that I never drink when I/we are home alone, but only when we go out. As this happens infrequently it is quite easy.

The benefits of giving up for a month (and for good) are extolled: better sleep, concentration, weight loss plus a reduction in cholesterol, glucose and fatty liver. Diabetes, linked to alcohol consumption, is an increasing danger as we get older, so reducing the amount we drink is important. I am not arguing against the benefits of not drinking at all…it’s just not for me!

Six and half years ago our daughter Louise died of an overdose of ketamine, and in 2013 I was diagnosed with a life-threatening soft tissue sarcoma, shortly after both parents had also died, and my husband had been operated on for prostate cancer. Luckily we are now in remission, whatever that means…but for me to punish myself by denying one of the remaining pleasures I have seems masochistic. This is not by way of excuse, just MY reasons why…

What is rarely mentioned is what happens when you start drinking again and go back to all those bad habits, where the norm is drinking every day. Soon all the benefits are completely wiped and you are putting your body under additional pressure after having cleansed it. As Professor Charles Bamforth of the University of California says, ‘Many people don’t realise that drinking in moderation has significant health benefits [you know that glass of red wine a day is good for the heart etc]. You are seriously mistaken if you think having a month without drinking will protect you from the effects of excessive drinking for the rest of the year. The best advice is to drink moderately throughout the year.’

For the record I did give up last January, because Janet asked me to! But I won’t do it again. Rather I will stick to my healthy regime of not drinking several days week. Because I know I can do it.


Workshop testimonial

Dear Janet

Thank you for your mails.  I have been meaning to write to you to thank you – for so very much.

I feel as though you have saved my life.  I was trying to explain the feeling to a friend last night and all I could come up with was ‘light’.  I feel Light.  I feel rescued.  Renewed. Saved.  Perhaps this is how religious epiphanies feel, as the same words come to mind!  I am ‘me’ again.  And I am sure you know exactly what I mean by that.

Again I thank you.  I have tried to give up for years, but have never felt the sort of brain-switch that I feel now.  I just know this is forever.  And I cannot thank you enough for that.

Why the switch?  I have no idea.  It has something to do with your beauty, your lovely style, your grace.  And of course the group.  The stories, the special people.

You have a very special mission, for which I applaud and thank you.

Thank you, Janet.  You lifesaver!

To the future

Recovery coaching via Skype

A year ago today, I woke up hungover and anxiety ridden. My husband and I had had a series of arguments (wine made me over-emotional and confrontational.) I was feeling severely depressed and knew that if I continued down this path it would ruin my relationship and ultimately, my life.

I contacted Janet Gourand via Facebook (who at that time, only hosted workshops in Cape Town.) She offered to help me with private sessions via Skype. I asked my husband to gift me the sessions as an early Christmas present. I wasn’t certain that it would stick but felt desperate enough to try.

The start of sobriety was difficult. Eating at restaurants without my two (okay, four- five) glasses of wine made me feel bereft. It took me a full six months to tell my friends that I had quit alcohol. There are some friends who I haven’t seen since the 2nd of October 2016 which is telling in itself.

A year later going without wine has become effortless. I’ve truly gotten to know myself (for instance, that I am sentimental even without the wine.) I feel brave and ultimately, just thankful for this major life-change.

So I had to write this and acknowledge it. Thanks again Janet Gourand.

Guest blog – Tina’s story

My lovely workshop “graduates” are hitting their milestones and some of them are even sending me their stories – thanks guys – we love stories and I am always humbled by the way people open their hearts and “share” at the beginning of our workshops.

All our stories around alcohol are different but by sharing our angst about the booze we can all become stronger – there is a great benefit to being open and honest and that is how we will change our relationship with alcohol – as well as inspire other people.

A couple of weeks ago I posted “Nick’s Story”, today it is Tina’s turn and “Jamie’s story” is in the pipeline – so watch this space!


Alcohol was my best friend, my go to strategy when feeling blessed, stressed or depressed.

I grew up with alcohol – from my first party at 14 to girls holidays in Ibiza – from countless afternoons in the wine bars of London with work colleagues to milestone birthdays in Vegas. It was fun, it made a good night out great and gave me unbridled confidence.

I always turned up for work – I worked hard and played hard – I never drank on Mondays and thought that meant my health wouldn’t be impacted because I often took breaks of 2-3 days, sometimes weeks at a time.

The years of partying continued into my late forties. But then thing started to change, I noticed it was taking longer and longer for me to reach that ‘buzz’ and even longer to recover from a ‘big night out’ or ‘legendary lunch’.

The hangovers were getting worse and the frequency of waking up not entirely sure what had gone on the night before were increasing (I now know these to be blackouts) I particularly didn’t enjoy the feeling of waking up and having to retrace my steps through bar and taxi receipts (let alone text messages).

My health was also suffering. I was bloated, had chronic indigestion, my skin was dehydrated and my diet was generally poor – the hangover days were fueled with carb and sugar frenzies.

I slowly started to resent how alcohol was dominating my social life. Days and nights out were built around alcohol – even going to the theatre had to involve pre, during and post show drinks.

Still I carried on consuming way over the recommended amount of 14 units (I mean who sticks to that, really?). It was normal to get plastered at the weekend- everyone drank as much as I did…. Right?

The problem was my conscience was nagging me. It wouldn’t let up. I had known for years that I drank way too much – I’d often thought about stopping but knew I needed help. I kept minimizing the adverse side effects and attempted to cut down on my own but that lead to drinking more and eventually my consumption began to negatively impact my relationships and so I decided enough was enough and last October I made the decision to quit.

It wasn’t an easy decision and it’s been a challenging journey but with the help of support groups I am looking forward to celebrating my one year soberversary.

A lot of people questioned why I would want to give up alcohol and now one year later I frequently get asked how I feel and have I experienced any benefits.

Truth is there are many benefits – I’ve listed a few below.

My anxiety has dramatically reduced

I can focus better

I stick to my commitments (like training for a half marathon)

My sight has improved and my skin is clearer

My face is not bloated or puffy

I don’t binge all day on pizza, crisps and coca cola

I listen to others instead of talking about myself all the time

I’ve not injured myself or anyone else

I’ve met some amazingly cool and fun sober people

I still party like its 1999 – I just remember everything and don’t lose the next day to a hangover.

If you’re thinking of quitting for 30 days, 100 days, a year, forever the best thing you can do is join a support group. I had stopped for a few weeks but was struggling, then I attended the World Without Wine Workshop in Cape Town. It helped me enormously.and now, 1 year later, I want to help others on their sober journey.

If I ever doubt my decision to quit I only have to ask myself this … is my life better or worse with alcohol…


Guest Blog- Nick’s Story

Nick is an investment banker who came to our workshop in February and has just completed 200 sober days – if you want to know how alcohol free living has transformed his health, raised his game at work and improved his yoga practice then check out his story…




Last Wednesday marked 200 dry days. My journey to health started over 10 years ago. I started by giving up smoking after my dad died from lung cancer. I was +112kg at the time and an exemplary couch potato. Basically: a script for a short life.

A few years later, I started to exercise five to six times a week. I had tried various exercise regimes over the years but nothing stuck. Fortunately, for no logical reason, I decided to give yoga a try. I do not discriminate; I do all yoga that makes me smile inside. It started with a ten day pass to see what it was about, a 90 day pass to get rid of the sore body and thereafter: yoga addict!

This exercise strategy proved to be a good one for me and I lost 20kg – but then flat lined. I could never understand why the weight loss stopped. I was getting strong, feeling healthier than any other time in my adult life and starting to make healthier food choices. Yes I was still drinking, although that did not stop me from getting on my mat each morning.

My health was improving but not at the same pace as the weight loss. Unbeknown to me, things were not well. Adrenal fatigue, cortisol resistance and massive hormonal imbalances were found to be the problem. That was more than two years ago.

Eventually the penny dropped for me after hearing World Without Wine on the radio. I was inspired and decided to try an alcohol free life after attending the workshop. On reflection it’s strange that alcohol was not identified as an obvious roadblock to my health objectives much earlier on. Perhaps the social acceptability of drinking helps to mask the issue. My health is good and I’m feeling great.


Here are my top 10 benefits of alcohol free living:-


1. At work I’m performing better – I’m feeling good, in control and alive – I connect better with people, am more observant and pay closer attention.

2. My heaIth has improved dramatically – I have much more time and more energy, can do more at work and at home and pursue my interests more vigorously.

3. My sleep quality has improved greatly. No more waking up at 02:00 and then lying awake waiting for the alarm to go off.

4. I’m waking up strong, ready for an hour on my yoga mat and then a productive day at the office.

5. I’m losing weight again… slowly but it’s happening.

6. Sex is better sober… really! Try it.

7. I’m handling stress better. Counter intuitive for me, but true. I always thought alcohol was a good way to deal with stress and now it seems to me to be the exact opposite.

8. I’ve saved a ton of money – booze is really expensive.

9. It’s great to drive home after a social event. No worries about a possible roadblock or having to try and connect with an Uber (a task which is much simpler when sober).

10. The quality of our marriage is improving – and I know I am a better role model for my children.

Time to get rebellious!

A lot of this sobriety game is psychological

When you think of the billions spent by the liquor industry to brainwash us into believing that we need their product it’s little wonder some of us get hooked.

Not to mention the fact that alcohol is chemically designed to be addictive.

And then you have the fact that drinking alcohol has become so “normalised” that it makes it’s appearance at just about every event from a Christening to a Funeral.

It’s the lubricant that oils our social life, it’s the gasoline of fun!

Or is it?

How about we get a bit rebellious here and go against the grain, move out of our comfort zone and even defy social expectations a little.

I know I started to drink because I just wanted to “fit in”.

Yes it takes a fair amount of confidence and courage to socialise sober – and to dare to be different.

But it does get easier.

So maybe it’s time to rise above all that social conditioning.

After all we got wise about cigarettes – we now know they kill you and are not particularly cool or sexy.

Let’s get ahead of the game and see booze for what it really is – a poisonous trap.

janet xxx