Lily Allen says she was ‘shocked’ by backlash to Noughties antics

Lily Allen has spoken about how she was taken aback by the press attention she received in the past while getting up to mischief as “the bad girl of pop”.

The singer and actor, 39, rose to fame in the mid-Noughties upon the release of her debut single “Smile”, which topped the charts in July 2005. Her first album, Alright, Still, went to No 1, receiving critical acclaim along with a Grammy nomination for Best Alternative Music Album.

During that time, Allen, who is the daughter of actor Keith Allen and producer Alison Owen, received considerable press attention due to her public antics, as she struggled with issues such as addiction and disordered eating.

She was also the subject of a number of controversies as she made disparaging remarks about other pop stars, which regularly made tabloid headlines.

In a candid and wide-ranging interview on the BBC Radio 4 programme This Cultural Life, Allen explained to host John Wilson that she was “very confused” by the backlash she received, having grown up surrounded by men “who behaved 10 times worse than I did and seemed to be lauded for it”.

Asked if she felt prepared for fame given her famous father, she responded: “No, I thought I would be, but I think stardom [as a woman] is very different than stardom as a male.

“I was brought up to think you could do anything you wanted, as a woman, so I was very confused when I got the backlash that I did, purely because I’d been surrounded by men who behaved 10 times worse than I did and seemed to be lauded for it… it was a bit of a shock.”

Lily Allen performing in Germany in 2006 (Getty Images)
Lily Allen performing in Germany in 2006 (Getty Images)

Allen said she “probably did” invite some of the press attention, stating: “I don’t think I’d wake up in the morning and think, ‘Right, I want to be on the cover of the Evening Standard tomorrow, I’m gonna go and do this.’

“But I’d certainly say things or do things that I know would rub people up the wrong way. I don’t know if it was necessarily to increase my visibility, I think it was more that I just wanted to push boundaries, do things that people didn’t do, piss people off and say things that people hadn’t heard before.”

Allen took a break from music after releasing her second album, It’s Not Me, It’s You, in 2009, then returned in 2014 with Sheezus, which included the Top 10 hit “Hard Out Here”.

In the same interview, she spoke about her parents’ divorce and how she and her two siblings – including her younger brother, the Game of Thrones star Alfie – were looked after by nannies or au pairs while their mother was away for work. She attended 13 different schools and was “asked to leave a few”.

Lily Allen at the Olivier Awards in 2022 (Getty Images for SOLT)
Lily Allen at the Olivier Awards in 2022 (Getty Images for SOLT)

Allen also addressed why she dislikes singing her older material at live shows: “When I play live gigs, people want me to play the old songs but… if you had to go back to when you were at university and listen to yourself putting the world to rights in the student union, you would run a million miles because you sound like a moron.”

“So while I’m proud of what I did at the time, that person hasn’t experienced anything, so it’s kind of painful for me to listen to,” she concluded.

Allen, who is married to Stranger Things star David Harbour, is currently working on her forthcoming fifth album. She told Harris that she is soon travelling to Nashville where she will spend two weeks recording new music.

The album will be her first since 2018’s No Shame, which she called her “best work” despite its mixed commercial success.

Beyond music, Allen has developed her career in TV, film, and theatre, taking on the lead role in the West End play 2:22 A Ghost Story and in Sharon Horgan’s 2023 six-part comedy Dreamland.