September 8 2011: Lily Cooper, Lily Allen as was, strides into the Riding House Café on Great Titchfield Street clutching a copy of Gina Ford’s Contented Little Baby book.
She puts it on the table, then whips it straight back off again, placing it on the banquette. She looks furtively out of the window. Would she rather be somewhere else? She protectively strokes her bump; she is six months pregnant.
Suddenly she roars with laughter. “I’m not supposed to be working. I haven’t told Sam, my husband, that I’m doing this interview. And his office is right over there. In fact, I can see him at his computer. Hopefully he won’t be able to see you and he’ll think I’m sitting here talking to myself. He could definitely believe it at this point!”
This is an unnerving time for 26-year-old Lily. In 2008, when she was dating Chemical Brothers musician Ed Simons, she suffered her first miscarriage. She separated from Simons, fell in love with Sam Cooper, a builder, and became pregnant again in spring 2010. She was ecstatic.
Despite being one of the most popular artists in the mid-2000s with forthright, intimate and energetic songs such as Alright, Still, LDN and Not Fair, Lily had struggled with the demands of touring and had decided to take a break from music.
And then, in November last year, she suffered a miscarriage six months into her pregnancy. The private hell that Lily and Cooper endured does not bear thinking about. Now married to Cooper – he proposed on Christmas Day, while they were on holiday in Bali, and they married in June – Lily is being told by everyone around her to take it easy. “After my …” she looks down at the table before composing herself “… last baby, I’m being really closely monitored so I come to London every Thursday for a scan. The doctor keeps telling me to take it easy.”
Taking a back seat for Lily means guest-editing ES Magazine, running her record label, In the Name Of, and writing the lyrics for the Bridget Jones musical that is set to open in the West End next year. It means overseeing Lucy in Disguise, the vintage clothes shop she runs with her older half-sister Sarah Owen in Soho’s Lexington Street. It also means working out how to bring up her child.
At one point over lunch – she orders a chicken salad and a carrot, beetroot, apple and ginger juice – Lily puts the Gina Ford back on the table.
“She’s all about tough love, right? Leaving babies to cry rather than baby-led parenting. Who knows what I’m going to be like as a mum? No idea. Big change.”
In her semi-retirement from the music business Lily maintains a public presence by tweeting to her three million followers. She is, as you might expect, as vocal on Twitter as she was in the press back when she used to say exactly what was on her mind. Most recently, she lashed out on Twitter at Right-wing responses to the riots. She is still incensed that the looters might have their benefits cut and “be left in a high-rise and forgotten about”. She sighs. “I think it’s important to say what you think. I’m a very reactive person.”
She rubs her bump again. “These times feel strangely apocalyptic. I feel a little guilty about bringing this little one into the world, actually. It definitely feels weird.”
As the daughter of actor Keith Allen and film producer Alison Owen and with the late Joe Strummer of The Clash as her godfather, Lily was never going to lead a quiet life. She attended a dozen schools and was expelled from many of them.
She has never denied taking drugs in the past and, to some degree, grew up in public just like her contemporary Amy Winehouse (she once declared herself “fat, ugly and shitter than Winehouse”).
How did she feel when she heard of Winehouse’s recent death at 27? “Really sad. But I also felt that she’d become such a cartoon character of herself. Her death almost didn’t feel real because her life had virtually been lived in the newspapers near the end.”
Lily last saw Winehouse at V Festival two years ago. “I don’t think she was performing. I’ve had nights out with Amy and I know exactly what used to go on. I also spent time with her at her house in Camden. Not the one she died in, the one before. I felt very trapped by the presence of 40 paparazzi guys hysterical outside her front door. I could totally see why she didn’t want to leave her house. It seemed more appealing to stay in and take heroin. Why would anyone want that chaos in their life? It’s not something anyone chooses.”
She pushes salad around the plate. “Amy struggled … she wanted a real life. She wanted to go down to the pub and she couldn’t.” Did Lily partly leave London to escape the attention, the drugs, the madness of celebrity? “Yes. Totally. Actually, when Amy died, I got several texts from friends saying they were really glad I was still here. That I hadn’t died too. It’s so easy to get caught up in that madness and I count my lucky stars I’ve been strong enough to walk away.”
And lucky enough to find Sam Cooper. She grins every time she mentions his name. She has even changed her Twitter name to lilyrosecooper. “I am now Mrs Cooper on all my credit cards and personalised stationery too. I love it! Being married feels so good though it’s hard to articulate why. It just does. It feels more secure.”
Having said that, she is also jumpy, as though the miscarriages have haunted her. “I was terrified the other night in bed. I wake up a lot at the moment and at one point I touched Sam’s face and it was freezing cold. I was screaming. ‘Sam! Sam! Omigod, my husband’s dead! I’ve sorted everything out and now it’s all over!’ He woke up and said, ‘All the windows are open’.”
She giggles to herself. Her half-sister turns up.
Lily and Sarah fell out as teenagers and made it up again after Lily wrote Back to the Start, with lyrics such as: “It’s all my fault. I’m sorry, you did absolutely nothing wrong.” Last autumn the sisters launched Lucy in Disguise, their joint fashion venture, then appeared in a much-criticised Channel 4 series called Lily Allen: From Riches to Rags.
Lily says the show was good for business but not much else. “I don’t think I’ll ever live down saying, ‘We’re off to the banky wanky to get a loany woany’.” And she dissolves into giggles, with Sarah joining in. They chat easily about their childhoods (same mum, different dad). Sarah says Lily “from the get go wanted to stand out and be different”. Is that true, I ask Lily? “No! I don’t think I wanted to be different. I just didn’t think I needed to conform.”
They get along well now, they both say. Although, when I ask Lily if she’s good at saying sorry if they fall out over something to do with Lucy in Disguise, she answers quick as a razor. “I never need to say sorry! She does!” I don’t think she’s joking, not entirely.
Lily’s phone buzzes. It’s a text from her husband, asking her where she is, what she’s up to, checking she’s okay. She glows a little bit more as she reads it. Does she know if they’re having a boy or girl? “I do. It’s between me and the husband. I haven’t even told my mum. She thinks she knows what it is and whenever she calls me she refers to the baby as Betty.”
Although Lily is struggling a little with the work-life-pregnancy balance – she’s called on her pals Doctor Who star Karen Gillan, actor Jamie Bell and singer-songwriter Noel Gallagher to feature in her issue of ES Magazine and has written a funny, perceptive piece about how much she loves being a housewife – she is clearly as happy as she’s ever been.
She grabs the Gina Ford book and, with a glance up at her husband’s office, says she really will slow down soon. “Instinctively I always want to be involved in everything. But with this pregnancy, especially with what happened last time, I’m getting to the point where I think, f**k everything.” She smiles. “It’s the one time in my life I’m allowed to do nothing.”
Lily Cooper and Sarah Owen have guest-edited tomorrow’s edition of ES Magazine. The new Lucy in Disguise store is at 48 Lexington Street, W1 (lucyindisguise.com).