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LILY ALLEN AT GLASTONBURY - Book Extract

In the late-1980s I played cricket for the Old Roughians, a team made up from staff of the Rough Trade Record Shop in Notting Hill Gate and their friends. Among the friends was a fearsome fast bowler called Keith Allen, then making a name for himself as a comedian, actor and freewheeling hedonist about town, and at some of the games he was accompanied by his wife Alison and young daughter Lily. I can remember playing with little Lily when she was two or three years old.
         Twenty odd years later I commissioned a biography of her for Omnibus Press entitled Smile: The Story Of Lily Allen, an extract from which appears below. As the book makes clear, Lily is a Glastonbury veteran, “whisked to her first Glastonbury within weeks of her birth, no less”. The Allen family traditionally attended the festival with their great friend Joe Strummer, and in 2007 Lily appeared there for the first time.


Resplendent in a fuchsia pink party dress, matching lipstick, swingy black pony tail and a hoodie, Lily, used to rocking out at Glastonbury as a punter, not a performer, took the Park Stage with her family and friends in the wings. She had taken over from MIA, who had cancelled, and Lily was nervous, “big shoes to fill”, but it didn’t show; only her folks had any idea how jittery she felt. As usual, it was good old Jagermeister that gave her the Dutch courage to throw off her nerves and give a fine festival performance, which featured a special guest appearance from Specials Terry Hall and Lynval Golding. They sang ‘Gangsters’ and ‘Blank Expression’ together, Hall stock-still and characteristically glum, eyes cast to the floor, Allen, in contrast, bouncing about as if on springs, and some festival stalwarts – including Billy Bragg – skanking in the wings. This moment Lily would hail as one of the happiest in her career so far.
         Lily’s sister Sarah was over-awed by her little half-sibling’s performance: “I don’t know how she does it. She was nervous before Glastonbury, headlining there was a really big deal for her. We’ve gone every year of our lives, so it was the ultimate I’ve-made-it gig. I was nervous just being in the wings.”
         After falling into the arms of her family and having a well-deserved drink, Lily headed up to be interviewed by Lauren Laverne and Phill Jupitus for the BBC TV coverage of the festival. They were charmed by Lily’s fresh cheek and precocity – not to mention her enthusiasm. “It was the most amazing experience of my life ever,” she told them. “I feel like my whole life has been working towards this point.”
         She also boasted that this was the first time Hall and Golding had been on stage together since 1973… Seeing as The Specials only formed in 1977, it’s fair to say there might have been a bit of festival fever setting in there. (Two-Tone expert Jupitus gallantly refrained from contradicting her.)
         Blame it on all the pear cider, the euphoria and the fact she’d been up all night; early that morning she’d watched the sunrise with Alex Turner from Arctic Monkeys and James Righton from Klaxons: James dressed as a swan, Lily as a mushroom and Alex as a dinosaur. “We looked like something out of Super Mario Park,” Lily chortled. “It was quite amazing.”

And again in 2009, and in 2011:

At least Lily’s favourite landmark of the year was swinging around – Glastonbury Festival. With her pink hair messily tied up, Lily would celebrate by hanging out backstage with her friends the Radio 1 DJ Annie Mac, Mark Ronson and even her ex Ed Simons (prompting a flurry of reports that they pair were rekindling their romance – they weren’t). This was also the perfect opportunity for Lily to try out her beloved dinosaur costume that she had picked up in Japan – it was pure Glasto. She might have performed that year in a swingy blue denim summer dress but off-stage you’d have to look out for a little pink-haired Lil-asaurus if you wanted to find the hottest performer at Glastonbury.
         This particular Glastonbury was historic, not least because it was Lily’s twentieth (or that she’d had to take her lyrics onstage with her as she hadn’t played a gig in such a long time), but organizer Michael Eavis had chosen a groundbreaking headline act – the hip-hop star Jay-Z, a choice which had divided the music press and festival-goers.
         But Lily, who watched Jay-Z’s set with Eavis and his daughter, co-organiser Emily, knew he would be a smash. “We were like, ‘Haha! You’re all wrong, it’s brilliant,’” she said shortly afterwards in an interview. Interestingly, when asked (inevitably) what she thought of Amy Winehouse’s set, she said it was “funny”, before skipping off to sing ‘Oh My God’ with Mark Ronson on the Other Stage, relying on the audience’s singing skills for support. Lily was, as usual, not particularly sober during this festival performance, but something else was hanging over her: it was while she was at the festival that she heard the sad news that her grandmother on her father Keith’s side had passed away.
         She dedicated the bittersweet ‘Littlest Things’ to her beloved grandmother, who she had been especially close to, telling the crowd, “My nanny Allen died last night so, this one’s for you. I love you.” Ed Simons was on hand to comfort her, prompting immediate speculation that they were ‘back together’. Which Lily probably could have done without.
         The price of fame meant that, even when she attended the funeral in Llanelli in the Allens’ native Wales, sang a farewell ballad at the service and comforted her grieving family, Lily, and therefore the funeral, were surrounded by paparazzi.
         For all of Lily’s rebelliousness, her family and how they would feel came first, and for this reason Lily decided to say a solemn goodbye to her punky pink hair and go “back to black, bitch” (a play on a certain nemesis’ hit album title). “My nan would have killed me if I went to her funeral with pink hair.”
         


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