“I am a ‘bite back’ person and that got me into trouble” – Lily Allen
Too big for her boots. Gobby. Attention-seeker. Lily Allen has had many accusations levelled at her since she first exploded on to the music scene in 2005. So when
I sat down for a chat with the artist, mother and author ahead of her upcoming sold-out shows at London’s Roundhouse, I’ll level with you: I wasn’t sure which way it was going to go.
Well, shame on me for pre-judging.
In fact, I found the 33-year-old surprisingly shy at the start of our interview. Understandably scarred by the British media, I got the distinct sense I had to prove myself to Lily, rather than the other way round.
There has, of course, been the well-documented drug and alcohol abuse, the scraps and the scrapes. And Lily, who’s just returned from a 22-date tour of the US, was keen to set the record straight. “I just enjoyed the music and managed to make it through without
a chronic bout of alcoholism, so that was great.”
As an artist, her success speaks for itself: global sell- out tours, a new Mercury Prize short-listed Album of the Year in No Shame, and now a critically acclaimed autobiography, My Thoughts Exactly. However, Balance wondered if Lily ever regretted being so outspoken, when perhaps towing the party line would have been much healthier for the bank balance?
VOICE OF REASON
“No, I don’t regret that,” she enthuses. “The thing is, truth and honesty have always been my currency. If I reeled that back in and started posting videos of myself in the gym and wearing trainers, people would be like, ‘Who the fuck are you?’ I do wish it didn’t have such a severe knock-on effect on my earning capacity, but that’s the way the world is right now.
“When I first started out, it felt like there were more artists around, but now there are lots of people with big Instagram followings and gym-honed bodies, who are given songs written by other people. I think we’re stuck in a bit of a rut in terms of dealing with expression. I find it odd that politically and socially, things have never been as fraught as they are now, or at least not in our lifetime yet. There are none of these anarchic bands like The Clash, The Specials or Sex Pistols. I don’t think that’s a coincidence.”
When I ask Lily what drives her, she declares, “I want to take down the oligarchs and the media barons! Seriously! They’re destroying the women’s movement.” Isn’t this a bit rich coming from a girl who bad-mouthed half the women in her industry? “I want to stress I was young and baited by those people. For the record, I’d never be horrible without provocation. The people I was in spats with were the same way. It perpetuated the myth women hate each other and are in competition.”
Lily’s dislike of the media, however, goes way beyond their treatment of her. In fact, she believes the press is directly responsible for having a negative impact on
the mental state of the country. “You can see online the way people communicate and judge each other. It’s very similar to how the tabloids write about people. There’s a whole generation of kids who think that’s OK. That language is everywhere, and it’s pretty sad.”
Her only regret, in fact, is inadvertently giving the press what they wanted. So if there was one thing she’d like to tell her younger self? “To ‘Cartoon Lily’, I’d say: ‘Don’t bite’. The music industry and the British media is a pernicious place to exist and I think, with age and experience, it’s easy to see what’s going on. But when you’re thrown in at the deep end and you’re so young and just out of the school playground, when people back you into a corner you either retreat or you bite back. “I’m a bite back person, and it got me into more and more trouble, and gave them material.” It’s this bite that makes Lily, well, Lily. Except behind that tough exterior and outlandish behaviour is a young woman evidently struggling with her mental health and managing bipolar disorder (manic depression). “I think labels themselves don’t matter. Whether it’s bipolar, ADHD, depression, anxiety disorder, whatever, it’s the same solution; work on yourself, keep talking and maintain healthy relationships with people and things.”
Lily says therapy continues to help. “I’ve been seeing the same guy for about 10 years. It’s a good place to vent and process things you wouldn’t articulate to your family. He knows about my past relationships, my back story, so if I changed therapist every couple of years, I’d find it really difficult to have to re-cover old ground.” In reality, I can’t help but wonder if Lily’s finally found the dependable father figure she’s always craved. After all, in My Thoughts Exactly, Lily recalls how her dad, actor Keith Allen’s idea of childcare involved taking her to The Groucho Club. From age six, she knew the member’s club’s telephone number o by heart.
WRITE OF PASSAGE
So, what’s a Lily Allen Christmas like? “It changes every year because the kids spend one year with me and one with their dad. When it’s not a me-year, it’s quite lonely and I get down because I don’t have my kiddies opening their stockings and everything.”
When I ask if she fears having to explain her escapades to her daughters (Ethel, seven, and Marnie, ve) when they grow up, she says, “I think if I wasn’t here and didn’t see so much of them, then they might have problems. But they will know the majority of what they’re reading is rubbish because they know me.”
The future could spell bad news for Lily’s fans, as it seems she’s in favour of stepping out of the limelight to pursue more writing; “I’m probably going to spend less time touring and releasing albums and more time writing for other people – and writing musicals. I’ve started one and am about three-quarters of the way through. Maybe another book as well. Not autobiographical, but books about other things.”
We hope that doesn’t mean we see less of Lily. At a time when most of our entertainers are increasingly vanilla and fearful of saying anything remotely interesting for fear of missing out on that endorsement deal, artists such as Lily are vital. The world would be less colourful without her. So whatever she has to say next, we’ll be listening.
Lily Allen tours her latest album, No Shame, across the UK in December. For tickets, visit lilyallenmusic.com. Her book, My Thoughts Exactly, is out now (Blink, £20)