I’ve done some funny things for work; had my hair cut by David Beckham’s sister Joanne, propped up the bar with Larry Hagman aka J.R. Ewing and visited a sex shop in East London to talk to slightly embarrassed and disarmed customers about their recent purchases.
However, one of my most entertaining jobs was a stint writing Tara Palmer Tomkinson’s weekly column for Closer magazine.
Once a week the whirlwind “It Girl” with the husky voice, and the peppering of Ya, Ya, Yas would telephone me from wherever she happened to be at the time, her car, a shop, more often than not her flat, and proceed to unleash a verbal rundown of her week at break-neck speed.
Her latest shenanigans would be fired down the line scatter-gun style as an excitable Tara hopped from subject to scenario, famous face to latest lipstick at a zillion miles an hour.
Last night’s charity event that she’d been to, what she thought of Sadie Frost’s new toyboy, the flirty musician she’d enjoyed a bottle of Dom Perignon with last Tuesday, and why she was delighted her I’m A Celebrity jungle pal, Peter Andre ,was making a crooning comeback…she zinged through the subjects, thinking up her own puns and headlines and laughing at the silliness of her sometimes surreal, privileged and party invitation-rammed life.
After twenty minutes or so of Tara’s chatter, asides and ‘Actually, no, no, don’t put that bit in”, we were usually done and I’d come off the phone feeling as thought I’d just been caught in a revolving door rotating at 70 miles an hour with disco lights spinning above my head.
But what a fun twenty minutes it always was. I lapped up her anecdotes and tales, as I prepared to order them into a 500-word shape, just as the 600,000 readers guzzled them up in the following week’s issue.
Lively and loud, the phone call was invariably interspersed with laughter, from both talker and listener, as the self deprecating celeb who had holidayed with Prince Charles and thought nothing of attending a party attired in a bikini, fur coat and snorkel, recounted her latest embarrassing mishap, rash purchase or gave her view on that week’s “lite” news.
I found her funny, frank and at times frustrating. Occasionally she would forget to phone at the allotted time slot and leave me hanging, sometimes the mobile reception would be terrible or I’d hear garbled mumbling, “Wait, hang on…I’m just reversing, I think there’s a traffic warden coming” and realise we were doing our interview on speaker phone while Tara did battle with double yellow lines and parallel parking.
A very accomplished pianist, once or twice she’d start tinkling the ivories mid conversation to show off the latest piece she’d learnt …I’m sure I remember her breaking into a zesty rendition of Coldplay’s Clocks from her West London apartment while she was supposed to be talking about Duncan from Blue, Jordan’s latest squeeze or some other burning issue.
She was eccentric, electrifying and sometimes just a teeny bit scary, so it was with slight trepidation that after one of our regular phonecalls, I was bundled off to a hotel, to meet her face to face for a feature.
Self-confessed singleton Tara had agreed to go on a “date” for a light-hearted piece in the magazine with England rugby player Mike Tindall whose star was shining very brightly thanks to England’s victory in the 2003 Rugby World cup. My job, was to go along to record the encounter along with a photographer.
Sure enough it was exactly as I could have predicted. On arrival at the swanky Berkeley Hotel in London’s Knightsbridge, I found 16 stone mountain of muscle, Mike, waiting outside the beautiful Blue Bar room where we’d agreed to do the shoot looking sheepish with searching eyes and an expression that most definitely said, “Why the hell have I let my PR guy talk me into doing this?”. Tara meanwhile was conspicuous by her absence.
After twenty or so minutes of ice-breaking chit chat with the England ace, while the increasingly impatient photographer fiddled about with lighting and scraped chairs about, the clock continued to tick and my nerves began to jangle. Have we ALL been stood up? Is TPT actually going to deign us with her presence?
It was with a mixture of relief and dread that I saw Tara pull up in a cab outside outside the window – a whirlwind of clattering heels, bags and apologies, not an agent or PR in sight. She was happy to go it alone.
A quick change of outfit and the It Girl sprang into action. As she and Mike propped up the bar, Tara was charming, flirtatious and professional and knew exactly which poses to strike for maximum impact as the photographer clicked away, arching her back, leaning in for a cheek to cheek close-up, grinning her mischievous feline smile as she and Mike clinked champagne glasses.
With the pictures over, I interviewed both “daters” separately to see what first impressions they had of eachother. I remember Mike tactfully revealing that Tara seemed like a lot of fun but that sporty blondes were more his type. Fair enough Mike, fair enough.
Nonetheless I was slightly surprised, when not long after our Berkeley fun and games I saw him splashed across the papers on the arm of a sporty blonde who just happened to have the Queen as a gran and Princess Anne as a mum: none other than Zara Phillips who went on to become his wife.
Meanwhile back at The Berkeley, it was obvious Cupid was having a day off as Mike wasn’t Tara’s type either but, ever the professional, TPT managed to weave in plenty of cheeky puns and sparky mischief as she gave her charming and polite version of how Mike seemed like a thoroughly decent guy but not one for her.
And that was Tara: accommodating, eager to please, always up for an adventure and fizzing with energy. A whirlwind of loud cackling laughter who drew attention to herself like a magnet, yet at the same time sensitive, self-deprecating and searching for approval.
The news of her sudden and untimely death was shocking but at the same time sadly unsurprising.
Behind her booming voice and bravado she was like a fragile exotic bird. Her long battle with drug addiction was well documented, her search for love and approval seemed ongoing and in recent years she’d almost vanished from the public eye and struggled with health issues.
Only last year she told a newspaper: ‘In a way, I’m like Alice in Wonderland. I fall down the rabbit hole and there are teddy bears’ picnics and Mad Hatters and tea parties going on all around me, but somehow I manage to climb back up. Then, just as I poke my head out the top, I go falling back down again. But I will get out. I will.’
Sadly this time she didn’t get back out.