Tara Palmer-Tomkinson: My rehab story has a Martini in it
She's as well known for her triple-A lifestyle -- loaded, connected, well bred -- as she is for her very public implosions. These days Tara Palmer-Tomkinson's cocaine addiction, stint in rehab and recovery are in the past, now she's put her manic energy into a novel. Emily Hourican met the quintessential It Girl
TARA Palmer-Tomkinson, or TPT as she is familiarly called, is lots of things we all know about already -- fantastically well-bred (Prince Charles is "one of my parents' best friends"), revoltingly rich (she once boasted that "my grandfather left us a lot of Leicestershire") and a recovering drug addict (via a hugely publicised stint in Meadows, the Arizona rehab clinic, following a shambolic performance on Frank Skinner's TV show in 1999).
But despite her extremely public rise and fall from grace, there are still parts of TPT we maybe don't know. Her favourite fictional heroine is Waugh's Julia Flyte, from Brideshead Revisited, Sebastain Flyte's beautiful, rather cold and unfulfilled sister, since her recovery she has lectured in countless schools on the disgusting side of drug abuse, and now she's a novelist too.
She's also far less comfortable in the public eye than you would expect, given how much of her life has been lived in it. When we meet in the Morrison Hotel in Dublin one Saturday afternoon -- TPT is having her make-up done, eating a club sandwich, drinking a glass of white wine and smoking various cigarettes, all at the same time, while she rattles through her life story -- she is clearly ill at ease and jumpy. Even more so that night when I watch her on the Saturday Night Show: she's like a cat on a hot tin roof, fizzling with slightly manic energy. And this is one of the things we like about her, one of the things that won her Comic Relief Does Fame Academy and made her such a hit on I'm A Celebrity.... Because despite the triple-A-list lifestyle, Tara still desperately wants to succeed on her own merits, be accepted for herself, even earn her own money, despite that chunk of Leicestershire.
"You have to consider how somebody might feel when they go to bed at night," she says, in those clipped tones, twisting her hands and brushing non-existent stray hairs off her face. "Feeling self-worth, to me, is incredibly important. Having self-worth and self-esteem, which I haven't had in the past -- I mean, hey, that's why you become a drug addict, you're not a happy person ... Going home and thinking, 'I got a £10 pay rise today', is great, no matter how many millions you've got in the bank."
And so she has written Inheritance, a lively, lightly satirical novel about Lyric Charlton, a charming, well-intentioned aristocratic girl who falls into a very public drugs hell, then picks herself up, reroutes her life and goes on to uncover a few lurid family secrets. It's an entertaining read, with its own curious snatches of post-modernism -- the author herself puts in an appearance on page 16; "look darling, you're the centre of attention, despite crack-as-whack Tara Palmer-Tomkinson strutting her stuff in a bikini and snorkel," mutters one character; and indeed Tara did once famously wear that particular combo to a shipwreck-themed party. However, she is way too honest to claim that she has written the book all alone. In fact, Tara dictates, and someone called Claire then types it up, points out what research is necessary, keeps her on schedule and basically acts as a "director".
Inheritance is practically a roman-a-clef, and Tara doesn't bother to pretend it isn't hugely based on her own life -- "there's one scene in the south of France where they keep saying Lyric is on drugs when she's not, and they kick her out of the car so she has to hitchhike home past all of the drunk men leering at her, and that happened. It was a girl [who set Tara up], and I'll never, ever forgive her for it. When I was re-reading the book, I had to skip that chapter" -- but, crucially, it isn't actually an autobiography. "My publishers would have loved me to write an autobiography, which would have consisted of a lot of drugs, a lot of parties and royalty, but I would never name names, or kiss and tell."
Sooner or later, in conversation with TPT, it becomes hard to avoid two things -- the royal family, and her nose. About the first, she won't talk, except to let slip that she once quipped saucily to Prince Charles, a propos of his comments on her clothes aboard the royal yacht one summer, "Sir, if you're not Prada, you're nada!" About the nose, she is more forthcoming, largely because the UK media seems to speculate endlessly about it, in what seems like media shorthand for wider questions about the possibility of Tara's continued drug use (they're barking up the wrong tree, and she claims to have blood tests to prove it).
Just weeks ago new stories emerged that the famous nose had collapsed again. It looks fine to me, I tell her. "It does need a bit of ... unfortunately, when you've had that kind of reconstructive surgery on your face, you slightly have to maintain it ... " says Tara, shrugging, then launches into a tirade against the constant hounding.
"There's so much about my drug history which, face it, was 10 years ago. It's like being a weather girl; people are always waiting for it to rain. I remember Brian Ferry's party two years ago, I didn't have a present because I didn't realise it was his birthday, and Izzy Blow, one of my best friends, said, 'Tara, you've got great pants on, do a headstand in his lap'. Well I did it on the coffee table, and I can do all the splits and acrobatics ... But every time I do something outrageous, it comes back to that [the drugs]. They bring it to the surface of my life all the time."
And yes, most of Tara's anecdotes are peppered with names like Ferry's, or Rupert Everett, Angus Deayton, even Julian Fellowes (who gave her a bit of sterling advice last Christmas: "Never sleep with a man until he asks your opinion on something." She says she hasn't slept with a man since), but hey, that's Tara's life, and has been, since she was about 21, and a platonic kiss with the heir to the throne while skiing launched her on to London society.
"When I left school I went round every modelling agency in London and no one wanted to know. Then I'm skiing with Prince Charles, and suddenly it's like, 'have a cover, have this, have that'." And so, when she should have been wearing a white meringue and "coming out" (that thing the daughters of the English upper classes still do when they are presented to the queen. As if their previous existences mattered for nothing), Tara was writing a column for The Sunday Times, being showered with truly ludicrous presents -- diamonds, cars, furs, holiday villas -- in the hope she would mention these, and attending what seemed like every fabulous party the world over, from the Oscars to Ascot.
Could she really not see at the time that she was being sent up? "I was very young and high as a kite, at least after the first two-and-a-half years."
And so she finally plummeted, falling far further than she had flown, taking many of the people she loved down with her. Could she not see it coming? "When you're going that fast, you don't really see what's around you," she says, with a slight shrug. But she could see that her It-Girl schtick was wearing pretty thin by the end, and consequently loved coming to Ireland.
"In London, people had started to resent me, but when I came to Ireland, they just thought it was hilarious and they loved it, so I loved coming here. Look, you go where you're popular and where people are pleased to see you, and people were not that pleased to see me anymore in England!" she says candidly.
For a while she dated Peter Devlin, now married to Lorraine Keane; "I wouldn't say it was la grande amour, on either his part or mine, but it was certainly a really nice relationship. I remember gorgeous walks along the pier, then pints of Guinness. He was always so nice." She gets up, walks to the window of the Morrison for another cigarette (she stubs them out after three drags -- "bad for the bank balance, better for the health"), and points across the river: "One year after that, I had a bit of a full-blown habit, and my nice walks in Monkstown had turned into me window-dancing, off my box, in the penthouse of the Clarence, with my friends at the other windows, all in sequinned bikinis, thinking we were in Amsterdam because we'd taken so much of everything.
"I'm not saying I'm proud of it. It's not something that I condone or advise, but the first part of it was such good fun." She's not so much wistful as matter-of-fact. "I'm not going to be a liar -- you don't become addicted to things that are horrible. I suggest don't touch it, but I can't say, 'oh my God it was the worst thing in my life!' Listen, I had two years that were absolutely ... I thought I was fabulous!" she laughs, with real humour, and without any regret that I can see.
Post-rehab, Tara spent four
years making amends; "going to people and apologising for the things I'd done."
She also worked with a therapist for eight years, and now considers herself a fairly good judge of character. She doesn't do any kind of 12-step programme -- "I can't bear having to go and listen to everyone's problems all day" -- and clearly still has huge energy, huge drive, as well as the odd glass of whatever. It's not quite your typical recovery story. "People's recovery is what they make of it, but mine's got a few Martinis in it," she says cheekily.
The second of her two-book deal with Macmillan is already finished, there are shows in America in the offing, music albums, all overseen by Rabbits Anonymous, the company Tara set up to own her output, which employs 25 people. Scatty, she clearly ain't. "I would like to make it clear, I have a perfectly good brain," she points out, unnecessarily if you ask me. "I wasn't my best friend back then, and so everyone thought I was completely talentless. It's a shame I have to be 38 and just getting round to proving myself now ... " And yet, we agree, late is definitely better than never.
Back in the day, Tara dated a stream of eligible men -- Nick Rhodes of Duran Duran, Greg Martin, son of Beatles producer George, Robbie Williams, James Blunt -- but is currently single.
"My rule is 'No Men 2010'. I have to really like somebody. You're not going to find me up against a car in a dark alleyway just having a bit of fun. I have to really like somebody's mind before I go there ... But there might be a Prince Charming out there somewhere," she sighs, then waxes pragmatic. "Relationships are things that I'm not very good at doing. And it's hard for a man ... I'm very alpha. You can't run a house in England, in Switzerland and in Bali without having, well, I don't want to say balls, because most people on the internet think I'm a man anyway ... but you've got to be quite feisty." She hoots with laughter.
And so the future looks bright and clear for TPT. She always wanted her own wax figure in Madame Tussauds, and now she has it. She always wanted to be on the back of a bus, and now, with Inheritance, she is ("I hope I'm on the Knightsbridge route ... "). So what next? "There's still that plinth in Trafalgar Square, I wouldn't mind being on that ... " And you know what? She's not kidding.
Inheritance, published by Pan and Macmillan, £7.99, is out now