Belfast Telegraph

Despite being plagued by the demons in her life, Tara was a kind soul with unique grace

Even though she didn't make any significant cultural impact, death of 'It' girl proved a shock, writes Gail Walker

File photo dated 01/01/97 of the Prince of Wales with his younger son Prince Harry, joined in a ski lift by left to right) Santa with her sister, Tara Palmer-Tomkinson, on the way up the Gotschnabahn ski runs above Klosters, Switzerland, as socialite Tara Palmer-Tomkinson, who had been diagnosed with a brain tumour, has been found dead at her home in south west London, sources said. John Stillwell/PA Wire
File photo dated 01/01/97 of the Prince of Wales with his younger son Prince Harry, joined in a ski lift by left to right) Santa with her sister, Tara Palmer-Tomkinson, on the way up the Gotschnabahn ski runs above Klosters, Switzerland, as socialite Tara Palmer-Tomkinson, who had been diagnosed with a brain tumour, has been found dead at her home in south west London, sources said. John Stillwell/PA Wire
File photo dated 08/07/10 of Tara Palmer-Tomkinson, who had been diagnosed with a brain tumour, and has been found dead at her home in south west London, sources said. Katie Collins/PA Wire
File photo dated 08/10/09 of Tara Palmer-Tomkinson, who had been diagnosed with a brain tumour, and has been found dead at her home in south west London, sources said. Ian West/PA Wire
File photo dated 05/11/09 of Tara Palmer-Tomkinson, who had been diagnosed with a brain tumour, and has been found dead at her home in south west London, sources said. Yui Mok/PA Wire
File photo dated 08/11/10 of Tara Palmer-Tomkinson, who had been diagnosed with a brain tumour, and has been found dead at her home in south west London, sources said. : Yui Mok/PA Wire
FILE - Tara Palmer Tomkinson Dies Aged 45 LONDON - SEPTEMBER 23: Model Tara Palmer Tompkinson walks down the runway at the Tristan Webber fashion show as part of London Fashion Week Spring/Summer 2005 at the BFC Tent, Duke of York's HQ, Kings Road on September 23, 2004 in London. (Photo by Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images)
FILE - Tara Palmer Tomkinson Dies Aged 45 LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM: The Prince of Wales is geeted by Tara Palmer-Tomkinson during a reception at Clarence House, London, 27 October, 2003, where Charles hosted the event to celebrate Breast Cancer Awareness Month and promote the work of Breakthrough Breast Cancer as patron of the charity. AFP PHOTO/KIRSTY WIGGLESWORTH/WPA POOL (Photo credit should read KIRSTY WIGGLESWORTH/AFP/Getty Images)
File photo dated 02/01/97 of socialite Tara Palmer-Tomkinson skiing in Klosters, Switzerland, who had been diagnosed with a brain tumour and who has been found dead at her home in south west London, sources said.John Stillwell/PA Wire
File photo dated 13/03/14 of Tara Palmer Tomkinson attending a service to celebrate the life of Sir David Frost at Westminster Abbey, London. The Socialite, who had been diagnosed with a brain tumour, has been found dead at her home in south west London, sources said. Anthony Devlin/PA Wire
File photo dated 05/01/99 of socialite Tara Palmer-Tomkinson, who had been diagnosed with a brain tumour, has been found dead at her home in south west London, sources said. John Stillwell/PA Wire
File photo dated 29/04/11 of Tara Palmer-Tomkinson (left) and her sister Santa Sebag-Montefiore arriving to attend the Royal Wedding of Prince William to Catherine Middleton at Westminster Abbey in London. The socialite Palmer-Tomkinson, who had been diagnosed with a brain tumour, has been found dead at her home in south west London, sources said. Jasper Juien/PA Wire
File photo dated 04/01/99 of socialite Tara Palmer-Tomkinson, who had been diagnosed with a brain tumour, has been found dead at her home in south west London, sources said. John Stillwell/PA Wire
File photo dated 17/07/05 of Tara Palmer Tomkinson arriving for the Premiere of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory in Leicester Square, London. The Socialite, who had been diagnosed with a brain tumour, has been found dead at her home in south west London, sources said. Ian West/PA Wire
File photo dated 16/02/06 of Tara Palmer-Tomkinson relaxing in a yellow Lamborghini Murcielago, as she arrived for the Philip Treacy fashion show in Central London. The Socialite, who had been diagnosed with a brain tumour, has been found dead at her home in south west London, sources said.John Stillwell/PA Wire
File photo dated 27/10/03 of the Prince of Wales talking to actress Denise Van Outen (left) and Tara Palmer-Tomkinson, during a reception at Clarence House, London, as Palmer-Tomkinson, who had been diagnosed with a brain tumour, has been found dead at her home in south west London, sources said. Kirsty Wigglesworth/PA Wire
File photo dated 09/04/03 of Tara Palmer-Tomkinson, who had been diagnosed with a brain tumour, and has been found dead at her home in south west London, sources said. Andy Butterton/PA Wire
File photo dated 05/01/07 of Tara Palmer-Tomkinson, who had been diagnosed with a brain tumour, and has been found dead at her home in south west London, sources said. Yui Mok/PA Wire
File photo dated 25/11/03 of Tara Palmer-Tomkinson, who had been diagnosed with a brain tumour, and has been found dead at her home in south west London, sources said. Tim Whitby/PA Wire
File photo dated 18/05/07 of Tara Palmer-Tomkinson arriving for charity event The Bedrock Ball, at the Natural History Museum in central London. The Socialite, who had been diagnosed with a brain tumour, has been found dead at her home in south west London, sources said. Clara Molden/PA Wire
File photo dated 08/05/12 of Tara Palmer-Tomkinson arriving at the launch of the new Beauty Hall at the John Lewis store on Oxford Street, London, as the Socialite, who had been diagnosed with a brain tumour, has been found dead at her home in south west London, sources said. Yui Mok/PA Wire
File photo dated 10/10/11 of Tara Palmer-Tomkinson arriving at the Odeon west end Cinema in central London, for the premiere of the film Demons Never Die, as the Socialite, who had been diagnosed with a brain tumour, has been found dead at her home in south west London, sources said. John Stillwell/PA Wire
File photo dated 20/05/07 of Jason Donovan and Tara Palmer-Tomkinson, who had been diagnosed with a brain tumour, as she has been found dead at her home in south west London, sources said. Yui Mok/PA Wire
File photo dated 28/06/11 of Tara Palmer-Tomkinson, who had been diagnosed with a brain tumour, as she has been found dead at her home in south west London, sources said. Chris Radburn/PA Wire
File photo dated 28/06/11 of Tara Palmer-Tomkinson, who had been diagnosed with a brain tumour, as she has been found dead at her home in south west London, sources said. Chris Radburn/PA Wire
File photo dated 18/05/08 of Tara Palmer-Tomkinson, who had been diagnosed with a brain tumour, as she has been found dead at her home in south west London, sources said. Sue Moore/PA Wire
File photo dated 06/07/09 of Tara Palmer-Tomkinson, who had been diagnosed with a brain tumour, as she has been found dead at her home in south west London, sources said. Geoff Caddick/PA Wire
File photo dated 18/07/16 of Tara Palmer-Tomkinson at the wedding of Lady Melissa Percy to Thomas van Straubenzee at St Michael's Parish Church in Alnwick. Socialite Tara Palmer-Tomkinson, who had been diagnosed with a brain tumour, has been found dead at her home in south west London, sources said. Jonathan Pow/PA Wire
File photo dated 27/10/03 of the Prince of Wales is geeted by Tara Palmer Tomkinson during a reception at Clarence House, London, as Palmer-Tomkinson, who had been diagnosed with a brain tumour, has been found dead at her home in south west London, sources said. Kirsty Wigglesworth/PA Wire
File photo dated 18/07/16 of socialite Tara Palmer-Tomkinson, who had been diagnosed with a brain tumour, has been found dead at her home in south west London, sources said. Ian West/PA Wire
Gail Walker

By Gail Walker

It was one of those little memory splinters that cause a sharp and rather surprising flinch of pain, that - because of their very 'inconsequence' in terms of the great affairs of the world - make you gasp as you realise the fleetingness not just of life or fame but of memory itself.

Tara Palmer-Tomkinson wasn't a figure of any importance. Not really. She wasn't a politician, she wasn't an artist, she wasn't even - in any conventional sense - an entertainer.

So her passing wasn't that of Fidel Castro, David Bowie, Prince or George Michael. Or Alan Rickman. Or Debbie Reynolds. It wasn't even like those of Gene Wilder and Ronnie Corbett. These were genuine icons of - whether you like their work or not - cultural import. We may have differing views about their work but we can see their importance in the history books, in our music collections or on television.

Nor was Tara's death the clock-stopping pain of losing someone personally close to us. And yet... it mattered.

Tara was just an 'It' girl. The essence of cultural flotsam and jetsam. She was - in the phrase that used to be smart but is not a cliche - 'famous for being famous'. Nothing more.

There's unlikely to be a rush to republish either of her 'novels' - Infidelity or Inheritance. Not even The Naughty Girl's Guide To Life. It is doubtful if her largely ghostwritten articles for the Sunday Times, Spectator and Harper's Bazaar will ever be re-read after the next few weeks. Few will revisit her ad campaigns for Walkers Crisps and (weirdly) Kentucky Fried Chicken. Her spell as co-host of the ITV spin-off of I'm A Celebrity… or her cameos on shows like Blind Date, Cold Turkey, Bognor Or Bust will not become a staple of satellite television.

In truth there will not be 'Another Chance to See…' Tara Palmer-Tompkinson. And ironically that is what is so moving. The insubstantiality of it all.

Sign In

I liked TPT. She was always a genial presence on TV with more than a touch of the old showbiz trooper, mucking in - whether that meant wearing thigh-high boots for the paparazzi or as patron of charities for bereaved children and autistic young people.

It would be easy to accept your lot in life when Prince Charles is your godfather, but Tara (below) threw herself into her own life - through the sheer force of her personality she made herself into one of the faces of the 1990s, the ultimate 'It' girl. Yet she did so with a knowing, often self-deprecating air.

I suspect that she wasn't fool enough to think the attention was hers of right or that it was going to last forever. She had the brains to know and to admit that she wasn't her public image and to charmingly 'confess' her insecurities and demons.

In the aftermath of her death many provided testimonies not just to her natural joie de vivre but to her wit and intelligence, her warmth and almost reckless generosity. In her last interview, published posthumously at the weekend, she talked of simple pleasures - being happiest at the family home with their dogs - and making her life count as a means of making amends to her parents. Here's the rub - as I said, in the great scheme of things, Tara may not have been of any great consequence, but on a more intimate level everyone who knew her loved her.

Often when terms such as gilded butterfly are bandied about, it's with a vague sense of censure and disapproval. But what's wrong with being a butterfly? They are lovely to behold and delightful in their seeming inconsequence.

At the very least they are an apt reminder that sometimes those who are most charming are not fated to live long. Tragically so it turned out with TPT.

She filled column inches, helped us pass an hour or two on television. She had an uncommon grace. The drug addiction which ravaged her septum was admitted, not ruthlessly exploited. Neither was her fear upon being diagnosed with a (non-malignant) brain tumour - just an interview or two.

The 'dark days' being highlighted by the Press now that she is dead were largely kept from the public eye - no endless reheats from Tara about struggling to make sense of it all.

Yet in the days since her death we've witnessed a subtle change of tone in the coverage: the news that her body may have lain undiscovered for five days, the image of a reclusive and frail TPT withdrawing from the world, weighted down with business difficulties.

There was also, sadly, a peculiarly vitriolic dismissal of her life, mainly on social media, simply because of the privilege that surrounded it, as if her life was somehow less valuable, less meaningful, because of the circumstances into which she was born. It is always remarkable that there is such anger out there and that it can be directed against such a harmless person; but that is part of the modern world.

In a way, it is all too predictable. Now that every moment of our lives, it seems, is up for scrutiny on social media, we are able to witness everything, from the very start of a career or even a life - that bright, optimistic beginning - right through to its often ravaged and distressing conclusion.

There are numerous examples of lives played out in the public eye, from sports people to movie actors to musicians, all the way from the glamour of the debutante's ball and the first red carpet to the gurney being wheeled out of some exclusive apartment.

Paradoxically, the celebrity crash-and-burn has come to mirror and represent those countless anonymous but equally disappointed lives lived in much less luxurious surroundings throughout these islands - what Thoreau called "lives of quiet desperation".

You don't have to be rich and cosseted to be harassed and beaten; but it is clear that riches may not be the protection against defeat we are told they are. It is equally clear that the vivid collapses of the wealthy and privileged, because they are so public and so dramatic, remind us of those silent deaths which occur all too frequently in our own communities and which, often, we are reluctant to examine because they are so painful, so raw.

In the death of Tara Palmer-Tompkinson, aged 45, with wounds in her mouth from cocaine abuse and with heavy personal debts, there is a window onto the sad secret worlds so many live in every day and from which escape, let alone rescue, is even less of a possibility than it was for her.

I think the appropriate response to that, if we can't prevent these tragedies - as it seems we can't - is not anger or disgust or self-righteousness, but simple compassion.

A little bit of that, more often, would do us all a lot of good.

Belfast Telegraph

Popular

From Belfast Telegraph