Tara Palmer-Tomkinson, who has died suddenly at the age of 45, in circumstances that police are describing as unexplained but not suspicious, was a Pied Piper of London nightlife in the late ’80s and early ’90s.
Friends of Palmer-Tomkinson today were shocked by her death, but many were unsurprised by speculation that she may have taken her own life following a diagnosis for a non-malignant brain tumor she received last year, with one telling the Daily Beast: “Tara was way too vain for a wheelchair.”
Palmer-Tomkinson, who had an aristocratic heritage, was a favored goddaughter of Prince Charles, who led tributes to her today.
He and his wife, the Duchess of Cornwall, led tributes to Palmer-Tomkinson today, saying that they were “deeply saddened” by news of her death, adding, “Our thoughts are so much with the family.”
Palmer-Tomkinson was a close friend of the royals and was often photographed skiing with Prince Charles. There were ill-founded rumors of an affair after she was pictured kissing him—Palmer-Tomkinson was quick to point out she had kissed Charles “every day since I was four years old.”
Her family were connected to the royals through her father, Charles, a wealthy landowner and Olympic skier who became a close friend of Prince Charles after teaching him to ski in 1970.
His daughter became one of the first celebrities to become famous for being famous, and courted publicity by turning up to events in bizarre and revealing outfits--bikinis, snorkel gear and negligees were noted examples--but always sought to distinguish herself from later iterations of reality celebrity.
Palmer-Tomkinson was an icon of London’s Ecstasy-fueled club scene from the end of the eighties.
Tara was known in the press as TPT. Her antics were enthusiastically covered by the papers which invented the term “It Girl” to describe her trust fund lifestyle.
The posh London party scene of that time revolved around the SW1 club in Victoria, which was co-owned by Piers Adam and Eddie Davenport, who both told the Daily Beast today of their shock and dismay at the news of Palmer-Tomkinson’s passing.
On one legendary occasion, after overheating after a bout of particularly energetic dancing, she slipped off to the bathrooms where she washed her hair in the bathroom sink. Half an hour later, wearing a bra and with a white towel wrapped around her head, Palmer-Tomkinson emerged from the toilets and made her way back on to the dancefloor to carry on the party.
“The club was only starting up then and it was very decadent,” Davenport recalled today, “But because it was one big clique you could get away with that kind of madness, horsing around with your shirt off, washing your hair in bathrooms.
“They were great nights, and it’s a time that all of us who were there remember at the back of our minds. I had a big penthouse in Cheyne Walk and we used to all go back there afterwards and party on the roof terrace. Tara was a big part of that. It’s just so shocking to hear this news today.”
Palmer-Tomkinson’s childhood, on a 1200-acre estate a few hours outside London in Hampshire, studded with tree houses and tennis courts, was one of typical upper class British privilege. She described spending much of her early life playing with rabbits and grooming ponies, surrounded by a close network of cousins and her beloved (and much more settled) sister, Santa.
She was a boarder at Sherborne school in Dorset, and earned a reputation as an accomplished piano player. She once told the Daily Mail that she dreamed of being a concert pianist: “I just wanted to play Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata and other beautiful pieces…I couldn’t be bothered with all the boring technicalities of scales and arpeggios.”
She worked briefly for an investment bank in the City of London before discovering the party scene that made her famous.
Contrary to received wisdom, Palmer-Tomkinson did work, and was employed as an assistant by a variety of fashion magazines and photographers. After she became famous she put her name to novels and newspaper columns that were authored on her behalf, but the bulk of her income (and her apartment) was provided by a family trust.
Palmer-Tomkinson never had a serious long term relationship, although she dated a string of public figures, including Blue singer Duncan James, Duran Duran’s Nick Rhodes and EastEnders actor Sid Owen.
She was also known to have dated Fiat boss Eduardo Teodorani-Fabbri in 2009, and businessman Anton Bilton from 2000 to 2001.
A magazine editor who employed her as an assistant told The Daily Beast that Palmer-Tomkinson was a “troubled soul” but the “most fun,” adding, “She was just so funny. But she had no boundaries. She would buy ten pairs of Chanel shoes and then be broke for the rest of the month.”
She once said: “I didn’t come from the Paris Hilton world. Mine was privileged, yes, but it was old money. Our house was — is — held together with Super Glue. If a plate breaks, my father fixes it.”
Palmer-Tomkinson’s hedonistic existence was, however, accompanied by a prodigious appetite for drink and drugs, and her life spiraled out of control as she descended into addiction.
She told how she was treated for cocaine addiction at The Meadows in Arizona ten years ago. After rehab, she retreated into a reclusive life, rarely venturing far from the Chelsea apartment where she was found dead today.