Obituary: Tara Palmer-Tomkinson, socialite and reality TV star who rose to fame as a 1990s ‘It’ girl

Tara Palmer-Tomkinson. Picture; PA
Tara Palmer-Tomkinson. Picture; PA
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Tara Palmer-Tomkinson, socialite, fashion designer and TV celebrity. Born: 23 December, 1971 in Hampshire. Died: 8 February, 2017 in London, aged 45.

Tara Palmer-Tomkinson was one of the ultimate ‘It’ Girls of the 1990s, regularly generating headlines purely for being a queen of the social scene, but also for the drug problems that plagued her for many years.

She was born in Hampshire in 1971 to landowner and former Olympic skier Charles Palmer-Tomkinson and his wife Patricia, a former model, and, due to their close friendship with Prince Charles, her royal connections were almost as prevalent as her colourful lifestyle.

Contrary to popular belief, Palmer-Tomkinson was not the goddaughter of the prince, but her aristocratic links were strong enough to aid her path into the social scene that would go on to define her.

She was one of the guests at the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton in 2011, and remained close to the British royal family throughout her life.

Palmer-Tomkinson had aspirations from a young age to be a concert pianist and although she never made a career of it, she was accomplished in the skill and had performed at venues including the Royal Albert Hall and the Royal Festival Hall.

Neither did she become the jockey nor vet she so wanted to be from a young age, but Palmer-Tomkinson – often referred to as TPT – did make herself a household name in other ways.

As part of the first wave of stars who were famous for just being famous, she paved the way for today’s celebrity reality stars, those who make their personal lives their meal ticket. She was the ultimate in tabloid fodder and, along with being a paparazzi favourite, Palmer-Tomkinson was a contributor for several newspapers, including the Sunday Times, detailing her exploits willingly.

Palmer-Tomkinson was unapologetic about her life, although she did have regrets over her drug use – a reported £400-a-day cocaine habit – for which she went into a rehab facility in America in 1999.

In 2016 she told the Press Association: “I definitely have regrets. I wish I had never touched half the stuff... But in the same way, I’m not going to sit there and feel ashamed for what I did, because I have had a life!”

As she approached 30, and at the end of her socialite streak, Palmer-Tomkinson admitted she envied the more structured lives of her sister Santa Montefiore, a renowned author, and her brother James.

She told the Daily Mail: “Now I want a more conventional lifestyle. Unlike my brother and sister, whose lives had a pattern, I never knew where I’d be from one minute to the next. It was unsettling and it damn’ nearly killed me in the end.”

Due to her years of drug abuse, Palmer-Tomkinson underwent septum reconstruction surgery in 2006 after her septum nasi collapsed.

In the early Noughties, when the party scene had become tired, Palmer-Tomkinson forged a career as a reality TV star. She came second in the inaugural series of I’m A Celebrity... Get Me Out Of Here! in 2002, and also enjoyed stints on the celebrity versions of shows Blind Date and A Place In The Sun.

Palmer-Tomkinson was due to take part in the 2014 series of winter sports reality programme The Jump but pulled out early due to the pressures she faced as one of the favourites on the show.

A woman of many desires, she dabbled in other areas, too, including as a music artist and as a fashion designer with her own line called Desiderata.

She was also a prevalent charity supporter and backed several organisations, including Scottish autism charity Speur-Ghlan.

In January last year, Palmer-Tomkinson was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumour and in November said she had feared dying when doctors told her about the growth in her pituitary gland.

At the time, she also revealed that she was suffering with an auto-immune disease which had caused tiredness, joint pain and acute anaemia.

Having never married, Palmer-Tomkinson confessed that becoming mother was not something she desired due to being “terrified” of babies, but that she did dream of her “ultimate man” and hoped to find him some day.

“If I could find a hero like my father, and have a marriage like that, then that would be the man I desire,” she said.

Lucy Mapstone