1 JUNE 2008


The drink, the drugs, the boys, the bust-ups - Lindsay Lohan lives a very 21st-century life.


It is a blazing blue afternoon in LA, and Lindsay Lohan and I are sitting in the outdoor cafe of a photo studio off Melrose Avenue, doing what girls always do: comparing address-book covers ("Smythson. I love Smythson") and talking clothes. Her favourite designer label? Balenciaga, of course. There is also Miu Miu, Prada and Donna Karan. Then let's not forget her great friends, Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana, in whose front row she sat on a whirlwind trip to Milan. 


"Omigod, they're such good people to be around," she says earnestly. "And the way their dresses fit. If I get married, I would definitely want them to do the gown." 


This is, in fact, the second time Lindsay, 21, and I have met. The first was about 18 months ago in a smoky, entourage-filled suite at the Sanderson in London, where she was shooting a Miu Miu campaign. She padded around the room in a baby-doll negligee with bare feet, regaling us, her rapt courtiers, in her droll, breakneck way, about how she had spent the previous night at Mahiki with Calum Best; how Best had just come out with this really weird aftershave; and how Paris Hilton liked to dance to her own records, snapping imperiously at anybody who interrupted her flow.


Today, an 84-minute stint in jail for drink-driving and alleged cocaine possession, and three well-publicised stints in rehab later, she seems a little different. Less animated, shall we say. Less droll. More demure. Who knows if this is the dawn of a new Li Lo, if she really has, as the huge press machine behind her insists, turned over a new leaf. Google her and all you find are stories of the vodka-Red Bull relapses, the mink coat she has been accused of pinching, the thousands of dollars worth of clothing she was supposed to have stolen from a friend's closet, and, by the time you read this, who knows what else. But today, just for today, she seems to be on her bestest behaviour. 


And oh, isn't she fabulously, mesmerisingly pretty too? A little chunkier than memory recalls, in old black leggings and flats, but extraordinary, nonetheless, with that old-school hair (a rich russet brown at the moment), those frosted, freckly cheekbones and a slightly feral, slightly trashy allure. Some things never change. Like the perpetual crackberrying and cigarette smoking. Like that low, urgent Valley Girl voice. Like the "court"' she never goes anywhere without: her ultra-loyal PA, Jeni; a fragile, bug-eyed boy called Patrick, whom she describes as her stylist; and her personal spray-tanner, Lorit. If she comes back to London, as she will because she loves it so, they will all probably have to come too. "Oh, I love Europe," Lindsay gushes robotically. "I love the culture. It's so diverse. If I lived in Europe, I'd definitely speak three languages, and I'd definitely want to raise my children there too." 


Children? "Well, we're not going to get into that," she says quickly. "But when I talk with my really close friends, that's what I always say." 


Lindsay Dee Lohan. What is it about this former child actress, who has not made a hit film in four years, that we all find so riveting? What makes her infinitely more interesting than, say, Mischa Barton or Kate Bosworth? And why, when there are so many LA girls out there, is it Li Lo that British teens want to be? 


"You know, people may think I'm this and that, but I'm not a bad person. I'm really not." 


The car-crash factor, for one. Who can have failed to watch in appalled fascination as she morphed from adorable child star into who she is now? Who can fail to reel back in horrified wonder at her Hollywood hardcore parents, Dina and Michael, who enrolled their eldest daughter in Ford Model agency when she was three years old? What must it be like to have a dad who spent most of your preteens in prison for fraud and who is now a proselytising born-again Christian? A dad who just so happens to be photographed by the paparazzi every time he is with is daughter? What must it be like, having a "momager" like Dina, who goes out clubbing with Lindsay, who has been known to introduce herself as her daughter's PA, rather than her mother, and who is now back at the Lohan residence in Long Island, New Jersey, filming her own reality-television show? And what of her provocative relationship with best friend and fellow former addict, Samantha Ronson, DJ and sister of Mark? 


Let us not forget one small fact. Lohan can actually act, as anybody who saw her in The Parent Trap, Mean Girls, Freaky Friday or even the widely panned Georgia Rule, would surely have to agree. Finger-waggers will tell you that, at 21, she is washed-up, and that, like so many former child stars, she will now take anything. Fans, including me and Quentin Tarantino (and, up there in heaven, Robert Altman, who cast her in his last film, A Prairie Home Companion), are waiting to see what she does next. Well, there is her role as America Ferrera's mean former classmate in Ugly Betty. There is Labor Pains, the upcoming romcom directed by Rick "The Departed, The Aviator" Schwarz, in which she plays a girl faking pregnancy to get fired. There is also Ye Olde Times, in which Lindsay will play an am-dram actress queen opposite Ann-Margret, her childhood idol, and Jack Black. Come on, how fabulous is that? 


"Well, thank you, that's nice, because that's what I do: I act," says Lindsay, lowering her furry eyelashes and permitting a gracious smile. "That's what I've done since I was seven. People seem to lose sight of that. They skim over it, they're more interested in seeing a picture of me slipping in the rain, which I did last night, and someone got a picture . . ." Then she says to Jeni, before we start shooting again: "Are you going to have some cheesecake? Ya are? Okay, gimme some too. But with just a little whipped cream, okay?" 


Lindsay has agreed to be interviewed because of her part in Visa Swap, the big ethical swap sale, fronted by Mischa Barton. Lindsay has donated an Issa frock, a pair of barely worn Jimmy Choos, a Miu Miu bag and two vintage pieces, one of which (a little silver shift dress) she has brought with her in a carrier bag. "Usually I hate giving away clothes," she says. "Everything I wear, it has such personality, but I think this is an amazing idea, so I'm more than willing to give what I can." 


Giving it away. Spending responsibly. All, as Jeni and Patrick keep helpfully reiterating, part of the new Lindsay, distinct from the old Lindsay, who used to be such a hardcore shopper that many of the clothes in her wardrobe still had their price tags on. All part of the master plan to "diversify", to show the world what a paragon of integrity (and an industry powerhouse) Li Lo can be when sober. 


Take the album she is recording in New York with Universal Motown. Take the Li Lo leggings range she has started to market. Take the scent line she has "sorta been experimenting with - this oil that I made up myself". Take the plans she has to create her own television series, which are so top, top secret that she won't discuss them with anybody - except to say it is her own project and has absolutely nothing to do with Living Lohan, the show Dina is filming to demonstrate how, using her unique "momaging" skills, she can turn Lindsay's younger sister, Ali, into a worldwide star. 


What price fame, eh? "It's hard," says Lindsay, fixing me with those feline hazel eyes. "But people are always going to do what they're going to do, y'know? And hopefully, Ali has learnt not to do some of the things I did. I wish them both well, I really do, but it's their thing; I don't want any part of it. Besides, it takes the attention away from me, which always helps," she adds. 


Shirley MacLaine once accused Lindsay of being addicted to the limelight, but you wonder whether this is true: if she, in fact, feels a bit like a monkey in a cage? Might it be nice, once in a while, to be left alone? 


"No," she says flatly. "I don't take it like that. I think it's the glass-half-full thing, the way you perceive things. If you let the bad filter in, you're going to get some of the bad and have to stomach it. It's a discipline, not letting that stuff through. It comes with time and age and being in this industry." 


It's now 4pm and time for Lindsay to leave. She is not sure what she will do later. Maybe have a shower at her home in West Hollywood, then go somewhere nice and private, such as the Beverly Hills Hotel, for tea. She insists she is not seeing anybody (which flies in the face of those rumours about louche Sam Ronson and her supposed dalliance with Adrian Grenier of Entourage). 


Her best friend now, the one she trusts with her life, who would that be? "Hmm, that's hard. Jeni's one of them. Patrick's another. Yeah, Sam Ronson, too, and my friend Lauryn Flynn at Calvin Klein. When I'm in London, I'm close to Bryan Adams . . . oh, and my mom," she adds firmly. "I have a great Mom and Dad. We're a very close family . . ." Then she looks at her watch. 


Before stepping into her chauffeur-driven car, she gives me a big hug. "Thank you," she says, with a slight air of desperation. "Thank you so much for being nice. You know, people may think I'm this and that, but I'm not a bad person. I'm really not."