Lily Allen: From Riches to Rags Reviewed

The ever shy Lily Allen has swapped her pop career top open a shop flogging over-priced dresses and Channel 4 kindly gave her a documentary series to promote it. She may need even more help than that...
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The ever shy Lily Allen has swapped her pop career top open a shop flogging over-priced dresses and Channel 4 kindly gave her a documentary series to promote it. She may need even more help than that...

You know that Lily Allen song, the one where she has to ride round the city on her bike all day coz the filth took away ‘er licence? You know, the one that lists all her favourite places; Dalston, Stockwell, Clapton, Soho, Lambeth, Bow.  Well, I was in Clapton earlier, and I saw a woman selling Ann Summers knickers out of an ASDA bag for 50p each. I doubt you’d catch Lily whizzing by on her chopper these days, by the looks of this nipples’n’all documentary series.

As she confesses (“I’m not from the streets! Regent Street maybe”), she’s much more of a Fulham, Holland Park, Primrose Hill, Chelsea kind of broad. The filming starts in March 2010 and she’s giving up popstardom to launch her new ‘retail idea’ (shop), Lucy In Disguise, with her sister Sarah. So far they’ve got a Beatles pun, a posh office, an industrial supply of Merlot and Lily’s credit card, and neither has ever run a shop before.

Sarah has so far spent most of her life partying, earning the nickname “the fairy” - because she’s so flaky? Don’t know if Lily’s grasped the connotations of that one – so she is naturally put in charge of the money. Lily is in charge of flashing her tits, smoking and making a noise like a hyena having an orgasm at the end of every sentence (she’s got one of those laughs). Oh, and Lily’s actually in charge of the money, because she’s got the credit card.

Sarah and Lily used to have serious beef, and Lily even wrote the song ‘Back To The Start’ about their sisterly hatred: “I'll always pull you up on every stupid thing that you say / But I found it so entertaining / Messing around with your head.”

Now the two have made up and, along with an incredibly irritating luvvie-wuvvie ‘brand manager’ want to set up shop. The idea is to rent expensive vintage clothes (read: old dresses that smell of damp) to young women, the kind that don’t have a couple of thousand to spank. Instead they’ll be able to use them, for 3 days, for around 80 to 300 pounds. What they don’t anticipate, what Channel 4’s shopping “guru” Mary Portas later makes clear to them, is that those prices will make those girls snigger and then fuck off to Topshop.

Lily is in charge of flashing her tits, smoking and making a noise like a hyena having an orgasm at the end of every sentence (she’s got one of those laughs).

The Allens go on a stock-buying visit to a vintage warehouse and pick up, frankly, weird clothes that would brand you an especially eccentric bag lady anywhere outside of Knightsbridge, squealing “Oh, that’s amaaazing!” Lily tries the clothes on, suffering from frequent nip-slip, as the irritating ‘brand manager’ stands around saying fucking stupid things like “I’m so post-Burlesque.”

The storybook narration from Simon Callow, taking some time off from bellowing at bored kids in Jamie’s Dream School, means the whole thing could be mistaken for Little Britain. You half expect the ‘brand manager’ will turn out to be Matt Lucas in a wig, or Allen to come out with “I’m a laaady!” as she ponces about in a 1970s crimpolene.

Sarah goes on another stock-buying jaunt all the way to LA, but misses her flight and, woopsie, has to stay another week. Lily sulks about this, saying things like “She was probably with her idiot mates”, although there’s more than a hint of sibling jealousy in her protruding bottom lip. Sarah’s American finds are even more ludicrously expensive and weird – a £300 fitted dress made out of early 90s armchair print, etc. She claims she missed the flight because her car ran out of petrol on the way to the airport; “When you get in a car you don’t look to see if you’ve got exactly enough petrol to get to your destination, do you?” Yes.

Lily is at least is honest about how clueless she is with money, declaring to Mary Portas she has no idea how much young women would spend. However, her naivety is swapped for prickly sensitivity when Portas holds a Mad Men-style focus group behind a two-way mirror. The Allens watch as fashionable young women flatly refuse to pay hundreds for three days wearing a frock, claiming if you searched hard enough you could buy the same clothes for keeps elsewhere. Allen is shocked at their attitude - she shakes her head and gulps back wine, shouting “FUCK OFF!” before walking out.

You increasingly get the feeling that Lucy In Disguise is going to end up one of those dimly lit, un-welcoming empty shops that smell of joss-sticks and Febreeze, where you can’t shake off the beady glare of the intimidating sales assistant. The kind where you have to pretend you’ve forgotten your wallet in order to leave.

The most interesting scene shows the family at home – Lily and Sarah go round their mum’s, where Lily dobs in younger brother and erstwhile West End willy-barer Alfie (he got his knob out in Equus) for playing violent video games.  Everyone reverts to being 14 when with their parents, and Lily’s former ‘wild child’ antics, the achingly apparent insecurity and sensitivity, are reduced to a middle-child trying to get noticed.

Despite the ear-grating laugh, the attention seeking, the privilege and the plum voice, she is still resignedly likeable. Which is just as well, because Lucy In Disguise has as much a chance of succeeding as Keanu Reeves’s band, or Charlie Sheen’s rehab programme.

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