Isn't it strange when news of someone you don't know dying can knock you for six? When I heard the news of Tara Palmer-Tomkinson’s death I was in a meeting with a colleague who sat there patiently and politely while I tried to compute my shock. That's the thing: what can be upsetting to one person can be felt less keenly in the next.
Tara was the It girl that everyone loved, a socialite who was simply famous for being famous. Her party-girl lifestyle, her glamour and her association to our Royal Family made her impossible to ignore.
Many women like me will remember her society column in Sunday Times Style in the mid nineties. Called Yah!, it painted a picture of Tara living the posh London night scene to the full. Her world was a wild twilight world of rich and privileged Bolly-swigging hedonists who never came out in the day. I was one of millions who found it compulsive Sunday morning reading.
Tara Palmer Tomkinson became “TPT”: the original nineties “It girl” and poster girl of a fledgling celebrity culture that would later explode. She threw herself into the life of parties and private jets, famously advising to keep your passport close as “you never know what country you might end up.”
She was never off the front pages, although I never really believed she was that comfortable with her It girl status, and secretly craved a quieter life with more focus and meaning
She was never off the front pages, although I never really believed she was that comfortable with her It girl status, and secretly craved a quieter life with more focus and meaning. “Being an ‘It girl’ was like the strapline of our time,” she once said. “Suddenly everyone was like, ‘oh this is the girl of the time’, ‘she’s the It girl’. But then, after a year of all the parties and all the fun clothes you suddenly realise you’ve done nothing and you feel a bit unworthy.”
Battling with these inner demons soon led to a cocaine addiction, “It was like Christmas every day. The trouble is, it turned into a white Christmas,” she said. Spells in rehab for drug addiction and anxiety followed, and in 2014, she told The Jeremy Kyle Show she was living like a recluse, later saying she had been diagnosed with a form of autism which “could explain why I’ve always lived my life at such a frantic level”.
Me, I simply choose to remember her for her fun, infectious, tiger-ish energy. She was a brilliant pianist and incredibly generous to all her friends, buying them lavish gifts (I’ve seen the evidence). She was kind and brave and honest about her addictions, and had enough presence of mind to later speak in schools warning girls not to make her mistakes. And I also admired her strength and tenacious ability to pick herself up and dust herself off after every damning tabloid exposé. There were so many sides to TPT that the press didn’t want to see. No one wanted Sensible TPT; “Party TPT” sold papers.
I met her once, when we photographed her for a cover of a magazine I was working on. It was the early noughties and the location house was in the middle of busy Soho. She was still famous enough to have a paparazzi pack hounding her everywhere, but on this occasion there was no sign of anyone. Instead she bounded in without any entourage in tow, enthusiastically shook hands with everyone and then sat wriggling, waiting for the photographer to set up his camera. Like a hyperactive toddler who couldn't sit still, her personality filled the space. High on life, most likely high on something else, she was exactly how I'd imagined her to be – which is perhaps the problem: she'd played her life out in front of the cameras for so long, I think she’d lost the sense of who she was. She will be so missed.