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Friday, 30 August, 2002, 15:32 GMT 16:32 UK
Tara Palmer-Tomkinson: Still got It?
What next for the It Girl?

Stranded in the outback of Australia in the name of entertainment, Tara Palmer-Tomkinson might pause to reflect on her wild life and times and the capricious, often transitory, nature of modern celebrity.
Nothing has crystallised the problem with Tara Palmer-Tomkinson (T P-T to her friends) as succinctly as a letter published in London's Sunday Times - for which she then provided a weekly column - in April 1997.

A Mr John Smart, of London SW17, wrote "I note Tara Palmer-Tomkinson is on holiday: this is as opposed to what, exactly?"

T P-T's hedonistic lifestyle, seemingly composed of little more than a Groundhog Day of cocktail parties, premières and catwalk parades, has brought her a certain fame, widespread public ridicule and a vast number of freebies - including cars, make-up and designer clothes.

Men fancy her, women love to hate her and advertisers genuflect before her. T P-T, the ultimate in walking, talking, product placement.

To her friends, she is "plank", a woman who, when once introduced to an officer in the Lifeguards - one of Britain's most prestigious army regiments - replied: "Which beach?"

Contestants on I'm a Celebrity... Get Me Out Of Here!
Tara (second from left) and her celebrity companions

She was born into a well-connected family of movers and shakers. Her father, Charles, is a former British Olympic skier who instructed none other than the Prince of Wales.

Her mother, Patti, was severely injured in the avalanche which killed the royal equerry, Major Hugh Lindsay, in 1988.

Tara was brought up on her family's 1,200-acre Dummer Grange estate near Basingstoke.

Her father, a farmer who is also High Sheriff of Hampshire, is a doyen of the country set and the young Tara enjoyed a rural idyll of gymkhanas and weekend shoots.

Walking advert

After schooling at Sherbourne, where she gained 10 O-levels and 3 A-levels, T P-T worked briefly for Rothschild's bank before drifting into the demimonde of "fashion styling" and establishing herself at the pinnacle of London's night-life.

My brain cell has just packed up again

T P-T sparkles on the Frank Skinner Show

But in 1995 her life was transformed when she was photographed kissing her - strictly platonic - friend, Prince Charles, at Klosters.

The prince later temporarily banned her from his ski-parties after she allegedly flashed her breasts at Prince William.

The Prince of Wales
Her father was Prince Charles's ski coach

The pictures of the kiss were soon splashed all over the front pages and, overnight, she became famous, well, simply for being Tara Palmer-Tomkinson.

Tatler promptly christened her the It Girl and the tabloids found a willing - often outrageous - self-publicist to fill their gossip columns.

Catching on to this, companies seemingly fell over themselves to adorn her with their products. Prada, Versace, Dolce&Gabbana, Ray-Ban, Mazda all fell for T P-T's charms.

Drug problems

She reciprocated, shamelessly promoting her corporate admirers before usually dumping them like an out-of-favour beau.

Cocaine comes round with the canapés

Tara remembers some sybaritic parties

And beaux there have been aplenty, including the restaurateur Mogens Tholstrup, pop star Nick Rhodes and the Full Monty actor, Hugo Speers.

As her star was in the ascendancy, a new career - that of celebrity journo - opened up before her. The Sunday Times fell by the wayside, to be replaced by the Mail on Sunday.

Samuel L Jackson and Tara Palmer-Tomkinson
In kilter: Samuel L Jackson and T P-T

She also contributed to the Spectator, though her articles were not universally well-received by those on the magazine. "We have created Piltdown Bimbo," moaned one affronted insider.

But her knowing smile, flashy clothes and long legs served only to mask T P-T's growing dependence on drink and drugs. "Cocaine comes round with the canapés at a lot of the parties in London," she told one interviewer.

By the late 1990s, what had started as juvenile experimentation with the drug had grow into a full-blown addiction. The silver spoon with which she had been born was in danger of disappearing up her nose.

Matters came to a head in April 1999 when she made a disastrous, stoned, appearance on Frank Skinner's BBC TV chat show.


Boasting that she could have any product she wanted, just by mentioning it in her newspaper column, she yelled, "I want a car. Who's gonna give me one?"

We have created Piltdown Bimbo

A colleague laments P T-P's musings

She followed this by exclaiming, "my brain cell has just packed up again." Her host replied, in inimitable fashion, "I know. I could see it sparkle."

Days later T P-T checked into an Arizona clinic to dry-out.

Today, clean of drugs, she has slightly toned-down her image.

Tara Palmer-Tomkinson with the New Symphony Orchestra
Posh pianist: T P-T the musician

But a new-found seriousness, evinced by her Royal Academy lecture on Rembrandt's women and a performance of a Mozart piano piece in Belfast, may have been jeopardised by her involvement in I'm a Celebrity... Get Me Out Of Here!

Though she has recently split from her boyfriend, Anton Bilton, and had her flat burgled in May while taking a shower, T P-T's future is financially, if not domestically, secure.

Her trust fund finally became hers in December 2001, allowing her to put her, recently shaky, finances on to an even keel.

Though Tara Palmer-Tomkinson is not to everyone's taste, one cannot help smiling at anyone who, when told of the late Sir James Goldsmith's plans for a Referendum Party, allegedly replied, "Which party is that? I think I'm supposed to be going."

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