'I'd love to go back to rehab': As Tara Palmer-Tomkinson reinvents herself as a pop singer, the former It Girl tells how she's leaving her 'debauched' days behind her
00:50 GMT, 21 September 2012
A legal high: Tara Palmer-Tompkinson, pictured on her terrace, has a new album
Tara Palmer-Tomkinson’s west London roof-terrace feels so high in the clouds you can’t help but think you’re on another planet. Which in a way you are. It’s a rather enchanting planet, but different nonetheless.
‘I’ve got two guitars and a whole recording studio up here,’ says Tara. ‘In the evening people come round and sit about making music. Then I do a headstand and, as soon as you’ve gone, bounce off the walls and have a good laugh.’
No, Tara, the original It Girl who spent years being famous simply for being famous — complete with a drug habit and subsequent rehabilitation — isn’t on the white powdery stuff again. This is just the way she is: nutty as a fruitcake in a sweet, you’ve-got-to-have-another-slice way.
Today though, she wants to be sensible. ‘I have to say I’ve been trying really hard to be calm,’ she says. ‘Over the past four or five months I’ve tried so hard because I just want to be.
‘It’s very important what people think of me because I’ve tried very hard to change and it’s been a very, very big battle.’
When I tell her I think she’s doing well, she lights up like one of the paparazzi flashbulbs that’s pursued her through her life. ‘I don’t care about that stuff [the jets, sex and playboys] any more.
'Some of the men I’ve loved are great. Some of them are mean. Some get married and go and s*** somebody else. I’m not part of that life any more. I’m not very good with big, rich people. I like to be around people who are creative.’
At 40, Tara has finally plucked up the courage to release the album she started writing five years ago after winning Comic Relief Does Fame Academy. That’s why I’m here, 42 steps and a winding stone staircase up in her South Kensington eyrie.
When Tara moved in she knocked down three floors to put in a New York-style penthouse with retractable roofs and walls. It’s bright, airy and stuffed full of artwork and photographs of her family with Prince Charles, William and Harry. I’m stunned by how many there are.
It’s well-known that Tara was born into immense privilege. Her landowner father Charles Palmer-Tomkinson was an Olympic-level skier who taught Prince Charles to ski. Her mother Patti was horribly injured in a skiing accident in 1988 that claimed the life of Royal equerry Major Hugh Lindsay.
Tara grew up on her family’s 1,200-acre Hampshire estate, went to Sherborne boarding school in Dorset — then somehow ended up as a poster girl for the new style of celebrity that spawned Big Brother, TOWIE and Made in Chelsea, before cocaine got a hold of her.
Musical ambitions: Tara Palmer-Tomkinson at a rehearsal with the National Symphony Orchestra ahead of her debut performance as a solo pianist
Wasn’t she a huge embarrassment to the Royal family — there was a story she wouldn’t be welcome on the Royal yacht Tara says: ‘I was never banned. That was completely untrue.’ So, Prince Charles was supportive ‘Very,’ she says emphatically.
Digressing, she adds: ‘I think celebrity is such a silly word. It sounds like a gooseberry fool. I’ve been creative since the age of three.’ With which she sits down at her grand piano to play a song from her autobiographical album Flawed.
Tara has worked hard on her voice since Fame Academy. ‘It’s easier to sing things than say them,’ she says, before playing I Don’t Need You Anymore, a song about her cocaine addiction. ‘You took my soul and made it poison under my skin,’ she sings.
‘You offered the high life, I paid the price. I know I had a choice but I caved in and gave you my life. I fell apart. I wasn’t me, no. I found it hard but I’m running free…’
I’d feared the album would be, at best, mediocre. How wrong I was. Tara is very talented.
We start talking about her drug habit, starting with her nose. She first had it fixed in 2006 after it collapsed, reportedly due to excessive cocaine use. Then it collapsed again last year — graphically, before the royal wedding — and she had more reconstructive surgery.
Now Tara doesn’t want to talk about her nose but it’s a very pretty nose — slightly lopsided but it’s settling down after the surgery last year. Tara claims: ‘Those pictures [of her collapsed nose] were all Photoshopped. My nose didn’t look like that in real life. What’s difficult is it actually takes about a year-and-a-half to settle. Anyway, the nose thing wasn’t exactly what people thought it was. Because cocaine goes up your nose they thought it was that. Actually, it was caused by fragmentation.’
This is commonly due to a blow to the face, and Tara says hers was caused by skiing. ‘My sister [Santa, the novelist married to writer and historian Simon Sebag Montefiore] also has a fragmented nose. I’ve had it up to here with the way I look and my nose. It’s very destructive when everyone’s pointing at your nose when you walk out of the house, and everyone wants that picture.
'I'm A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here': Tara Palmer-Tomkinson with Tony Blackburn just before it was announced that he had won the show
Popular: Tara Palmer-Tomkinson, pictured with Nell McAndrew on the reality show, was runner-up to Tony Blackburn
‘It doesn’t matter how good you look. The shutter-speed is always going to get you so you just can’t win. That’s very difficult and it does destroy you because you think: “This is so unfair and cruel.”’
How did her drugs habit start ‘I got with the wrong bloke and I was seduced to a point of addiction,’ says Tara. ‘People will always associate me with drugs but I’ve come such a long way.
‘I was 21 and he was my first proper boyfriend and I wanted to fit in with his crowd. They partied non-stop. You’d have a drink and they’d say, “Down it in one.” Then there’d be another party, another “down it in one”. I couldn’t keep up. I’d get tired. So a girl said: “Try this.”
‘I was anti-drugs until then. But it’s very easy to be anti-drugs when your friends aren’t taking them. I wanted to keep up and I got addicted and I had an absolute blast. I can’t pretend it was all miserable.
'It’s rather nice waking up and having lunch in Harry’s Bar in London then having coffee in Harry’s Bar in Venice. It was all one private jet away. It was debauched. It was the age but, God, it was absolutely unbelievable. We were crazy.’
Privileged: Tara Palmer-Tomkinson at the Royal Wedding of Prince William to Catherine Middleton at Westminster Abbey
Tara kept on trying to fit in, in her nutty fashion. She wore a snorkel and bikini to her own birthday party and spent a night in the clink after jumping out from behind a tree at a policeman. ‘I was pretending to be a cat,’ she says, as if it’s the most ordinary thing in the world. ‘I’d go on a TV show and say, “Oh, I’m sorry, I’ve just been in Chanel. What are we talking about” I started to play that ditsy Paris Hilton person, but I didn’t really know how else to be.’
In 1999 she checked into rehab at Arizona’s Meadows Clinic after a horribly disorientated appearance on the Frank Skinner Show. ‘I knew I was very ill,’ she says.
‘It was about being lonely and trying to keep up — and being deceptive and lying and feeling like you’re a fraud and wanting desperately to tell the truth. But, I was very aware of what would have happened if I told the truth. I didn’t want to shame my parents and Charles and Harry and William. I love my family very much. I was too ashamed. I was scared. At the time you’re just . . . I don’t know, I don’t want to think about that time any more.’
But then she goes on: ‘What got me well in the Meadows was thinking I was sitting under a palm tree having a manicure while having a massage, while saying, “Yes I did a bit of cocaine.”
‘It’s very hardcore there. It’s also in the middle of the desert so there’s no helipad in sight. I used to smuggle in Vogue magazine sometimes. Someone once smuggled me in a Lion Bar. It was like having a man in the boot of my car. I felt like I was doing the most illegal thing in the world because they’re not allowed.
‘I loved my time there. The Meadows is what you make of it. I’d love to go back but not for the reason I went in. It takes a long time to admit your shame. It’s 35,000 for 35 days but only to people from England. They come off the street in America, so you meet some seriously twisted, cool people and they’re lovely and I’m still in touch with them now.’
She says they got her better. ‘You have to make it fun. I started a band called Chemically Independent. The best thing is when you’re in your meetings and you’re saying, “Oh my God, I did this or that.” Everybody says, “I did that but I did it with heroin.” It’s that wonderful thing of thinking, “I’m not alone.”
‘You’ve got to hit rock bottom and you’ve got to really want to get well. I got well because I felt so ashamed because I love my family.’
Afterwards, the appetite for Tara stories didn’t stop, but the focus shifted to her love-life. She says: ‘I’m not very good at relationships. I’m good at honeymoon periods.
‘I find people really annoying. The way they eat apples and cornflakes. It makes me want to take their eyes out. It really annoys me. There was a girl who turned round to me the other day — she’s going out with an ex-boyfriend of mine. She said, “How was it, going out with this man” I said, “I couldn’t marry him because I know I’d have ended up in prison — I would have murdered him because he annoyed me so much.”’
There is one man she fell head-over-heels for, though: Matalan heir Jamie Hargreaves. But she realised the relationship was over when she was packed to go on holiday with him and the jet didn’t turn up.
‘I also remember going to Mauritius with him and the Press saying we were going to get engaged. I said: “Absolutely not.” When we got there and the Press were there, Jamie got very upset. He’s from a very private family.
‘But then it does annoy me when people say, “I just want to go out with you when you’re here at home.” You’ve got to take on the whole package.’ She shrugs.
At the moment, Tara is concentrating on her music. She says: ‘After all that nose stuff I did feel, “I’m going to show you.” It does hurt very much when people say you’re talentless and don’t have a brain. I try my best and you can’t do more than your best.
‘This album is absolutely hand-on-heart my autobiography. Don’t expect Cheryl Cole and I wouldn’t say I’m Annie Lennox. But I am what I am.’
Which she is: completely nutty and, yes, talented.
Tara’s album Flawed is available to download on iTunes now.