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Lily Allen - Biography

Lily Allen broke onto the British music scene and carved out a unique space for herself as a singer songwriter

Lily Allen - Biography
Bryony Gooch
Bryony GoochUS Writer
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With a dad like hell-raiser Keith Allen, Lily was never going to be a conventional pop star. During her teens the privately educated self-styled 'chav' was expelled from several schools for drinking, smoking and “doing things with boys that I shouldn’t have”. But she channelled her rebellion into shaking up the British music scene… and she did so with aplomb.

Breakout

When, aged 14, Lily Allen ran away to the Glastonbury Festival, it was clear she was a girl with a passion for music – and a rebellious streak. She quit school not long after to work on a demo, and when her MySpace page began attracting tens of thousands of listeners, the industry sat up and took note. She signed to a record label and produced debut album Alright, Still, which spawned first single Smile – an upbeat, kooky summer classic that took the UK by storm in July 2006. “The first song I ever wrote was Smile,” said the young star. “We just went through about seven or eight sample lyrics, found a beat, put it all in... it’s not terribly clever!” 

"There is no one behind Lily Allen. It's all her," praised Mark Ronson, who produced her album, as Lily notched up a string of hits – 'LDN', 'Knock 'Em Outand 'Alfie'. However, looking back on her first release now, she says she is embarrassed as she sounds like "a sort of over-excited teenager who desperately wanted attention".

But it was attention she wanted and attention she got – and it wasn't just her music making waves. Lily's penchant for ball gowns teamed with trainers made her an unlikely style icon, and her hard-partying antics ensured her place in the tabloids.

"I've always been a firm believer that your role models should be your parents or your sister – not someone like me... It's something that always got me in trouble," she's said, of controversies ranging from substance abuse, celebrity spats and feuds – most famously with Cheryl Cole and Katy Perry. Lily, who was given her own talk show on BBC3, had her own fashion line and a “special relationship” with fashion house Chanel. 

In 2008 she released the first single – 'The Fear' – from second album It’s Not Me, It’s You hit the airwaves in December 2008, shot to number one and earned the pop star two Ivor Novello gongs. 

She entered a musical hiatus not long after her second album, which ended in 2012 when she featured on a track for Pink's The Truth About Love album. She gained recognition for her cover of Keane's "Somewhere Only We Know" for the John Lewis Christmas advert with a portion of the song's sales earnings donated to Save the Children's Philippine Typhoon Appeal campaign.

Not long after, she released the song 'Hard Out Here', entering the UK singles charts at number nine. By 2014, she had released Sheezus and was performing at Glastonbury. Except after the release of Sheezus Lily had something of an identity crisis; she didn't enjoy the music she was being asked to create, and felt that people within the music industry were controlling her music choices. Her marriage had broken down and her substance use had become a source of struggle for her.

In response, by 2017 she revealed that she would be working with Mark Ronson to create a more personal album about the breakdown of her marriage, her relationship with her children, and her issues with substance abuse - the album would be called No Shame. She worked with artists like Giggs and Burna Boy for this new album, which was nominated for a Mercury Prize.

Since 2019, Lily has been on something of a musical hiatus again, but she has teased that a concept album is in the works. She performed on stage at Glastonbury with Olivia Rodrigo in 2022, but admitted that she had struggled with performing sober, and wasn't sure if she could manage it again.

Personal life

However, by the end of 2007, the fun-loving brunette dialled down her partying ways and announced she and Chemical Brothers star boyfriend Ed Simons were expecting a baby together. Sadly, during a romantic holiday in the Maldives, Lily miscarried. The couple split just weeks later, and Lily set about rebuilding her life and recording her new album It's Not Me, It's You. 

She was in the press for personal reasons, too, after being spotted on board a yacht off St Barts with multimillionaire art dealer Jay Joplin, who was 45 at the time. “I think I like much older men,” she said. “I hang out with much older people, I go for dinners at posh places and talk about art. I’m meeting more interesting people who tax my brain.”

However, their short fling wasn’t to last, and her well-documented love life became more low-key when she began happily dating property developer Sam Cooper.“It's disgusting some of the things I do, like not batting an eyelid over spending two grand on a new pair of shoes…” she said. “Being with Sam has really helped me with that because he's like, ‘Stop! What are you doing? This money is your future!’”

When she and Sam splashed out on a £3 million country home in the Cotswolds and announced they were expecting their first child, that all seemed set to become a reality. Hinting that marriage was on the cards - "I think I've been quite clear [to Sam] about what I want," she's said - Lily was delighted at the prospect of being a mum. "I can't wait," she revealed.

Sadly, in November 2010, her spokesperson released a statement confirming that devastated Lily had lost her baby boy, six months into her pregnancy. But the following year brought happier news - Lily got pregnant again, and in July 2011 the couple tied the knot before becoming parents to a baby girl named Ethel Mary in November. In 2013 they added to the family when Lily gave birth to their second child, Marnie.

Lily divorced Sam in 2018, after they'd been separated since mid-2015 as the singer admitted her acts of infidelity. The two share custody of their children.

The singer would later start dating David Harbour from Stranger Things in 2019, and they got married in 2020 in Las Vegas, officiated by an Elvis Impersonator. The two live in Brooklyn with Lily's daughters, Marnie and Ethel.

Life outside music

It seemed Lily was adopting a back-to-basics approach to life to go hand-in-hand with her low-profile relationship. As well as announcing she was set to take a break from the recording industry, she tired of the internet and announced her departure from Twitter with the words: “I am a neo-Luddite, goodbye”.

She later explained: “I don't own a BlackBerry. Or a computer. I don't even read emails. I was using the internet in a really destructive way. In the same way as I guess alcoholics and drug addicts have to stop taking drugs or alcohol to see how negatively it affects them.”

However, it wasn't long before she was back conversing with her fans - though her hiatus from music seemed set to continue for the forseeable future. In 2010 she jetted out to Brazil to help raise awareness about saving the rainforest – something she wanted to do sooner, but couldn’t due to her hectic schedule. “It's such a massive issue and I just wanted to help as much as I possibly could but I found it really difficult and challenging,” she said.

“The main aim of the project was to re-educate local communities in a bid to stop the deforestation ravaging the area.”It certainly looked as though the quiet life was calling. “All this… won’t last forever,” she’s said. “I want to enjoy it and try and gain some stability out of it. A house. So I can relax a bit in my late 20s and have a house in the country, quad bikes, bit of land, arrange flowers, keep pigs, a family. I’ve had enough noise and chaos.”

She kept herself busy with launching a vintage clothes shop in Covent Garden, Lucy In Disguise, with her half sister Sarah Owen. "When I got pregnant I decided to wind down a bit... originally it was going to be a fancy dress shop, but because of our passion for vintage clothing we thought this would work better," she said. "It got to the stage where I didn't even know how much clothing I had. Opening up a shop seemed the best way to get rid of some of it!"

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