I heard Lily Allen discussing her new autobiography on Woman’s Hour and put it straight on my Christmas list. I’ve always quite enjoyed Allen’s music, her quirky fashion sense and her generally relatable, messy vibe. She’s rather beautiful – an original face in a sea of bland, symmetrical perfection – and I’ve always admired her gobbiness. I was also aware that she and I had a traumatic experience in common and was interested to hear her in-depth take on it here.
I expected to find My Thoughts Exactly engaging and entertaining but I was really blown away by what a fantastic read it actually is. Allen is searingly honest, which means the book is full of juicy stories about the celebrity world – and not coy references either, it’s literally like you’re friends in the privacy of the pub. I was amazed at how upfront she was prepared to be! But that’s really only a small part of what makes this such a good read. It is also a very brave account of a variety of life experiences – sexual assault, stalking, cheating, divorce, co-dependency, family dysfunction, fame, addiction, loneliness … the list goes on. Allen lays it all out here with brutal honesty, even when she comes out looking like the bad guy, and yet she is prepared to be vulnerable to such a degree that it’s impossible not to identify with her, to like her, to pity her at times, but also to very much admire her.
On the back cover of the book, Allen says, “When women share their stories, loudly and clearly and honestly, things begin to change – for the better.” When I first read that, I thought it sounded a little naff and possibly a bit overdramatic – after all, this was Lily Allen, not Malala. I very much changed my mind as I read the book, however. It was hugely refreshing to hear such an honest account of a young woman’s interesting, and in many ways quite difficult, life. I could relate to so much of it and it even moved me to tears in a few places.
Though it may perhaps seem glamorous from the outside, Allen’s account of her childhood – being left in a hotel room at the Groucho Club with her brother all day eating minibar Toblerones while her dad got drunk with his friends downstairs – was actually pretty sad. For a young woman with a lot of issues in search of stability, a sudden rise to fame in tabloid-ridden Britain is sure to bring disaster, and so it did for Allen in many ways, despite her success. She has been through a lot, and in some ways her story is a fantastical one, but she is brilliant, in this book, at smashing through all the smoke and mirrors and letting you into the real life she has lived in her head.
It feels a bit strange to be describing Lily Allen’s autobiography as a triumph for contemporary feminism but, actually, that’s what I think it is. It is the honest, unflinching story of a woman who has both succeeded and failed, who is both brave and terrified – in short, a three-dimensional, real, live woman with a voice, who refuses, at thirty-three, to pretend to be anything else. I highly, highly recommend it!