The most shocking thing about Lily Allen’s autobiography isn’t that she hired female escorts for sex while on tour, a story that’s already leaked out to the tabloids before the book’s released. If it’s titillation you want, it’s lap dancing off the page here. Allen doesn’t shy away from documenting the sex, drugs and pop that have accompanied her rise to fame. She names celebrities she has slept with — Liam Gallagher (in first class on a flight to the Fuji Rock festival), the art dealer Jay Joplin, Mike Skinner from the Streets. She writes about touring with Miley Cyrus, going to American strip clubs, having affairs with female backing dancers and consuming the amount of drugs you’d expect from someone who’s music A-list. She tells stories about going to Kate Hudson’s Halloween party and flirting with Orlando Bloom.
In someone else’s hands, all this would make for a rollicking hedonistic pop romp. But the most shocking thing about her book is how unhappy Allen is. My Thoughts Exactly is less rock’n’roll romp than misery memoir.
We have the nightmare of attending posh boarding schools. The tragedy of growing up as the comedian Keith Allen’s daughter. The indignity of finding early success that catapults her into the limelight at 22. The endless rows as she falls out with siblings, parents, manager, stylist, band.
It would be unfair to suggest she hasn’t suffered. She felt isolated and unnurtured as a child. She is scathing about her narcissist father; she says she rarely saw him between his philandering and drug-taking. She describes how her mother, the film producer Alison Owen, was so busy working or taking drugs she’d forget to collect Lily from school.
At a time when women are revealing the shadowy side to success, it’s honest to hear Allen’s raw account of the darkness behind the glitter. At times her experiences were “pitch black”. She was sexually assaulted by a record-company executive. She went through the horror of miscarrying her first son at 28 weeks. She suffered the terror of waking up to find a stalker in her bedroom (the police dealt with it appallingly). All these hardships she endured with little family support.