‘I haven’t spo­ken to Dad…’

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Fol­low­ing on from her ex­plo­sive best­selling au­to­bi­og­ra­phy, Lily Allen opens up to Craig Mclean about fam­ily dis­putes, ca­reer plans and con­tin­u­ing to crave the sim­ple life

Drink, drugs, di­vorce, fam­ily feuds – as Lily Allen’s frank new au­to­bi­og­ra­phy re­veals, her rock’n’roll life has taken a heavy toll. Here, she talks to Craig Mclean about past mis­takes, pay­ing off the mort­gage and leav­ing the old Lily be­hind. Pho­to­graphs by Trevor Brady

In a freez­ing car park in down­town Seat­tle, Lily Allen is giv­ing me the tour of her bed­room-on-wheels. There’s a full­sized bed, which has a ten­dency to come away from the wall, ‘so some­times I wake up over here,’ she says, stand­ing by a large wall­mounted screen with Net­flix and Ama­zon Prime.

‘Su­per-nice,’ the singer-song­writer smiles, ac­knowl­edg­ing a binge-watch­ing ad­dic­tion to Home­com­ing, the new pod­cast­turned-thriller se­ries star­ring Ju­lia Roberts. Next to the bed, at pil­low-level, is pinned a draw­ing of a heart. ‘I love you mummy,’ it says, a note from Ethel, seven, big sis­ter of Marnie, five.

The bed it­self is cov­ered by an open suit­case, full of shoes and shoes alone. Allen – who’s been tour­ing the world on and off since the re­lease of her land­mark, voice-of-the-west-lon­don­streets de­but al­bum, 2006’s Al­right, Still – also has a dozen pairs of train­ers spread over the eight items of lug­gage she’s brought with her. ‘But I haven’t re­ally brought that much,’ she in­sists.

‘Not too shabby, is it?’ Allen con­cludes brightly of her tour bus, the fa­cil­i­ties rounded out by cof­fin-like bunks for five other mem­bers of her tour­ing team, a lounge and even a small bar area. This bed­room has been Allen’s home away from home for the past five weeks. The 33-year-old, her two­piece band and a trav­el­ling party num­ber­ing 20 in to­tal have been driven up and down, back and forth, across North Amer­ica. Wel­come to the No Shame tour, ti­tled af­ter her well-re­viewed and Mer­cury Mu­sic Prize-nom­i­nated fourth al­bum.

This is how one of the UK’S most dis­tinc­tive – and con­tro­ver­sial – mu­si­cal voices rolls, 13 years into her mu­sic ca­reer. Af­ter launch­ing her songs via the then-ground­break­ing route of shar­ing them freely on early so­cial net­work Mys­pace, Allen hit num­ber one with her first proper sin­gle, 2006’s Smile. She topped the charts again in 2013 with her cover of Keane’s Some­where Only We Know, the song for that year’s John Lewis Christ­mas ad­vert. And through­out her rise, Allen, a brave and opin­ion­ated speaker, has never been afraid to en­gage with the is­sues that fire her up, es­pe­cially on Twit­ter – whether it’s me­dia phone-hack­ing, her sup­port for Jeremy Cor­byn, her shame over the UK’S role in the Syr­ian refugee cri­sis or the Gren­fell Tower dis­as­ter.

Still, it’s a calmer, wiser, con­sid­er­ably more fam­ily-ori­ented Allen that I meet in Seat­tle. The 21 shows on this tour were sched­uled around her chil­dren’s half-term, the bet­ter to al­low the mu­si­cian to re­spect as much as pos­si­ble the joint cus­tody ar­range­ments for her two daugh­ters with ex-hus­band Sam Cooper, owner of a build­ing com­pany.

She is, then, in a good place, al­beit des­per­ate to re­turn home. Only two sleeps and two con­certs to go, Seat­tle tonight and Van­cou­ver to­mor­row. Allen is count­ing down the hours – 72 of them – un­til she will touch down at Heathrow and head straight home to her flat in north-west Lon­don for a fam­ily Sun­day lunch with her daugh­ters and boyfriend of three years, Tot­ten­ham grime MC Merid­ian Dan, whom she met at Not­ting Hill Car­ni­val.

Still, all that or­gan­is­ing, all that trav­el­ling, has come at a cost. ‘I’ve got so fat on this tour,’ she says, swad­dled against the Pa­cific North­west cold in a Ma­har­ishi sweat­shirt and scarf. She ap­pears a lit­tle tired, but is other­wise glow­ing and healthy-look­ing,

The cause of her weight gain is not bad diet or drink­ing – the lat­ter the curse of her last Amer­i­can run, in sup­port of her mis­fir­ing 2014 al­bum Sheezus. That tour was a catas­tro­phe of in­dul­gence (al­co­hol and drugs), par­ty­ing (morn­ing, noon and night) and sex­ual mis­ad­ven­ture (boys and girls, dancers and pros­ti­tutes). Her life spi­ralling out of control, Allen was se­ri­ally un­faith­ful – not least with fe­male sex work­ers – to her hus­band while on the road.

Allen lays bare that in­tensely trou­bled pe­riod in eye-wa­ter­ing de­tail in her re­cently pub­lished au­to­bi­og­ra­phy, the best­selling My Thoughts Ex­actly. In­deed, it’s so wide-rang­ing and near-theknuckle hon­est that her mother, the film pro­ducer Ali­son Owen, told me that she was wor­ried less about how she would emerge, more how oth­ers would re­spond. Her fa­ther, the ac­tor Keith Allen, mean­while, hasn’t spo­ken to her since pub­li­ca­tion. As for the fall­out from Allen’s forthe-record ad­mis­sion that she had sex with then-mar­ried Liam Gal­lagher aboard a flight to Tokyo – well, more on her ex­act thoughts, and ex­act deeds, later.

The rea­son for Allen’s weight gain is steroids. The week be­fore I met her she’d had to can­cel three shows due to ‘in­flamed ev­ery­thing’ around her vo­cal chords. She’s been pre­scribed ele­phantstrength med­i­ca­tion.

‘They shoved a cam­era up my nose and had a look at my vo­cal chords,’ she ex­plains in her straight-up (not posh, not ‘street’) Lon­don ac­cent. ‘My whole face was just f—ed and my eardrums were a bit swollen, so my in-ear mon­i­tors weren’t fit­ting prop­erly. It wasn’t painful, it was just like run­ning out of petrol. So the notes I was hit­ting in my head and what were com­ing out of my mouth were com­pletely dif­fer­ent. And it’s scary be­cause, as much as I want to give ev­ery­one the best show I pos­si­bly can, my voice is my liveli­hood, so I can’t push it. Be­cause once it’s f—ed, it’s f—ed for ever.’

On­stage in Detroit, she was 50 min­utes into her 90-minute set and try­ing to sing an acous­tic ver­sion of Fam­ily Man, a heartbreaking song about her split from Cooper. ‘And I burst into tears and had to walk off!’ she laughs. ‘I’ve never done that be­fore.’ Re­ally? Not even on the round-the-clock chaos that was the Sheezus tour?

‘Well, I don’t think I cared about the sound, I was so f—ed up.’ She laughs again. ‘What’s been re­ally strik­ing on this tour is that we’ve played a lot of the same venues, and I haven’t recog­nised them. That’s how much of a mess I was. I’ve gone into dress­ing rooms and [venue staff ] have come in say­ing, “Oh my God, so good to see you again!” I’m like, “I don’t know what

‘I was so f—ed up on the 2014 tour. We’ve played a lot of the same venues, and I haven’t recog­nised them’

you’re talk­ing about.”’ An­other burst of near-manic laugh­ter. ‘So, yeah, that was wor­ry­ing.’

For sure, Allen has cleaned up her act since she last toured. A break-up, a break­down and then a di­vorce can have that ef­fect. This time there has been no se­rial in­fi­delity, and no clas­sas. Not that she’s gone su­per-healthy. ‘I’d like to say I was go­ing to the gym but I’m just ter­ri­ble.’ But while she used to fill her time on the road with ‘drugs or shop­ping… now I do nei­ther. I spend a lot of time read­ing the news, get­ting irate.

‘I’m not sober, by any stretch of the word,’ she clar­i­fies, and nor has she com­pletely for­sworn cig­a­rettes. ‘But I’m also not com­pletely ham­mered from nine in the morn­ing on­wards. And I re­ally care about the gigs this time round and want them to be as good as they can be. Whereas I didn’t re­ally care be­fore!’ she ad­mits with an­other peal of laugh­ter.

It was a pe­riod dur­ing which, at her low­est ebb, she drunk­enly tried to se­duce Or­lando Bloom while at Kate Hud­son’s Hol­ly­wood Hal­lowe’en party, knocked her­self out af­ter lung­ing at the ac­tor while strad­dling him, and was res­cued by Cold­play’s Chris Martin who, along with Gwyneth Pal­trow, then tried to stage an in­ter­ven­tion at their Mal­ibu home. Martin, one of myr­iad mu­si­cian ac­quain­tances, said he wanted to help her, and he and Pal­trow put her in con­tact with their mar­riage coun­sel­lor. Allen didn’t at­tend a meet­ing, ‘but it was the wake-up call I needed,’ she writes.

She con­cedes that her lack of care wasn’t just a hall­mark of the Sheezus era. In fact, even on her first two al­bums (her sec­ond, 2009’s It’s Not Me, It’s You was an­other num­ber one, as was lead sin­gle The Fear), fun was Lily Allen’s pri­or­ity. I re­mem­ber see­ing her at the Coachella fes­ti­val in the Cal­i­for­nian desert, in 2007. It was cer­tainly a lively per­for­mance, not least be­cause ‘I for­got ev­ery sin­gle word to ev­ery sin­gle song. Paris Hil­ton and Lindsay Lo­han gave me a spliff just be­fore I went on and I for­got ev­ery­thing,’ she ex­plains. ‘I got stage fright af­ter that, think­ing that I’d for­get the words again. Ever since then I have to have au­tocue.’

Was she con­cerned that an­other US tour would be a trig­ger for her, tip­ping her back into bad be­hav­iour?

‘Yeah, for sure. Fun­nily enough, I went to see A Star Is Born two nights be­fore I came out here. And I had to walk out half­way through be­cause I was, like, “Trig­gers!”’ she ex­claims of the Bradley Cooper/lady Gaga movie about the in­tox­i­cat­ing ef­fects, good and bad, of a ca­reer in mu­sic. ‘So, yeah, I was def­i­nitely re­ally ner­vous about it. But, pat on the back, I’ve made it this far with­out los­ing my mind.’

Last time, she toured lengthily to es­cape a pri­vate life that was in melt­down. She and Cooper, who mar­ried in 2011, en­dured the still­birth of their first child Ge­orge, a dif­fi­cult sec­ond preg­nancy and post­na­tal de­pres­sion. Allen was also stalked – for seven years. At one point a men­tally ill man, Alex Gray, burst into her bed­room in the mid­dle of the night. Allen’s own de­tec­tive work fi­nally com­pelled the po­lice to take ac­tion (in 2016, he was sen­tenced to an in­de­ter­mi­nate hos­pi­tal or­der). No won­der she wanted to run away.

This time, though, she’s tour­ing for the right rea­sons: to make money as a sin­gle par­ent. The irony, though, doesn’t es­cape her. ‘I have a job to pay for a house that I can only af­ford if I’m not liv­ing in it!’ she hoots again. ‘So weird. But, I guess, I am pro­vid­ing a roof for my kids, which is… good?’ she says, raising her voice, ten­ta­tively, ques­tion­ingly.

Lily Allen grew up in chaotic cir­cum­stances all over Lon­don. Her fa­ther walked out on her, her mother and her lit­tle brother, ac­tor Al­fie (Game of Thrones), when she was four. For a while co­me­dian Harry En­field was her de facto step­fa­ther, but only for a while. She at­tended mul­ti­ple schools, com­pre­hen­sive and pri­vate, in­clud­ing a brief stint at pro­gres­sive Hamp­shire pri­vate school Bedales, and left ed­u­ca­tion at 15 with­out a sin­gle qual­i­fi­ca­tion. Dur­ing her child­hood, the Grou­cho Club in Soho, her hell-raising fa­ther’s pre­ferred wa­ter­ing hole, was her orig­i­nal home away from home.

Money, care and at­ten­tion were in short sup­ply. As Allen tells it, as her mother rose through the ranks of the movie in­dus­try, she spent more time away on film sets, while her fa­ther pur­sued a life of carous­ing. In My Thoughts Ex­actly Allen talks openly of feel­ings of aban­don­ment and ne­glect – and, as a re­sult, of her nu­mer­ous ill-starred ro­man­tic and sex­ual re­la­tion­ships that fol­lowed. The book is never less than emo­tion­ally brac­ing, and as Allen says on more than one oc­ca­sion, it was im­por­tant to put ‘my truth’ out there. But her mum had a point: you do worry about oth­ers’ re­ac­tions. For ex­am­ple: Allen writes about be­ing sex­u­ally as­saulted by some­one she calls ‘Record In­dus­try Ex­ec­u­tive’. She wanted to name the man, but lawyers coun­selled against it.

‘I can’t be too spe­cific, but he works with a lot of acts that are very prom­i­nent acts at my record la­bel,’ she tells me. ‘And I think you can pin­point when that hap­pened and when in­vest­ment stopped hap­pen­ing into my ca­reer, from them. And I would have liked some­body else to draw those par­al­lels…’ Allen coughs. ‘But, yeah, sad,’ she shrugs.

Then there’s her ac­count of her and Liam Gal­lagher’s boozy sky-high congress en route to per­form­ing at a Ja­panese rock fes­ti­val. Does she re­gret the up­set that rev­e­la­tion might have caused to, no­tably, his then-wife Ni­cole Ap­ple­ton of All Saints?

‘It was never about get­ting back at [Liam]. And I’m sorry that it might have up­set peo­ple, but it was up­set­ting to me as well,’ she notes, writ­ing in the book of how Gal­lagher later called her

and asked her to deny to Ap­ple­ton that any­thing had hap­pened be­tween them. ‘And you have to be self­ish, I think, some­times.’

Among var­i­ous other de­pic­tions of woe­ful pa­ter­nal par­ent­ing, Allen wrote that her fa­ther had suf­fered a drug-in­duced heart at­tack while, aged 13, she was with him at Glas­ton­bury – and that he then im­me­di­ately went back to tak­ing co­caine the same week­end. Keith Allen texted to in­form her that he’d ac­tu­ally had acute food poi­son­ing. The story will duly be amended in the next re­print.

Be­yond that, ‘I haven’t spo­ken to him since it came out.’ Is she sad about that? Un­char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally, Allen pauses. ‘Yeah. Yeah, I am. But it was my truth,’ she re­peats. ‘I wouldn’t have put it in there if I didn’t think it was sig­nif­i­cant, and if I didn’t feel it served to draw a pic­ture of how I ended up the way I did. As dif­fi­cult as it’s go­ing to be for him to read, and as dif­fi­cult as it was for me to say those things, they were re­ally sig­nif­i­cant, wa­ter­shed mo­ments in my life. And had a lot to do with my self­con­fi­dence and self-es­teem.’

Or lack thereof. ‘Ex­actly. So if he’s up­set – which I think he is – it’s be­cause they’re not nice things. But it’s me that had to deal with them. And now he’s hav­ing to deal with them. It’s in­ter­est­ing that the thing he con­tacted me about was the co­caine thing,’ she muses. ‘What about all the other stuff?’ A burst of manic laugh­ter. ‘Do you want to talk about the Record In­dus­try Ex­ec­u­tive? Or any­thing else? Noth­ing,’ she says with a sad shake of her head. ‘All he cared about was… him.’

On stage that night at Seat­tle’s 1,100-ca­pac­ity Show­box club, Lily Allen is in great form, in­flamed ‘ev­ery­thing’ notwith­stand­ing. In a flu­o­res­cent lime-green-tinged blonde wig and sparkly emer­ald frock-come-pan­taloons, she en­ter­tains the rap­tur­ous, heav­ily fe­male au­di­ence with a set largely drawn from the spar­tan, lyri­cally pointed elec­tro pop of No Shame – and with a story about how, the last time she per­formed here, her en­core was de­layed by a bad case of di­ar­rhoea.

She is, bril­liantly, that kind of pop star: one with no shame. As is ev­i­dent a cou­ple of hours later, around mid­night. Tot­ing a Blue­tooth speaker broad­cast­ing reg­gae playlists from her iphone, a cheer­fully re­freshed Allen dances with a cou­ple of fans in the freez­ing car park in which her tour buses are parked.

The rest of her tour party head off to a bar, de­ter­mined to make the most of Seat­tle un­til the buses’ 3am de­par­ture. But not Allen. Sen­si­ble rather than in­sen­si­ble, she climbs aboard her bus, paus­ing only to re­move her wig be­fore fall­ing asleep.

As she’d in­di­cated ear­lier, it’s a qui­eter life these days.

‘What do I spend my money on now? My kids. I’m also re­ally bad at keep­ing track of stuff. Mov­ing from venue to venue, ho­tel to ho­tel, small things get lost. There’s no point in buy­ing jew­ellery, it just gets nicked or lost. And I don’t go out, so there’s no point on spend­ing money on clothes or hand­bags. Even the live show – ev­ery­thing is stripped back, less dis­trac­tion. With me at the cen­tre of it, with my truth. That’s what I feel like is my cur­rency.’

Ask her if she’s happy, and she’s ini­tially, un­usu­ally stumped. ‘It’s dif­fi­cult ques­tion to an­swer,’ she pon­ders. ‘My kids are thriv­ing and they’re happy. And me and my ex-hus­band are com­mu­ni­cat­ing well. And, um, I like liv­ing in the present. So, yeah, I feel good in those re­spects.

‘But I can’t say I’m on top the world. Be­cause the world is a daunt­ing prospect,’ she sighs.

Where does she see her­self in 10 years? ‘I don’t,’ she replies quickly. ‘Don’t think about that, I’m just rid­ing a wave and float­ing. I’d like to pay off my mort­gage, not be in debt, and peo­ple to still want to come see my shows – and turn up!’

For Lily Allen, it is, fi­nally, about the sim­pler things.

My Thoughts Ex­actly (£20, Blink Pub­lish­ing) is avail­able now. Lily Allen tours the UK this month; see lilyal­len­mu­sic.com

Allen at the BRIT Awards 2007; the launch show for Sheezus, 2014

Clock­wise from top left Allen with her fa­ther, Keith; her mother, Ali­son Owen; her boyfriend, Merid­ian Dan; now ex-hus­band Sam Cooper

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