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The ‘It girl’ with a big heart

17 February 2017

I HAVE a friend who is an ardent republican, who is nevertheless ob­­sessed by the royal family, and has a secret collection of royal photo­graph albums and other memor­abilia.

I used to feel a similar incon­gruity about my earnest spiritual aspira­tions and my fascination with Yah!, the Sunday Times social diary chronicling the life of Tara Palmer-Tomkinson, who died last week at the age of 45.

TPT, as she was known, was an “It girl” from the age of boom and Blair, when aristocrats were reborn as celebrities, and even right-on socialists were encouraged to be relaxed about people making lots of money. She was no writer (her Sunday Times column was ghost-written), but she was a witty, self-deprecating observer who provided an endless stream of gossip about the indiscretions of the rich and the famous.

I turned to her column first thing every week: I was hooked. The care­less hedonism that she reflected was on another planet from the earnest­ness of church life, and her wryly told adventures made me laugh

There was another side, of course. A lifestyle of sex and cocaine left her without love and broke; at one point she needed cash advances from The Sunday Times just to keep going. After she kicked her drug habit, she retreated from her life of glamour and parties; rarely going out, she shared her flat with a squirrel called Simon.

She was intelligent and capable, and could have achieved much, as some of the other “It girls” did when the craze died down. But she was also vulnerable and needy.

When reading about her death last week, I found myself reflecting on the way in which her fans and readers — myself included — fed not only on her wit, but on her need to share too much; the inner chaos that lay beneath the glamorous fun-loving exterior.

I warned myself, and not for the first time, that those who are in ministry need to take care not to seek the rather sick gratification of the voyeur, feeding on the weak­nesses of those they are called to serve.

Her former boyfriend, Duncan James, said that she had the biggest heart; and a heart, the Desert Fathers tell us, is the only thing you really need to be saved. And, touch­ingly, she prayed every night, in the rather formal style that befitted a former public-school girl: “Thank you God for a happy day. Sorry if I’ve been naughty. Please help me to be good tomorrow, through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

I shall miss her — a little guiltily, but I will.


The Revd Angela Tilby is a Canon Emeritus of Christ Church, Oxford.

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