As the It Girls, we used to be arch-rivals. Now it’s like a part of me has died too
scared of her. Over the coming years, our paths inevitably crossed. It was a small social pool. Everyone knew everyone. We all went to the same parties at clubs such as Annabels, Tramp, Browns, L’équipe Anglais. We went to the same society weddings, the same social events. We dated the same men.
We had some stand-up screaming rows, mostly over boyfriends. But they helped to clear the air. We respected each other and soon became firm friends.
LONDON in the 1990s was insane. The whole point of being an It Girl was to act like you didn’t care. It was Absolutely Fabulous for real. We were stalked by the paparazzi and our pictures were everywhere, even in an age before social media. Everything was free. Chanel would invite us to Paris and put us up in a suite at the Ritz. You’d get free Chanel clothes and handbags and then head to a party with Karl Lagerfeld. There were multiple parties every night. Everything was on offer: free booze, free champagne, free everything. It’s easy to get sucked in. It’s a heady, hedonistic world. We were treated like rock stars. Every door was open to us. We could behave as badly as we liked, nobody cared.
They immediately called us ‘Lady V and TPT’. That tag stuck.
I was there the night in December 1998 when Tara wore her famous Bond bikini outfit, complete with snorkel. It was at Tramp and Johnny Gold, the owner, had organised a big birthday party for her. She stopped traffic and sent the photographers into meltdown. It was a brilliant ensemble, unpredictable and hilarious, just like her.
I learned a lot from her that night. She had such confidence she could carry anything off.
We were highly competitive. I dated Damien Aspinall and so did she. We were always vying to be on the front pages of the newspapers.
People called me ‘The Baby It’ and I started getting more and more attention. I think Tara found that hard to deal with. She didn’t like the idea of a younger girl coming on the scene and stealing her thunder.
I have a fairly thick skin and genuinely didn’t care what people said. But while Tara tried to pretend she didn’t care, deep down she would be wounded by harsh words. Yet you never saw Tara down – quite the opposite, in fact. Perhaps that’s why some people imagined her to be some sort of an airhead – which was completely wrong. She had real talent and intelligence. We’d be at a party and she’d sit down at a piano and give an amazing performance. She had a lovely singing voice and was an extraordinarily talented pianist.
She was an expert at riding, fabulous at skiing. Even at the height of her drug-taking and partying, she went to the gym and had a six-pack, which always impressed me. She had a great sense of humour. We lived close to each other for a while and we’d go for coffee and I’d end up crying with laughter. I’d been scared to get close to her because of the way we met but as I got older I saw she was just a girl who wanted to be loved. She was batty in her own way but that’s what everyone adored about her.
BUT there was an inevitable dark side to our lifestyle. I was never drawn into it but Tara was. There were people who never said no, who never knew when to quit the party. As time went on, I started to notice that darker side of things more and it frightened me. I didn’t want to go down the rabbit hole.
I think a lot of Tara’s drug use was to mask the very real pain she was in. Underneath it all, she was insecure. She went to rehab in Arizona in 1999 and I took over her mantle as the most famous It Girl.
When she came out of rehab, she relapsed several times. By 2000, I’d opened a boutique in Knightsbridge called Akademi and she came in one day and a bunch of pills fell out of her bag. I thought ‘uh-oh’. They were muscle relaxants or something like that.
She never knew when to stop. I never could take it to that extreme. I’ve always loved sleep. When it gets light, I go to bed. I can’t party for three days. I definitely had some big nights. But Tara had years and years of big nights. That takes a toll on you.
When I have a glass of wine, it’s to relax. But someone like Tara, who had issues with drugs and alcohol, needed that drink to mask everything else. She was oversensitive. There was so much talent there but the fame, the publicity, the drugs, it was all eating away at her on the inside. When I moved to LA full-time in 2005, we drifted apart. I’d been an It Girl for ten years and I knew it was time to get out of London. I was scared something bad would happen to me if I stayed. It felt claustrophobic.
When I think of her now, it’s that dirty, wicked laugh I remember. And her terrible driving. She did everything to extremes. We went to a country wedding and I got a lift with her and I spent the whole drive terrified with my hands over my eyes. She was an adrenaline junkie, pushing everything to the extreme. Live fast, die young.
When I heard she had died, I was shocked but not surprised. I remember that feeling of invincibility we had. Now she’s gone and it’s like a part of me is missing. When you go through a shared experience like we did, it’s almost like surviving a traumatic experience. You bond and, whenever you meet, you have that shared experience and a bond which never breaks. With her death, that bond has been broken.
Tara wasn’t someone who wanted to get old. She talked about death a lot. She was scared of looking at herself in the mirror, of getting older.
I hope she has finally found the peace she never found in life.
HIDDEN PAIN: Tara PalmerTomkinson modelling her own outfit for the MoS last year, main picture, and, right, partying in 1998 with fellow It Girl Lady Victoria Hervey