Lily Allen turns 30 this weekend (May 2). To celebrate, here’s Lily’s last NME cover – a 2009 conversation with NME’s James McMahon discussing the muddy merits of festival season, discussing her own festival memories as well as the time she flew a helicopter over Glastonbury…
“So the point of this feature is to tell you about my festival recollections?” enquires Lily Allen down the phone from her Brooklyn hotel room. “Um, isn’t the point of festivals not to have any?” Lily might have a point. She’s currently entrenched on USA tour duties (“It’s really fun – the press aren’t as mean as they are in England,” she says, “but then, if I was Lindsay Lohan-like-famous in America, I’m sure I would get as much shit as her”) so spending the summer in a field may seem like a long way off. Yet with a return to Glasto on her schedule for late June, it’d be a shame if she couldn’t dig into her subconscious and pull a few choice anecdotes out. She’s something of a Worthy Farm veteran after all, attending her first Glastonbury almost 24 years ago.
“If I were to grow a beard like Michael Eavis and put on my own Lily Allen festival, my line-up would be Oasis, Kraftwerk, Primal Scream, Kasabian, Nirvana and The Stone Roses,” she tells NME. “And Frank Sinatra. That’d be amazing. Oh, yeah – and me. Obviously.”
NME: What’s your first festival memory?
Lily: “Well, not that I can remember any of it, but I think I went to my first Glastonbury when I was six weeks old. I’ve got pictures of me there with my mum and dad. My dad always had this campfire area – he’s a huge Glasto fan. It wasn’t really backstage, because they didn’t really have a backstage area then, but I can just about remember the fire and stuff. I’ve been to pretty much every Glastonbury bar one since I was born. The one I didn’t go to was the one where everyone’s tents got washed away , so I’m pleased I missed that.
Did you watch bands as a child?
“Not really. I used to just play in the Green Fields with the other kids. My parents used to leave me there and I was quite happy just to run around and stuff. As dangerous as that sounds now, at the time Glastonbury was a lot safer. I think the world was a lot safer, really, just different. I didn’t want to watch bands – I just wanted to play with the other kids.”
So when did the bands become the focus of Glastonbury for you?
“I remember when Oasis first played and it was amazing. I never really see gigs because I’m too short, so I tend to just annoy everyone around me by talking through the gig. But when Oasis played , I found one of those campstools, stood on it and it was a revelation. It was the first gig I had ever seen, really.”
Your dad was mates with Joe Strummer. Do you remember going to Glastonbury with him?
“Yeah, totally. One of the best times I ever had there was with Joe. I used to go to these squat parties when I was a lot younger – about 14 or 15 – and they were sort of drum’n’bass jungle raves. They were run by our friends who had all these sound systems but couldn’t afford to get into Glastonbury, so they’d stay in a traveller’s field nearby. I was going to walk up there one night, but I didn’t want to go alone so Joe walked with me. We went up there and just spent two days rolling around in the grass – not with Joe, obviously – just having a laugh. He was really sweet and enjoyed it so much. It’s weird when you think about it – someone like him with so much stature just having such a good time with a bunch of travellers.”
You must miss him…
“(Sighs) Yeah, I miss him a lot. For me, Glastonbury has never really been the same without Joe. (Pauses) As a kid I remember it being quite scary at times, especially when its 5am and everyone is going a little mad. Joe was the one who kind of kept it all happy and stayed together. Since he’s gone I definitely get a vibe that some people find it quite hard to hold themselves together. I certainly notice that he’s not there now.”
What year did you first play Glastonbury?
“2007. It was the best day of my life.”
What do you remember about it?
“I was really nervous – I’d seen so many amazing gigs on that stage. Playing at Glastonbury is kind of all I ever wanted to do, so to be given my first ever slot on the Pyramid Stage was very humbling. Getting up onstage and watching that many people enjoying themselves and getting an amazing reaction from people… I remember my dad dancing on the side of the stage… Lynval Golding and Terry Hall from The Specials coming on stage with me… My mum and my dad, my little sister, everyone was there and it was a real family moment. I came offstage and burst into tears, which I’ve never done before. It was a very moving experience for me. You never know at festivals – people aren’t there to see you specifically, so you never really know who you’re going to pull in, if anyone. It’s very daunting. I didn’t know what to expect, but it was better than I could have hoped.”
What about last year – when you played with Mark Ronson and turned up in a helicopter. What was that like?
“Er, not bad.”
Can I repeat a rumour that I heard?
“That rumour isn’t true!”
You haven’t even heard what I’ve said!
“You’re going to say the rumour that I hired a helicopter and charged it back to Mark… It actually belonged to Mohamed Al-Fayed. What happened was, my sister didn’t have the money to get a ticket, so I managed to get her a freebie at the last minute, but I couldn’t get her boyfriend one. They had this massive row about it – he was being a bit of a knob and getting jealous. So she was saying that she wasn’t going to come because it wasn’t fair to come without him and she wouldn’t have fun. I managed to get her in the car and she was so moody and there wasn’t a good vibe, so I had a six-hour journey with my moody sister. I had a thought about what I could do to cheer her up and just rang up Al Fayed and asked if I could use his helicopter. We were on the M4, just getting off at Battersea where his helicopter pad is. They said that we could have it but had to wait for an hour and a half so we went and had lunch and ended up on site 20 minutes later…”
Um, how on Earth do you get to the point where you can just call up Mohamed Al-Fayed?
“Well, I support Fulham. I sit next to him when I go to Craven Cottage, so I’ve known him for a very long time, really.”
Do you notice a change in Glastonbury from when you were younger?
“Kinda, but not rally – you can say it’s got more corporate or whatever but I think it depends what you want out of it. If you’ve been going for a long time and have the same group of people that you always meet there, then I doubt you’d even notice the difference. I certainly still get the same sense of excitement every time I walk through the gates. Anyway, I think it’s the world that’s got more corporate, not Glastonbury. Also, you get a lot for your money and there’s so much stuff to do and see, there’s so much care and effort that goes into making the place special – it costs a lot of money to put that festival on and they rarely make a profit; it’s only on the last 500 tickets that they sell where they actually do make a profit.”
What other festivals do you enjoy playing?
“I really enjoyed playing Bestival – I’m playing there again this year. I think T In The Park is one of the best festivals in the world. And I like going to Reading but I would never play it…”
“Because it’d be like when Daphne & Celeste played [in 2000] – I don’t want people to throw piss at me!”
Has anything ever happened to you before?
“Not in a horrible way, but people do throw things onstage all the time. I remember there was one time when MIA was meant to be playing on the dance stage at Glastonbury, and Emily Eavis called me up saying that she had pulled out and would I mind covering for her and doing an acoustic set or something. So I went up and there were a lot of MIA fans that took it out on me.”
What’s your favourite foreign festival?
“Fuji Rock in Japan. Hands down, the best festival in the world. It’s just really beautiful, set up in the mountains. But it takes fucking ours to get there – like seven hours by car. But it’s beautiful how they do it up with twinkling lights everywhere. Coachella’s pretty cool, but my favourite one to play is probably Big Day Out in Australia and New Zealand- it’s mad. It takes about three weeks to do it as they play loads of different places: Auckland, Sydney, Perth, Melbourne, Brisbane and the Gold Coast. You get to know all the other bands when you’re backstage because you’re all together and it’s not split up between the stages like at some festivals, so you’re kind of forced to hang out together and get to know one another. It’s like a touring club, a real gang mentality. I met my backing band. Who are The Streets’, there, and my crew, who are Muse’s”
So to round this off, give the NME readers some tips on how to survive festivals…
“Take baby wipes with you, wellies… that said, I don’t really take wellies, I just take loads of trainers and throw them away when they get ruined… (Pause) This is going to be quite boring if I just reel off a list to you…”
OK, forget that, just tell us what the readers really want to know. How long can Lily Allen go without a poo?
“Weeks. Here’s the secret – don’t eat poo food at festivals – like carbs. Keep it simple: you need to be eating fruit.”