Tara Palmer-Tomkinson was the original 'it girl', a party-loving friend to the royals
But when Tara Palmer-Tomkinson and the BBC DJ were thrown together in the celebrity jungle they immediately bonded round the camp fire.
By the time their two-week stint on the first series of the ITV reality show was over in 2002 they had become pals.
This week Tony spoke of his dismay at learning of the death of the former It Girl, describing her as “sweet but almost childlike”.
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Tara, who had been battling a brain tumour, was just 45 years old.
I liked her very much
“It came as a complete shock,” says Tony, who is on holiday in St Lucia and received the bad news in a phone call from his agent.
“I had never met Tara before we went on I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here! The programme brings together all sorts of people from very different backgrounds.
“She was very high society, which is not me, but she struck me as a fun, warm-hearted person and we got on well right from the start.
Before she died, Miss Palmer-Tomkinson had been fighting a brain tumour
“She had connections with the Royal Family, which was very interesting, and we did talk about that a little.”
Tony, 74, was impressed by how Tara mucked in and performed well in the show’s notorious bushtucker trials in which contestants earn food for their fellow campers.
Tara was the very first celebrity to be covered in gunge on I’m A Celebrity.
“She had this ability to get on with everyone and coped very well in the jungle,” adds the DJ, who was in the final two with Tara and went on to win the debut show.
She became friends with Tony Blackburn after making it into the final two in I'm a Celebrity
“She was a very lively character who brought a lot of laughter to the camp. In the jungle you tend to get on people’s nerves a lot because you are living so close together but she never did.”
When she entered the jungle it was three years after the world first became aware of Tara’s troubles. Appearing on the Frank Skinner Show in 1999 she was rambling, often incoherent and forgot the host’s name.
Until then TPT, as she became known, was regarded as a party-loving friend of the royals but it emerged that she was fighting drug addiction.
“We didn’t talk about that and she didn’t appear troubled,” says Tony.
Tara Palmer-Tomkinson: 1971-2017
Thu, February 9, 2017
Socialite Tara Palmer-Tomkinson, the original 90s 'It Girl' has died aged 45 after battling a brain tumour.
UK Press via Getty Images
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At her birthday party in Mayfair in 1998.
“I liked her very much. She lasted right until the end of I’m A Celebrity… and on the last evening it was just the two of us. She just came across as a sweet, rather childlike and naive girl.”
ITV bosses recognised the chemistry between Tony and Tara and invited the unlikely duo to become co-presenters for Animals Do The Funniest Things.
The programme attracted about seven million viewers during the three years they fronted the show.
“She was lovely to work with,” recalls Tony, “but we both had our own circle of friends so we didn’t keep in touch. I hadn’t seen her for a while and I didn’t know she had been unwell. It’s just very sad that she’s gone. It’s far too early.”
Miss Palmer-Tomkinson was known for being a socialite and model from a wealthy background
Tara was diagnosed with a nonmalignant brain tumour just over a year ago. She is also reported to have been suffering from an auto-immune condition which caused joint pain and tiredness.
Tara, who had not been seen for five days, was discovered at her London apartment on Wednesday by her cleaner. It is a premature and sad end to a remarkable but unfulfilled life.
Tara, who was born in Hampshire in 1971 and had a pony-riding childhood on a 1,200-acre estate, worked briefly for a bank and dabbled in modelling after leaving school.
Her father Charles was a former Olympic skier who coached the Prince of Wales, and Tara appeared to have it all.
She once remarked: “You know, flying to Venice for coffee was like going to Starbucks for me.”
She was close friends with the royals, and attended Prince William and Kate Middleton's wedding
Yet beneath all the glitz and privilege she was sometimes a lost soul with too much time on her hands. Cocaine and alcohol were her escape route while she rarely turned down a party invitation.
In the 1990s there were regular skiing trips to Klosters in Switzerland with Prince Charles. While still relatively unknown in 1995 she caused a stir when she was seen giving the heir to the throne a kiss.
It was innocent but from that moment she was rarely out of the limelight. Later she helped console his sons after the loss of Princess Diana.
There was a newspaper column, which proved to be a few of her thoughts dictated to a writer who would knock them into shape.
She became the ultimate posh celebrity, later turning to TV and appearing on celebrity specials of Blind Date and A Place In The Sun.
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She also hosted the spin-off version of I’m A Celebrity… and popped up on panel shows including Loose Women. In 2007 Tara published The Naughty Girl’s Guide To Life but she never needed the money.
“My grandfather left us a lot of Leicestershire,” she once said. Tara’s boyfriends included Duran Duran’s Nick Rhodes, boyband member Duncan James, TV actor Sid Owen and Fiat boss Eduardo Teodorani-Fabbri.
Although she regretted not having children Tara later admitted she didn’t like relationships because “men have so many horrible habits”.
In the background was always the spectre of drugs.
“I was bored and not in a very good state,” Tara once said, describing her champagne and cocaine years. “Drugs literally took my life away.”
Miss Palmer-Tomkinson's father was an Olympic skiier who coached the royals
After the Frank Skinner fiasco she entered rehab and she required surgery to her nose to repair the corrosive damage caused by snorting cocaine.
In 2010, when she attempted to reinvent herself with a ghostwritten novel, she claimed to have been clean for more than a decade.
At the time she said: “I’m desperate to prove that I’m talented. When I got the It Girl tag it was all about timing. They wanted a real-life Ab Fab person.”
That was followed by the launch of a short-lived pop career. In 2014 she was cautioned by police at Heathrow airport after being seen sobbing, swearing and tearing out her hair.
She explained it away as a panic attack but doubts were raised that she had fallen off the wagon.
Before her death, Miss Palmer-Tomkinson's life was plagued by drug addiction and insecurity
In the same year Tara dropped out of Channel 4 show The Jump saying she had become a “recluse” after suffering a breakdown.
In one of her final interviews last year Tara said: “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. I might be 44 but I was at so many parties in so many different countries. I haven’t slept for 20 years. The things that mattered to me a long time ago don’t matter any more. What matters to me now is health.”
But her friend Ivan Massow reveals that Tara was “in a dark place” in the weeks before her death and was struggling to come to terms with ageing.
The entrepreneur and gay rights campaigner says: “She was never comfortable to see herself as an older person.”