Lily Allen: The Full Interview

Britain's most provocative pop star returns to the fray

Most Popular

It may have slipped my mind – unlikely but not impossible – but I can't remember a previous occasion on which, at the conclusion of a celebrity interview, my subject handed me a vegetable peeler, pointed to a bowl of potatoes and told me to get on with it. No, I'm sure of it: this never happened with Angelina Jolie or George Clooney or Jay Z.

"Oh, and Al," she says. "Can you chop the leeks when you're done?"

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

It's Sunday afternoon in the kitchen at Lily Allen and her husband Sam Cooper's house in Gloucestershire. Outside it's dark already, at not yet 5pm, and windswept, the occasional fat, lonely droplet of rain flinging itself at the misty windows, making it feel even toastier in here, by the Aga, where there's food and booze and conversation.

Sam and Pockets, who looks after the dogs – plucky Ron; dopey Dermot; matronly Mabel; and Fender, the elderly lab – have taken the kids with them to the station to pick up another visitor from London, Sam's friend Rob, who's coming down for the night with his flatmate, Otterley. On the way back they might stop at a pub to catch the second half of Man U v Arsenal. Which leaves just Lily and me and an embarrassment of vegetables. She's sitting opposite me at the kitchen table, considering some carrots. The glamour, as you can tell, is off the charts; stick with us and she might do something really pop-starry, like open a bag of crisps. Perhaps with this in mind — this disjunction between glossy men's mag cover star and rural housewife — Lily has asked me not to reveal what she's wearing this evening, preferring to maintain at least some sense of mystique. But I'm mean, so I'll tell you. She's wearing fishnet stockings, a basque, stiletto heels and a sheer babydoll. Just kidding. She's dressed as a Christmas tree. No? OK. What she's really wearing is a creased white T-shirt and baggy tracksuit bottoms with Keith Haring dogs printed up the sides. Her hair is a messy raven halo, her make-up is in the bathroom. She looks like what she is: a slightly hungover young mum on a Sunday afternoon in her own kitchen, cooking a roast. Hold everything: she has another important question.

Most Popular

"Do you fancy cheesy sauce with the cauliflower or shall I not bother?"

"No, no," I say. "By all means bother."

At which point, just as I'm taking the kids' pasta off the hob, in walks the rest of the party, flushed from the cold, full of beans and bonhomie. Feeding the children and preparing our supper is a group effort, Sam shoving in the birds, Pockets clearing up, Rob stirring the gravy, Otterley making a fuss of the kids.

"Sausage," says Ethel, almost two. And Sam helps her fish one out with her fork.

Later on I open a bottle of red and the others help me drink it while Lily disappears to orchestrate bath-time for Ethel and her baby sister Marnie, 11 months. Some of us hole up for a while in a small, clubby sitting room where Otterley and Pockets and I blow our fag smoke up the chimney and discuss marriage (not to each other, just in general). Pros: big party. Cons: lifetime of commitment, vast expense, erm, lifetime of commitment.

It's too easy to describe an old house in the English countryside as idyllic. But Sam and Lily's place really is quite special. A 17th-century farmhouse, it's surrounded by fields –I had to dodge sheep earlier today as I bumped over the cattle grid and negotiated the potholed single-track to the house – and it overlooks a wild valley, with thick woods in the distance. There's a steep-sided path through high trees that leads to a pub. From the lawn at the back you can see for miles, but no one can see you. Nor can they see you in the party barn, or on the croquet lawn, or in the greenhouse, or on the tennis court.

It's enviable, then. But there's nothing ostentatious about it. The main house is not especially large and it feels lived in. Lily has a confident and unusual eye: the walls are decorated with William Morris wallpaper, different in each room, and covered with pictures and objects. There are spiders and butterflies behind glass. There are still-life paintings and vintage posters, bought for next to nothing. In one room, there is a series of small illustrations of Milton's Paradise Lost, which is not very MTV Cribs, is it? But there's also a Jamie Reid Sex Pistols print, and more than one gift from her godfather Damien Hirst. There are crammed bookshelves and guitars and there is a wall of Sam's vinyl albums, which indicate a taste skewed towards soul, r'n'b, country, rock'n'roll. Tonight's selection: Sam Cooke and Willie Nelson. (Lily takes charge the following day and the house quakes to the less restful sounds of Buju Banton.)

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

Supper is served in the dining room, with its exposed beams, its crackling log fire. Later, in the galleried, double-height sitting room at the other end of the house we slump in front of Downton Abbey. This is the only point during the evening at which any of us is directly reminded of Lily's day job – when, in an ad break, to a chorus of cheers, the John Lewis Christmas commercial airs. You may have seen it: it's the soppy woodland one with the cartoon bear and the hare who wakes him up for his first-ever Christmas. The girl singing the Keane tune over the top, in the brandy-butter-wouldn't-melt voice, is the same one collapsed next to her husband on the sofa, cackling at the unlikeliness of it all.

Mrs Christmas, Sam decides she should be called. I tell her that's what I should call this article: "At Home with Mrs Christmas". We'll put some snow on the Esquire logo and cover her in tinsel. "You'd better fucking not," is what she says to that. But again, as you can see, I have partially defied her. (I'm so brave when I'm on my own in my office with the door shut, aren't I?)

If all this sounds exceptionally, perhaps insufferably, cosy and convivial, given the sometimes fraught, often formal, rarely really fun circumstances in which most interviews with famous people are conducted, then that's because I've been here before, for weekends with my family and friends. I came to Sam and Lily's wedding here. By the time you read this, I'll have been back here again.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

Lily and I are friends and have been since she first broke through as a pop star. I knew her through the highs and lows – there were significant numbers of both – of her first period as a tabloid target and a chart sensation, up to and including her "retirement" from the scene, four years ago. Subsequently, like all her friends I hope, I've grown used to the idea of her as a private citizen. Famous, yes, but not elevated or embattled or otherwise removed from the rest of us, which is how celebrities sometimes seem, even if you know them a bit. I'd even got used to referring to her as Lily Rose Cooper, her married name.

Most Popular

And now, as we lounge in front of Downton, she's about to become once again not only the girl we know in private but also the series of pixellated images and shouty headlines the rest of the world sees: that Lily Allen. Her cackling at the John Lewis ad is partly the result of the fact that she has another song ready for imminent release. It's called "Hard Out Here" and for those observers of the pop scene who, on viewing the bear and the hare, expressed surprise at the gentle reintroduction it provides to one of our more provocative performers (and perhaps found themselves wondering whether a new washer dryer might be just the thing this Christmas), it should provide ample reassurance that Lily has not lost her ability to commandeer the cultural conversation.

"Hard Out Here" is – as you will perhaps be aware by now – somewhat more confrontational than "Somewhere Only We Know". "Forget your balls and grow a pair of tits," Lily sings, "It's hard out here for a bitch." Which is not something one can easily imagine the hare saying to the bear, at least on camera. The accompanying video is a pastiche of the misogynist hip-hop promos that she grew up watching in the Nineties as well as a lampooning of what was – until now – the most polarising pop video of 2013, Robin Thicke's "Blurred Lines", with its naked babes and fully clothed men. As with all Lily's best songs, "Hard Out Here" is also specific to her: it's about the objectification of women in contemporary pop, the pressures on them to conform to an impossible ideal of feminine beauty, pressures she has felt herself, and still does. It's about, as she puts it, reclaiming the word "bitch".

The video includes a sequence in which Lily does the robot in front of helium balloons spelling out the phrase "Lily Allen has a baggy pussy", a direct rejoinder to Thicke's "Robin Thicke has a big dick". The first time I saw this, when she emailed the video to me a few weeks before our interview, I'm afraid I made a fuss about the balloons bit. I said I thought she'd made the point well enough without it, that it was redundant – and kind of gross. But what do I know? I'm a clueless old man. The intention was to cause a fuss, and it worked.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

Two days after our Sunday roast, the video is released to the internet, and within hours Lily is trending on Twitter, dominating the tabloids and the blogs, alternately hailed as the saviour of pop and an icon of the new feminism and, conversely and ludicrously, an exploitative hypocrite, at best misguided, at worst racist. (Some, not all, of the dancers in the video are black.) As she puts it herself, in song: Bitch, bitch. Bitch, bitch. Bitch.

By the end of the week, the video for "Hard Out Here" has been watched over five million times on YouTube and "Somewhere Only We Know" is Number Two in the charts. The following week, "Hard Out Here" is at Number Nine, "Somewhere Only We Know" becomes Lily's third Number One single, and she has a track on the Number One album, too: a duet of "Dream a Little Dream" with Robbie Williams, on Swings Both Ways.

Job done, then: back with a bang. But this is really just the start of Lily's work. There is an album, as yet untitled, due out in May. I've heard 11 songs, a few of which won't make the final cut, and there are one or two still to come. It is as bold and infectious as anything she's done: another punchy combination of waspish social observation and stinging personal revelation set to electro-pop hooks, again written and recorded with producer Greg Kurstin, here and in LA. This summer she will play festivals before a full tour. The life cycle of the album, if it is successful, is likely to be two years, from now until the end of the final show.

She is nervous about her return, for many reasons. Her success brought her – and bought her – many things: the country pile, for a start. But it didn't make her altogether happy. Certainly by the end of her three or four years of initial fame, she was burned out.

And so before I made my start on the potatoes, Lily and I climbed the stairs to her office at the top of the house, for the business part of our otherwise lazy Sunday: the interview. If this was Through the Keyhole, now would be the moment when even the most clueless audience member at last guesses the identity of the famous householder: in addition to the iMac and the desk, there are platinum discs, a shelf full of awards — Brit, NME, Q, Ivor Novello — and an enormous glittery Damien Hirst spelling out "Lily".

I plonk myself down on a dainty sofa and am instructed, in no uncertain terms, to move, because madam would like to sit there. So I sit on a chair and she lies on the sofa, with a fag in her gob and an ashtray on her lap. She regards me coolly, through narrowed eyes.

"You look like my shrink," she says.

And we're off…

***

I first interviewed Lily Allen at her then-manager's office in Notting Hill in the summer of 2006. When she tells the story of our initial meeting, as she does occasionally to people who ask how we became friends, she says I was her first proper interviewer. That's not quite accurate, but certainly she was newer to the game than I was. She still maintains that I tricked her into saying things that would get her into trouble, that I deliberately took advantage of her naivety. To which I say: what naivety?

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

In any case, even then she had a talent for generating headlines: she slagged off Pete Doherty and Girls Aloud (both were still "things" at the time), and made some mildly disobliging remarks about Madonna that went around the world. I felt she knew exactly what she was doing; she was 21, still living at home with her mum, but she was wise beyond her years, the product of a semi-bohemian showbiz background, someone who had already seen and done plenty – who understood how things work.

Her parents, as everyone already seemed to know even then, are the film producer Alison Owen and the actor Keith Allen, both tearaways made good; they split when she was five and for a time Lily, her sister and brother, were raised by Alison and her then boyfriend, the comedian Harry Enfield. Close family friends included Joe Strummer, of The Clash. It sounds exciting, of course, unimaginably rock'n'roll compared to the rest of our childhoods, and in many ways it was. But Lily has also described her upbringing to me, at various times, as "confusing", "hectic" and, never one to mince her words, "mental". She attended a bewildering number of schools and abandoned her formal education altogether at 15, embarking on an ecstasy-fuelled odyssey to Ibiza, before beginning her attempts to break into the music industry.

Most Popular

It took at least four years, but Lily's breakthrough came at last in the summer of 2006 with "Smile", her first Number One: a breezy pop-ska number, with bawdy, confessional lyrics counterpointed by the sweetness of her voice. "LDN", her second single, was, if anything, even more insidious and distinctive: a profane paean to the city of Lily's birth. In her prom dresses and her Nikes, with her fluoro make-up and her hoop earrings, here was a pop star to be reckoned with: spiky and smiley in equal measure.

Alright, Still, her debut album, sold 2.5 million copies, broke her in the US, was a critical hit and – my own favourite memory of her in this period – led to a triumphant spot on the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury in 2007. That performance included a version of The Specials' classic "Gangsters" featuring two of that band's original members, Terry Hall and Lynval Golding, with Lily in a fuschia pink dress under a hoodie, waving a can of Strongbow in one hand and a ciggie in the other.

"Silly dancing, please!" she shouted at the climax of her set, and thousands of bedraggled revellers obliged her, including this one. "Fucking amazing," she told me afterwards. And it really was.

I bumped into Lily later that night, or early the following morning, in the fetid swamp that was the Glastonbury hospitality area. She was dressed as a giant mushroom, trailed by an Arctic Monkey in a dinosaur costume. (I've subsequently had this hallucinatory vision independently confirmed.) Shortly after that, I sat next to her at a glitzy awards dinner, where she wore sweeping red Chanel and borrowed diamonds, and was mischievous, irreverent and indiscreet in the best possible way. Then we met for what would be the first of many lunches, at the showbizzy restaurant, The Ivy, where she combined her demure blue dress with lairy white loafers: her raving shoes, she said.

Tellingly, although she was still only 22 at the time, she seemed entirely at home in all these environments. But then Lily is one of the few famous people I've met whose life – at least in the sense of where she goes and who she talks to – was not changed immeasurably by her celebrity; it's not like she hadn't been to The Groucho Club before. "I'm not going to pretend like, 'Wow, this is a whole new world of glamour'," she told me in 2007. "Because it isn't."

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

She found her first burst of fame both exhilarating and upsetting. After years in the shadows of family and friends, she loved the attention and revelled in her success. But she hated the negativity of so much of the coverage, the constant carping about her background, her appearance, the involuntary surrender of her private life.

The honeymoon period was brief, the backlash was vicious. Lily was among a group of famous young women who were pilloried in the tabloids and on the gossip websites for their perceived misbehaviour. (Amy Winehouse, who broke through around the same time, was another. I witnessed, more than once, occasions when her activities – sometimes high-spirited, never mean-spirited – were reported inaccurately and unfairly. I went to parties and dinners with Lily. I walked with her, her friends and colleagues, through scrums of photographers jostling, swearing, pushing. I've been in cars with her when she has been chased by paparazzi on motorbikes, in London and Paris. The hostility is terrifying and it feels instinctively wrong: grown men – weird, unpleasant grown men – hunting a young woman through city streets in the middle of the night.

Perhaps inevitably, her second album, It's Not Me, It's You, from 2009, had a harder edge, musically and lyrically. The forensic and often very funny examinations of relationships were still there but the album also tackled Lily's new reality: sex, fame, money. The first single, "The Fear", an attack on the emptiness of consumerism and celebrity culture, was another Number One. It was a bravura performance. The album went on to sell another 2.5 million copies.

She took off on a world tour. I joined her for a tiny part of it, in the American West, in the spring of 2009. She was, by then, somewhat beleaguered. I interviewed her again over a bottle of wine in the dressing room of a peeling concert venue in Salt Lake City, Utah. As we talked, she painted her nails black. When I remind her now of her state of mind at the time, she struggles to remember.

"Everything was just such a blur," she says. "I can't really remember it. I mean I remember big moments like the Brits, but I don't really remember how I felt over a period of time. I think I was just a bit out of my head."

Out of her head how? "Just drinking a lot and self-medicating," she says.

There's a song on the new album called "Because You Know I Love You". It's about her life with Sam, with whom she got together at Glastonbury 2009. The lyrics reflect on the state she was in when they started seeing each other. Her life, she sings, had lost its meaning. Her "partying" was becoming worrying. Happily, as the lyric reveals, "Staying home with you is better than sticking things up my nose."

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

Was she concerned that she would have to seek help? "I suppose that had I not met Sam, it could have escalated," she says. "But then again, I'm a control freak. I'm quite good at knowing when I've had enough."

She decided quickly, she says, that Sam was the person she wanted to spend the rest of her life with. "I wanted to start building that straight away. And that meant buying this house and getting pregnant and having babies."

Shortly thereafter, she "retired" from pop music, although today she says that that was always "a bit of a bluff, really". She wanted, she says, to make her record company believe that she was going for good, to panic them into taking her more seriously. Parlophone was at that time part of the now defunct EMI, which was struggling under the ownership of a hedge fund run by a man called Guy Hands, who made himself less than popular with the label's stars. (I was once at a deliciously awkward meeting between Hands and Lily, in her dressing room at the Shepherds Bush Empire. Among a throng of London's famous party people – Kate Moss and Damien Hirst were there – I almost felt sorry for the tubby man in the suit.) Since the break-up of EMI, Parlophone has become part of the Warner Music Group and Lily is now on improved terms. She bluffed, they blinked.

Most Popular

But there was more to her "retirement" than business manoeuvrings. "There was a part of me that did want to give up," she says. "I was at the end of my tether. I'd had enough of people constantly hacking at me. And I think once you're exhausted physically and mentally, it does get you down. And I knew I wanted to have kids, so 'retiring' just seemed like the right thing to say."

In the run-up to her absenting herself, Lily says she had felt persecuted by some of the people she'd been hanging out with, the veteran denizens of the London showbiz/rock'n'roll/fashion scene: "that whole crowd of gacky socialities," as she now calls them. She had, she said, become overly concerned, paranoid almost, about her standing in their eyes. "Part of the whole reason that I kept going out and hanging around with those people," she says, "is because I felt like they were quite bullying. I had to be around to keep proving something to them. Proving what, I don't know."

Meeting Sam, she says, "definitely made me realise, why do I give a shit about those idiots?"

For a time she was close to Kate Moss and the crowd Moss runs with. They went away together, stayed up late together. When I interviewed Lily in 2009, she talked about what a relief it was to have someone to talk to, in Kate, who understood how it felt to be pursued by the paparazzi, fulminated about in the papers. Then, after a time, they stopped being friends.

There's a song on the new album called "I Don't Mind Babe". It's fantastically insouciant and disdainful. It describes Lily's tormentors as, "a bunch of sad old bitches." It likens them to "those nasty girls at school." "I don't mind, babe/Who the fuck are you?" trills the chorus. I'm worried, I tell Lily, that Kate and her crew might mistake the song for an olive branch. I think perhaps she ought to make her feelings about them more plain, to avoid misunderstandings. Lily just laughs at this, and says the song's not about Kate Moss specifically.

What she will say is this: "I thought the people in that showbiz circle were my friends. But almost the second I got pregnant and I wasn't able to go out and party, they were suddenly all quite nasty. There's a way that those people survive, and it's not by being nice. The way they make themselves feel powerful is to ostracise other people. I feel blessed to be able to recognise that but at the same time it can still feel pretty shit when you walk into a room full of people and you can feel the eyes looking at you and people laughing. It's hard for me because I will eternally feel like that little bullied girl at school, because that's what I was."

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

"I Don't Mind Babe" is not the only new song that casts a jaundiced eye over that world. "Insincerely Yours" is, if anything, still more cynical. It name-checks the models Jourdan Dunn and Cara Delevigne, as well as "that Rita girl" (Lily's so unimpressed she can't remember Rita Ora's surname) as well as her bête noir, the Mail Online. It takes swipes at girls who make their livings lending their skinny cool to brands and corporations hoping it'll rub off on them: "Whatever happened to the real DJs/'Cos the chick you've paid can't mix for shit?" I'd like to state here for the record that having been to plenty of these parties, even hosted a few myself, I haven't the faintest idea what Lily is on about. And neither has Alexa Chung.

To me she's even more forthright, picking on one event in particular as symptomatic of the emptiness of the showbiz scene. "It's shitty, elitist, corporate crap," she says. "It's only about making money for the brand and for the sponsors who put all their shit in the goody bags and [it's about] servicing the egos of the organisers. I just find the whole thing quite depressing."

Lily, tell us what you really think. "You turn up," she continues, "you do the nice smiley picture on the red carpet with Claudia Winkleman or whoever the fuck else comes up and wants to have their picture taken with you. And it's all very, 'Look! We're all friends.' No, we're not!"

I tell her it's always seemed to me that a lot of people at that type of event – awards shows and openings and showbiz parties – are actually having rather a nice time.

"Yeah, see, I just can't fathom that," she says. "I feel like when I was growing up and dreaming of being a pop star, it was the days of Britpop when things felt authentic and anarchic, and people were taking drugs and having a lot of fun, and having sex with each other and it wasn't fake, it was real. So excuse me if I found it a bit disappointing when I arrived and it was a bunch of sterile fucking Botoxed idiots that stank of desperation."

The question, of course, is why on Earth would she want to return to a world by which she is so revolted? The answer is that her feelings are complicated. There's another song, which may or may not appear on the next album, called "The Life for Me". It's about her life in the country, about being a mum, and also about how all that can make a person feel out of the loop, no longer connected to her friends or the world she previously inhabited, for better or worse. "Why does it feel like I'm missing something?" she sings.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

In 2007, when she was 22 and just starting out, Lily told me that her dream was to have a family and live in a big house in the country: "Peaceful, no bullshit, just reading the papers, reading books, watching telly, cooking. I'd like a vegetable garden. A big table where I help my kids with their homework."

She's got all that now and, of course, she is still dissatisfied, still searching for something. It's her nature. And in truth she has had much to be dissatisfied about.

Since 2009, Lily has been pregnant three times. The first time she went into labour at only six months and the baby, George, died. She doesn't want to go into details here but naturally it was a traumatic experience. Days later, back in Gloucestershire, Lily was taken to hospital with blood poisoning caused by complications following the birth. For a time her condition was very serious indeed.

Most Popular

"It was looking pretty bleak," she says. "It was weird because instinctively I'm a fighter, but I remember having just given up. I just felt so numb. I was just lying there, sort of dribbling and staring off into nowhere."

I spoke to Lily on the phone when she was still in hospital. Like many people who experience bereavement, she was struggling to understand why it had happened to her. Something struck her at the time that is difficult for her to talk about without sounding grandiose or even a little bit mad – but that she feels, nevertheless. It's the realisation that the things that happen to her, the highs and lows, often seem so much more extreme than those experienced by other people of her age and background. It's as if she is paying for the highs with the lows. Or as if she needs the lows in order to be the kind of person who can achieve the highs: almost as if they are the material she needs to be herself.

"When George died," she says, "I remember thinking how unlucky we were to have lost our baby. And also, what are the odds of somebody that's experienced all the brilliant things that have happened in my life to then go on and experience something so terrible?"

It's not, she says, that she feels special. "It just was a really weird, really unique experience. And I feel like I get that quite a lot." Her shrink told her he thinks that some people just have big lives. And he thinks maybe she's one of those people. I tell Lily I think there might be something in that. Whether it's a good thing for her or not, I don't know. She's not sure, either.

Lily and Sam's troubles were not over. Ethel was born in December 2011. Initially, she had a problem with her throat that required a number of operations, and then she needed to be tube-fed for a long time. Lily had always thought that becoming a mother would fill a lot of the holes in her life. She thought it would calm her down. But Ethel's problems made young motherhood more fraught than it might have been.

"I thought that I would be better at it," she says. "I thought that I would change more. I really honestly believed that once I had babies everything would be fine and then when it didn't work out like that I felt pretty useless, a bit of a spare part."

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

All this was a spur to her starting to write songs again. "I felt that I'd lost a part of me that I needed to reclaim," she says. "I felt like I needed to do something that wasn't nursing my baby 24 hours a day. And I only really know how to do one thing. I can't just suddenly go and train to be a lawyer or something."

Having a life outside motherhood again has made her much happier, she says. "But I still don't want to sit down and watch Peppa Pig all day."

So she's back, with new material and a new outlook: more mature, maybe, but not mellower. Her previous albums, she thinks, came from "kind of a narcissistic place, they were about trying to satisfy or placate my ego." The reasons for making the new one are healthier. She is back because she wants to help provide for her family and because the time is right.

"I feel very lucky to have this place and our beautiful girls and my lovely husband. I couldn't ask for much more, really. And actually, I'm not really asking for much more. I'm not trying to take over the world here. I don't want to be Rihanna. I want to sell some records, sell some tickets to my shows and live my life."

Listening back to our interview, it occurs to me that it's not quite representative of the conversations Lily and I have when we're not being recorded. Not that we don't address serious topics – and certainly we both enjoy a whine and a moan – but mostly I think of Lily as a laugh: a constant babble of ideas and observations and arguments, both sensible and outrageous. She's a world-class mimic, a spirited conversational combatant, a worthy drinking buddy. She's moody and she's excitable, she's needy and she's generous, she's soft and she's prickly. She's a loyal friend. And, to steal a line from Shameless, she knows how to have a party.

And while Lily in full flow can make it sound like all she's been doing since 2009 is breeding, in fact she's done loads. She opened a shop with her sister Sarah. She wrote songs for a proposed musical of Bridget Jones's Diary. She modelled for Chanel. And then there were all the schemes no one ever heard of. (Including my own big idea, a cookbook for rock'n'roll country mums: A Bun in the Aga. Now that I think of it, whatever happened to that?)

As I say, Lily and I talk on the phone and see each other fairly often, so this story can only really end because of an arbitrary deadline, rather than because the conversation is over. But the last time I saw Lily and Sam before Esquire went to press was at the end of November, at their flat in west London, in a room filled with under-fives celebrating Ethel's second birthday. The theme was "Ben & Holly" (if you don't have your own under-five, you're forgiven for not knowing what the hell that means) and Rob and Pockets were the entertainment, in costume as an elf and a fairy, respectively. Ethel and Marnie's grandparents were there, as were other parents of toddlers and a handful of Sam and Lily's friends who don't have kids, all appropriately shell-shocked; Nick Grimshaw had a good story about the horror of his visit to Hamley's to buy Ethel's present.

Lily, resplendent in Day-Glo animal print, was just off a plane from LA, where she'd been shooting the cover for her album, hanging out with Miley Cyrus and recording again. I was given a pair of headphones and handed her mobile to listen to the results, but my sleeve was being tugged by a four-year-old at the time, so it was difficult to concentrate on a song excoriating the futility of blogging.

There was pass the parcel and cake and cocktail sausages ("Sausages!" said Ethel) and lollipops –  and bottles of Beck's and mini cheeseburgers for the dads. When my daughter decided the time to go had arrived – and when she's decided, she's decided – we couldn't find Lily to say goodbye. No biggie. I asked Sam to thank her for me. I'd speak to her soon.

***
MORE IN INTERVIEWS: 

Joaquin Phoenix
George Clooney
Scarlett Johansson
***