She was born into great privilege, was a close family friend of Prince Charles and for a while lived a wild party lifestyle fuelled by drug abuse – not characteristics guaranteed to earn the admiration of the British public.
But Tara Palmer-Tomkinson, who has died at the age of 45, was also blessed with an intelligent, self-deprecating wit and a lively sense of fun, qualities that made her, for a time, one of the most popular minor celebrities of the late 1990s and 2000s – even if no one could quite remember what she was famous for.
In recent years, having kicked a reported £400-a-day cocaine habit after several bouts in therapy, Palmer-Tomkinson had largely sought to retreat from the public eye, vowing that she had left the party lifestyle behind for good. “I’m not the person I was,” she said last year. “I’ve gone completely the other way. I’m a very quiet person now, and I like being that person.”
After the publication of photographs of her looking frail, attracting insinuations that she had relapsed, the socialite revealed late last year that she had been suffering from a non-malignant brain tumour. Contrary to most people’s assumptions, she insisted, she had not taken drugs for a decade. But despite declaring herself more content, she had never quite found peace, she said, and continued to struggle with anxiety and self doubt.
Socialite Tara Palmer-Tomkinson has been found dead aged 45.
The star, who rose to fame in the 1990s as a hard-partying “It girl”, received treatment in 2016 for a non-malignant brain tumour.
The Met Police confirmed a woman in her 40s was found dead at Palmer-Tomkinson’s flat in Bramham Gardens, South Kensington, at 13:40 GMT.
Prince Charles, a close friend of the star’s family, led tributes and said he was “deeply saddened” by her death.
BBC News (includes Woman’s Hour clip where she discusses her early boarding school experience…)
A teacher recently came to me with a dilemma: there was an epidemic of self-harm among her [boarders]. They were using razors to injure themselves in their boarding school dorms, so staff had confiscated their razors.
But for self-harming teens any item can become a weapon and a means to exorcise their emotional pain. Undeterred, and ignoring the plastic bands and ice cubes their school nurse had suggested as a “safe” way to induce pain, the pupils began using the blades from pencil sharpeners, compasses or shattered rulers. One [boarder] smashed a plastic cup and ended up severing an artery using the jagged edge.
This wasn’t enough to make the other pupils stop. Camhs was overstretched in their area, and many [boarders] were not “severe enough” for an appointment. What could the school do? It resorted to reinstating the razors and providing antiseptic creams and bandages when incidents occurred on the basis that since there was nothing they could do to stop the self-harming, they needed to ensure it was happening as safely as possible. The teachers were terrified. Were they doing the right thing, she asked me? I couldn’t give her an answer.
There has been an alarming increase in self-harming [particularly in UK boarding schools] – figures from the charity Self-harm UK based on A&E attendance suggest an increase of 70% over two years to 2014. After almost a decade visiting three schools a week across the UK as a mental health educator, I have heard stories like this with alarming regularity. Teachers daily have to deal with serious mental health issues with no training, no resources, no external support and, in the state sector, no budget.
Two recent articles in the Daily Telegraph newspaper (well known for supporting its advertisers, the UK boarding school industry) recently caught our eye.
The articles seem to show that once released from the closed world of institutional living and returned to the real world, former boarders become embarrassed by their past.
Anthony Seldon (28 Jan 2014) has raised the issue of “discrimination against public [boarding] school pupils. Seldon complains that where once an education from exclusive private (fee-charging) boarding schools guaranteed a place at our top universities, today the universities prefer to recruit from those who had not grown up in closeted institutions. Maybe the universities are now selecting students who present a more rounded psychological profile? Rather than those who present with what Nick Duffell (2000) calls a Strategic Survival Personality and Prof Joy Schaverien (2011) identifies as Boarding School Syndrome?
Hannah Lemon, also writing in the Daily Telegraph (13 Mar 2014) seeks to reassure their readers (and advertisers) that what Duffell and Schaverien have identified independently does not actually exist. It was mostly all jolly hockey stick, apart for the odd weekend when she was stuck in an institution on her own. Denial seems so comforting. Wrap yourself around people who went through the same experience and everything will be fine…
Lemon grudgingly concedes that maybe these personalities and syndromes might actually exist. But only in older generations of former boarders. Not in her own. Interesting to note that Boarding Concern supports former boarders of all generations, including those who have experienced recent “modern” boarding. We find the issues are the same.
Cheltenham Ladies’ College (CLC), which Lemon attended, was well known for covering up eating disorders within their community. Former CLC pupil, Jessica Sidgwick, exposed the problems of eating disorders there and in other girls’ boarding schools in a feature article in The Tatler magazine in 2002. As is so often the case, the school rubbished one of their own and denied the problem exists. They still do today. Eating disorders in girls’ boarding schools, along with self harming, are the two main issues parents contact Boarding Concern about.
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