She Without Whom No Party is Complete (The New York Times 5/2/99)

Three years, some 2,000 parties and dozens of widely read columns later, Tara Palmer-Tomkinson has mixed feelings about being London’s longest serving Drop Dead girl.

“I’m emotionally bankrupt,” Ms. Palmer-Tomkinson said over lunch at the staid and sober Oxford-Cambridge Club. “Then again, who wouldn’t be with my schedule?” London’s ultimate party girl, Ms Palmer-Tomkinson sometimes goes to three cocktail parties a night, often of a promotional nature, galvanizing paparazzi, bouncers and former boyfriends as she makes her way around town.

For the last three years, she has chronicled her Holly Golightly life in a column in the Style magazine in The Sunday Times.

The column — originally titled “The Social Diary of Tara Palmer-Tomkinson,” but now, for some reason, called “Yah!” — has made the whippet-thin Ms. Palmer-Tomkinson, 27, one of London’s best-known faces.

The site for the lunch was deliberately selected so she would not be bothered or recognized. The plan was only partly successful. She was not bothered at the Oxford-Cambridge Club. No one is bothered at the Oxford-Cambridge Club. But she definitely was recognized, as the discreet smiles of the elderly men at the next table showed.

Could she smoke? Ms. Palmer-Tomkinson asked nervously. Alas, she could not. After all, this was the Oxford-Cambridge Club.

“I feel like I am in boarding school,” she said, as she glared at a portrait of Clement Atlee, the late British Prime Minister. Atlee glared back. Ms. Palmer-Tomkinson ordered another white wine.

Did she consider herself a party girl who writes, or a writer who parties?

Ms. Palmer-Tomkinson, who was dressed in an elegant gray shift, didn’t like the question, and asked to leave the table.

“You must forgive Tara,” Toby Pocock, her zealous new entertainment agent, later said. “She has been under great strain lately.”

Apparently, it was true. Last week, only days after the lunch, Ms. Palmer-Tomkinson was reported by British newspapers to have checked into a clinic near Wikenburg, Ariz., for treatment related to stress. Jeremy Langmead, her editor at The Sunday Times, confirmed that she was ailing. “I just hope she’s getting well,” he said.

One would never have guessed that stress and strain were threats to Ms. Palmer-Tomkinson, judging from her light-as-air column.

“After Donna’s do, I rushed off to Elle Macpherson’s 30th birthday party at Harry’s Bar,” she gushed in a typical recent installment. “It was so exclusive that I can barely tell you a thing about it — all my A-list chums are terrified I will report their little indiscretions. Perish the thought — and don’t worry, Elle, about that business with you, the whipped cream and the ring-tailed lemur, mum’s the word.”

Ms. Palmer-Tomkinson’s knack for conjuring up the velvet-rope world in which she and her friends circulate, while also making gentle fun of it, has made “Yah!” one of The Sunday Times’ most popular features.

“You can tell the Clarence is rock ‘n’ roll as there is an eye mask in the minibar,” she reported in another column, in which she regaled readers in her breathless way, with the tale of sorties to Dublin and the Clarence Hotel, owned by Bono of U2. “I certainly needed it after two nights on the twon with my traveling companion, Mss Dee,” she wrote.

“Dressed head to foot in our new Ghost wardrobe, we started off in the Kitchen, the club in Clarence’s basement. Being a bit of a superstar, I was provided with security for the night, which meant that a poor girl called Stephanie had to wait outside every time I went to the loo.”

Like any proper It Girl (the term adopted by the British press for Ms. Palmer-Tomkinson and her kind, meaning a well-photographed beauty with little to do besides go out at night), Ms. Palmer-Tomkinson is to the manner born.

She grew up on her family’s stately 1,200-acre estate near Basingstoke. “Please don’t mention Basingstroke; it’s an ugly town full of ugly people, in Hampshire,” she said.

Her father, Charles Palmer-Tomkinson, was Prince Charles’s ski instructor. Her mother, Patti, nearly died in a 1988 avalanche that killed a royal aide, Maj. Hugh Lindsay. Over the years, Ms. Palmer-Tomkinson has also accompanied Prince William and Prince Harry on holidays to the royal retreats at Klosters, Balmoral and Sandringham.

In London, Ms. Palmer-Tomkinson briefly had a career working for Rothschild’s. Then, using the Chelsea flat she shared with her sister, Santa, who works in publicity for Polo Ralph Lauren, as a partying base, she shifted into frivolous mode as a fashion stylist and model by day and a queen of the nightclubs after dark.

In the winter of 1996 came a widely published photograph of Ms. Palmer-Tomkinson being kissed platonically by Prince Charles, who was trying to play up his lighter side. Ray-Ban called and asked her to model its sunglasses on her next ski trip to Klosters, followed by other sponsors to exploit her instant celebrity for sales.

She said yes to them all, including Mazda, which bestowed on her a sleek black MX5 in return for promoting the Mazda image. She said yes to them all, including Mazda, which bestowed on her a sleek black MX5 in return for promoting the company image. She also said yes to Prada, Chanel, Versace and Dolce & Gabbana.

Then, after The Sunday Times interviewed her in its Style pages, the editors so liked “the look and sound” of her, Mr. Langmead recalled, that they gave her a column.

That was then. This is now. Ms. Palmer-Tomkinson is no longer under contract with any of the above clothiers. Nor does she tool around in the Mazda MX5. But she still parties, on average, three times a night, four evenings a week. And she still flies her party report for readers.

“A lot of people think I am the person I write about,” she said, as she relaxed in the vacant library of the Oxford-Cambridge Club. “They don’t realize that half the time I’m putting myself down.”

Then there are the crank letters, and the brickbats from other journalists, including the rumor that she does not really write her columns, despite winning a writer of the year award in 1998 from London journalists who cover society.

“Tara’s column is edited creatively,” Mr. Langmead said. “What is important is that Tara lives the column.”

Taking a drag on a cigarette after lunch, Ms. Palmer-Tomkinson said: “The press in this country is only happy if you are successful for a day. Then they tear you down.”

Yes, she conceded, the grind does get her down sometimes. Nevertheless, she insisted, brightening, that being an It Girl has its rewards. She has capitalized on her celebrity for cameo roles in two recent films.

In one, “Mad Cow,” she plays herself and is thrown out of a nightclub. She is also planning a book of some of the letters (not the crank ones) she has received from readers.

“I’m not necessarily crazy about being an It Girl anymore,” she said. “But I don’t mind continuing to use it. Besides, I love my diary. I plan to keep on writing in it until I’m 80.

“And Mummy and Daddy are very proud of me.”

That evening, Ms. Palmer-Tomkinson made her entrance at the Bluebird Club on Kings Road, for a party promoting a sports-car race called the Gumball 3000.

“I have absolutely no idea of what this is about,” she had said blandly over lunch. “Then again, I usually don’t.”

For a moment she seemed to falter as she approached the threshold of the club, where techno music throbbed.

But as the flashbulbs popped, she seemed to pull herself together. She flashed a gallant smile and strode forward, conscious of her duty.

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