Deborah Orr: Middle-class bohemian London girl took drugs. So who's shocked?

Cue some drugs charity advising the woman gently through the pages of 'The Sun' to 'quit cocaine or die'
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The Independent Online

Like 100,000 MySpace bloggers, I'm madly in love with Lily Allen, whose hit single "Smile" makes me feel like just floating away on a cloud of dancing, grinning euphoria. The 21-year-old has been hyped like hell since she managed to launch her single without backing from a record company, online, a few weeks ago. Yet amid the meaningless babble, there's broad agreement that the music is special and that she's a megastar in the making. Which sounds like good news to me.

But already this fabulous, singular young woman is being trashed in the tabs as another "unsuitable" role model, after her recent announcement that she was going to celebrate her success by going on a cocaine binge. Pop star takes drugs shock! Make an example of her! Who next in the vortex? Models? Footballers? Artists? Journalists?

There had already been drug-taking confessions, couched semi-comfortably in her clearly not-too-distant past. She had first taken drugs at Glastonbury when she was 13. She had dealt E to clubbers in Ibiza when she was 15. She explained that she was expelled from nine million schools because "I couldn't do a day without smoking an eighth of weed". She had done a dope and alcohol-fuelled stint in the Priory for depression - or as she would call it, her "mntyl hilf" - at 18.

Her story, a spokesman tersely explained, was "of someone whose life has taken some wrong turnings but has got firmly back on track through music". By suggesting continued drug use at the ripe old age of 21, she blew mainstream drug culture's fits-all-sizes alibi - that one's carousing days are all in the past. Cue some fool from some drugs charity advising the woman gently through the pages of The Sun to "quit cocaine or die!".

I hate to break it to an innocent nation, but while Lily's experience might be slightly more colourful than most, her familiarity with, and attitude to, drug-taking, is fairly typical of someone of her age and background. She's a middle-class, bohemian London girl, and is keen like a lot of her contemporaries to align herself with "the street". (Hence the knowingly exaggerated mockney.)

She may be particularly rarefied - her mother is the film producer Alison Owen, and her father the actor/comic/whatever Keith Allen - but that makes her all the more keen to distance herself from her privilege. Sometimes this comes over as wit, sometimes as gaucheness. Explaining that her mother had it hard as a single parent - her father left her and her siblings when she was four - she talks of it being tough to get the school fees for three children together. Going state, like the rest of us, was clearly not an option.

But all those high-maintenance London youngsters talk like Lily, nine to the dozen - only she's got more wit and chutzpah than most - and they all have a sophisticated knowledge of drugs. They take them with regularity and excitement and they are wise enough to worry - or at least become fabulously bored - when their friends get in deeper than they should.

I'm not saying that this isn't a problem. Very early drug use has its great dangers, whether you succumb to the greatest of dangers, addiction, or not. But it's worth bearing in mind that the vast increase in very young middle-class drug use has developed during a time when the media and the police have combined their idiot forces to emphasise how middle-class use is just as wicked and criminal as that among hoi polloi. As is often the case, the truth can be found by inverting the pyramid.

Drugs run in Lily's family - I've shared a few fat lines of cocaine with her father myself - and her general stance around them is not, to her contemporaries or to the generation above her, unusual. So why does the state apparatus - including the media - insist on pretending that a girl who can write lovely songs ought to be some kind of blessed exception? She's not in the public eye to be a role model. She's in the public eye because she speaks to her generation.

Another casualty of war

One of the less terminal victims of the outbreak in the Arab-Israeli conflict has been Martin Rowson, the political cartoonist. He drew a sketch suggesting that the Israeli state might be using disproportionate force against Hizbollah. Boring, of course, to mention once again that the usual attrition rate in Israel's war against terror is three Palestinians for every Israeli, but in the context of the sudden expansion in the murder gap, important.

Not that important, though, because the organised reams of hate mail now flooding into Rowson's mailbox focus not on his pertinent point but on his alleged anti-Semitism. The silly man used the symbol of the Israeli state in his cartoon and this has caused offence to thousands unoffended by the sight of small-child-dead war porn, but incandescent that Rowson's representation of Israel included a Star of David, symbol of something different, Judaism.

Personally I'm entirely impartial on the matter, having been careful to foster a reputation as both an anti-Semite (because I'm against the Israel occupation, and note on my various perambulations around the promised land that a lot of Israelis do seem a bit anti-Arab) and an Islamophobe (because I'm not so keen on teenage girls being executed in Iran for the "sexual crime" of losing their virginity, and think British Muslims who wear masks over their faces are a little bit weird).

But I sometimes wonder if all the confusion might be cleared up were Israel to consider adopting as its national symbol something other than the Star of David. Like an olive branch, or a dove. It's going to have to be faced one day that it's the Israelis themselves who roundly politicise what ought to have remained a purely religious symbol.

Moronic masonic musings

This week's gladdest tidings came with the delightful news that an innocent actor, Christopher Dennis, left, had been stopped and searched as a suspected Fathers4Justice provocateur, just because he'd been hired to dress up and publicise the new Superman film. It makes you feel sorry for the desperate dads pressure group. Well, almost.

On an otherwise uneventful train journey last week I enjoyed a robust exchange with a callow young man who decided that breaking omertà to boast of his membership of the masons would add depth to his personal profile. After a somewhat florid lecture on the moronic workings of the ancient sect of manly silliness, he came back with the usual justification that his lodge "did a lot for charity".

What charity did they do a lot for, I wondered. The most favoured organisation, what a surprise - turned out to be Fathers4Justice. Asked if he had any idea what his money was being used for (answer: helping men whose relationships with women and children have imploded to feel like it couldn't possibly have been their fault, any of it), the lad replied that the lads campaigned against "paedo women abusing their children". Nice to have that on record, chaps.

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