The Real Valerie Who Inspired Amy Winehouse’s “Valerie” Reflects On The Song’s Legacy
Jun 7, 2019, by Chris Mench @Chris_Mench
Winehouse’s track is a cover of UK band The Zutons, who wrote it about the lead singer’s ex.
The late Amy Winehouse left behind a small but vital catalog of music, including signature songs like “Rehab,‘” “Back to Black,” and “Valerie.” In a new Vice article, the real Valerie—a New York City resident named Valerie Star—came forward to discuss being the inspiration for a song that Winehouse immortalized.
Winehouse released “Valerie” in 2007 as part of Mark Ronson’s Versions. The track was mixed blessing a cover of a song by the same title by Liverpool band The Zutons, who had released their version a year prior. They previously revealed that it’s about an American woman named Valerie Star who was caught drunk driving and couldn’t move to the UK to be with him.
“She was a brilliant artist. She was beyond her time,” Star said. “It’s so sad and tragic, in so many aspects. Like even the video—she couldn’t be in it because she was in her world. That part is heart-breaking.”
Star met Mark Ronson, who felt he owed her something. “Mark said [to me], ‘I feel like I should open up my wallet and just hand you money,” she recalled. “It was really funny. It’s also kind of surreal. I can’t keep the song on my shuffle playlist. Not that it’s narcissistic but I feel like it would come up at the most awkward times. Like, hey, just listening to a song about myself—don’t mind me.”
As she explained, a series of felony driving incidents caused her to delay, and eventually cancel, plans to move to the UK with Zutons lead singer Dave McCabe. “I got arrested the week before I was going to go to Liverpool to be with him. It was me, I want to say, seventh felony driving on a suspended license,” she said. “I had all these delusional thoughts that I was going to walk away scot-free without spending a cent. I was like, ‘yeah, I’ll be [in Liverpool] really soon!’ And that just never really transpired.”
On the track, Winehouse sings about Star’s legal problems:
Did you have to go to jail
Put your house on up for sale
Did you get a good lawyer?
I hope you didn’t catch a ten
I hope you find the right man who’ll fix it for you
She also references Star’s hair color and the delayed move to Liverpool:
And I’ve missed your ginger hair
And the way you like to dress
Won’t you come on over
Stop making a fool out of me
Why don’t you come on over, Valerie?
In a 2011 interview with The Independent, McCabe said that Winehouse’s success with the song felt like a mixed blessing because it had eclipsed the band’s original. “I certainly have to try hard sometimes to not think about ‘Valerie’,” he said. “The days it’s in my head are when I have to put down the guitar and just forget about writing.”