With her distinctive velvet-and-iron-filings voice and vintage-styled glamour, she was one of the most garlanded singers of her generation — winning a Grammy, three Brits and an Ivor Novello award, conquering America and making £20 million for her record company.
Her debut album Rockferry was the world’s fourth best-selling album in 2008, and sold 9 million copies.
But while some contemporaries such as Adele went on to enormous global successes, Duffy simply . . . disappeared.
Her second album, Endlessly, flopped in 2010 and that was that.
Duffy’s debut album Rockferry was the world’s fourth best-selling album in 2008, and sold 9 million copies. But while some contemporaries such as Adele went on to enormous global successes, Duffy simply . . . disappeared, writes Alison Boshoff
Every now and then, people would wonder what became of the 5ft 2in Welsh blonde bombshell who had briefly captivated the public imagination. Radio 2 DJ Chris Evans played her hit Mercy in 2017 and asked listeners: ‘Whatever happened to Duffy? Back in the day she was ahead of Adele. She couldn’t have been any bigger at the time.’
From time to time, someone in the showbiz world would report having seen her, or working with her.
One friend told me he met her a few times several years ago to talk about a professional association which came to nothing and described her as: ‘Sweet but a bit eccentric, a little strange.’
A further source said that there was talk in around 2012 that she was going through a very tough time privately.
But otherwise her withdrawal was complete. So entirely did she drop from view that it wasn’t even clear recently where she was living.
She moved out of a £12 million penthouse flat in Kensington in 2012 and from that point she was not listed on any electoral roll in the country.
The Welsh singer, pictured at the 2009 Grammys with Paul McCartney, won a Grammy, three Brits and an Ivor Novello award, conquered America and made £20m for her record company
It was said that she was quietly living in South London, although there were even claims that she was temporarily lodging with a friend in Abersoch, Wales.
Now, after the moving statement on her Instagram account, released on Tuesday night, some light has been thrown on the mystery of Duffy’s disappearance, as she revealed she’d taken time out to process tremendous personal trauma.
Suddenly, after years of silence she announced: ‘Many of you wonder what happened to me, where did I disappear to and why . . .
‘The truth is, and please trust me I am OK and safe now, I was raped and drugged and held captive over some days. Of course I survived.
‘The recovery took time. There’s no light way to say it, but I can tell you in the last decade, the thousands and thousands of days I committed to wanting to feel the sunshine in my heart again, the sun does now shine.’
Apparently inspired by the guilty verdicts in the Weinstein trial on Monday, Duffy, 35, indicated that this had happened a decade ago, and that she’d revealed all to an unnamed journalist last summer.
Now she was getting ready to tell her story more fully, and possibly pick up the threads of her career.
So entirely did Duffy (pictured with her gongs at the Brit Awards in 2009) drop from view that it wasn’t even clear recently where she was living. She moved out of a £12m penthouse flat in Kensington in 2012 and from that point she was not listed on any electoral roll in the country
Her father John, a former pub landlord who lives in a modest terraced house in Nefyn, on the Llyn Peninsula, indicated that she had been fighting demons last summer.
In an interview not previously published, John, who is close to his famous daughter, described her long hiatus as ‘a quiet period’.
At the time, he said that she might be getting ready to come back again, but that equally she might choose not to return.
‘She has never stopped writing music. It’s what she’s always done. She just hasn’t been in the public eye lately,’ he said before adding: ‘She’s got a lot going for her. It’s up to her what she does and I’ll always support her and back her decisions. She is my flesh and blood.’
He said that there had not been another boyfriend since Wales rugby star Mike Phillips, who she had described as the love of her life and from whom she split in 2011.
Duffy’s father John said there had not been another boyfriend since Wales rugby star Mike Phillips (pictured together in 2010), who she had described as the love of her life and from whom she split in 2011
‘She’s not involved with anyone at the moment. I can assure you she hasn’t had any kids,’ he said.
He said he was in touch with her and saw her regularly, but didn’t want to talk about where she might be.
Asked about her possible comeback — after all Duffy said that she was going to return ‘soon’ in an Instagram post in 2017 — he shook his head.
He added: ‘No, I can’t speak. No good would come of it.’
At that time her stepfather Philip Smith, who lives with Duffy’s mum Joyce in Letterston, near Haverfordwest, Pembrokeshire, declined to talk about her.
However neighbour Robert Rees said that her withdrawal had puzzled the local community. He said: ‘I know Duffy well but I haven’t seen her in years — it’s been a very long time.
‘I think she still gets on with her parents but I haven’t seen her at the house. I think they go and see her every now and then but I don’t know where she is living.
‘She hasn’t done any music in so long — I don’t know what has happened to her.’
No one, it seems, knew about the secret she was harbouring.
Aimee Ann Duffy was born in June 1984 — one of twins. She grew up as a Welsh speaker in Nefyn, a tiny, close-knit town with no record shop or cinema.
Her mum Joyce and father John ran the social Constitutional Club. There were no instruments in the house but young Duffy was captivated by music.
‘I was concentrating on the classics that were being played on the radio like Sam Cooke and Marvin Gaye. It was so vivid. I could relate to the idea that the sun ain’t gonna shine any more,’ she said.
‘If someone had given me a guitar then who knows what might have happened. But my voice was the only instrument I had.’
When she and twin sister Katy were six, and older sister Kelly was ten, her parents announced that they were to divorce. The sisters cried so much that the couple stayed together for an extra four years.
Eventually mum Joyce moved on with agricultural merchant Philip Smith, and she took the girls 200 miles away to Pembrokeshire to be with him.
Now, after the moving statement on her Instagram account (pictured), released on Tuesday night, some light has been thrown on the mystery of Duffy’s disappearance, as she revealed she’d taken time out to process tremendous personal trauma
Before she left, Duffy wrote on the wall of the family house, behind a curtain: ‘I love you Dad’ because she didn’t want to leave him. When he later redecorated the house he painted around the message.
It was bewildering for the young Aimee to be in an English-language school and in a new home with a stepfather, his four children, and an uncle and aunt.
Duffy said: ‘We kept speaking Welsh so the kids thought we were weird. We quickly learned that we weren’t going to survive if we did that.’
Life was difficult — she called it ‘dog eat dog’ in the new family. ‘If you had a chocolate bar you had bought with some money you had found then there was outrage in the house, “How come you’ve got one?” But little things were what we got by on. We just didn’t have anything.’
Drama came when her stepfather’s first wife, Dawn, offered an acquaintance £3,000 to kill him after he won permanent custody of their four children.
Duffy and the rest of the family had to go to live in a safe house for a spell. When she was 15, Duffy decided to return to Nefyn, alone, to be with her father again.
Duffy’s (pictured at Radio 1’s Big Weekend in 2008) big break came in 2003 when she entered the Welsh equivalent of The X Factor called Wawffactor
In retrospect she mused: ‘It was a horrendous thing to do. Me, my two sisters and my mum had stuck together through thick and thin, and when I left it was like I was saying, “F*** you.”
‘But I just had to do something because it was killing me living there.’
Her teenage years with her father were wild. ‘From 15 to 18, I did everything — body-piercing to going on 48-hour binge beach parties, to stealing someone’s boat at night and rowing it from one place to another when we were drunk, to jumping on a milk float for a lift home.’
One aunt told her she’d end up a single mother on benefits — but by now she was fixed on her ambitions to make it as a singer and songwriter.
Duffy’s Instagram statement in full
You can only imagine the amount of times I thought about writing this. The way I would write it, how I would feel thereafter.
Well, not entirely sure why now is the right time, and what it is that feels exciting and liberating for me to talk. I cannot explain it.
Many of you wonder what happened to me, where did I disappear to and why.
A journalist contacted me, he found a way to reach me and I told him everything this past summer.
He was kind and it felt so amazing to finally speak.
The truth is, and please trust me I am ok and safe now, I was raped and drugged and held captive over some days. Of course I survived.
The recovery took time. There’s no light way to say it. But I can tell you in the last decade, the thousands and thousands of days I committed to wanting to feel the sunshine in my heart again, the sun does now shine.
You wonder why I did not choose to use my voice to express my pain? I did not want to show the world the sadness in my eyes.
I asked myself, how can I sing from the heart if it is broken? And slowly it unbroke.
In the following weeks I will be posting a spoken interview. If you have any questions I would like to answer them, in the spoken interview, if I can. I have a sacred love and sincere appreciation for your kindness over the years. You have been friends. I want to thank you for that x
Please respect this is a gentle move for me to make, for myself, and I do not want any intrusion to my family. Please support me to make this a positive experience.
Duffy did A-levels, dropped out of Chester University, and waitressed and worked in clothes shops locally. But mostly, she wrote songs at the kitchen table, and sang them in various local bands.
She even spent a year in Switzerland with a music producer after answering an advert in a newspaper.
Her big break came in 2003 when she entered the Welsh equivalent of The X Factor called Wawffactor.
She came second, but impressed one of the judges, Owen Powell of rock band Catatonia. After three years working on her sound, she signed a record deal in 2007, and her debut album Rockferry was released the following year.
Its huge success made her self-conscious. She told an interviewer: ‘I feel quite embarrassed and shy about it all and quite scared. Really my achievement was making the record and I’m not going to lie to you and say that I didn’t want everyone to buy it. I wanted the record to do everything it needed to do, but I didn’t really want to be associated with it because I wasn’t proud of myself. I’ve never been proud of myself. There is so much more to do.’
Her twin sister Katy moved in with her in London, and older sister Kelly ended up just two doors down.
She decided to take a couple of years to take stock.
She considered quitting — particularly after being mocked for a 2009 Diet Coke advert in which she sang while cycling through a shop. She said: ‘Life had got so complicated. I found it difficult to operate in the music industry as a 25-year-old woman. I couldn’t make a decision because apparently I was very “tired” and “emotionally drained”.
‘And what am I doing my job for? I’m not doing it to be adored or admired, to make money or be successful — I’m doing it to do something of excellence. So I did think, “Maybe I won’t do this at all.” ’
She told another interviewer: ‘It was a wild, exhilarating experience and at times it felt as though I was falling apart at the seams.’
This hiatus was a period of change. She split from producers Jeanette Lee and Bernard Butler, and teamed up with veteran producer Albert Hammond.
She also started dating Wales and British Lions scrum-half Michael Phillips, who grew up in Carmarthen. It was her first serious romance since college.
She raved: ‘He’s devilishly handsome — and cheeky — and I just enjoy him so much, like a treat.’
They split up over the summer of 2011 and again, after trying to make a go of it, finally in October.
By now the album Endlessly, released in November 2010, had flopped.
Bad luck followed. She dropped her manager Angela Becker — who then sued her in an action which appears to have been settled out of court. Her flat was burned in a devastating fire in 2012.
Under pressure, mourning her stalled career and her failed romance, she was a no show at several events — cancelling a performance in Monaco in 2011 and in Dubai in 2012.
And somewhere, in the middle of all this, came the harrowing attack. Who did it, when and why, still remains a mystery. It’s not even clear if she reported it to the police, or if she told her family.
Years of retreat followed. Her sister Katy, who had been her PA, left Duffy’s employ and started to work at an environmental charity.
Duffy took on a few tiny projects — appearing as a singer in the film Legend, about the Krays, in 2015. There were plans for her to appear in another film, Secret Love, which was announced at the 2014 Cannes film festival, but was never made.
She signed another management deal that lapsed without any music being released. Albert Hammond claimed that they were recording a new album, but again no music was released.
In a newspaper interview in 2014, Duffy’s former mentor Bernard Butler said: ‘She went off the rails and it all went pear-shaped for her. And maybe she brought all those problems on herself.
‘But I always had quite a lot of sympathy for her, because she was young, from this tiny village in Wales, and she was just hurled into the fire.
‘Of course she was going to go off the rails.’
As she herself observed: ‘I had to turn down the noise. I was losing sight of what all this was about. Suddenly I was a product, an enterprise, a businesswoman. But mostly I wanted to be human.’
Now, following her devastating revelation, perhaps the older, stronger, healing Duffy might feel ready to try again, and the world might hear that beautiful voice once more.