The original ‘IT girl’, Tara Palmer-Tomkinson was the poster-child for the wild debauchery of the 1990s. Tanned, toned and sporting shoes that cost more than the average mortal’s monthly salary, she encapsulated my fantasies of adult hedonism like no other.
Splashed across the tabloids on a weekly basis, she became almost as high-profile as Mossy and Naomi, epitomising ‘squad goals’ for the pre-hashtag youth. Less orchestrated than the modern glitzeratti, unfiltered and sometimes unkempt, she summed up the guilty pleasures and aspirations of the 90’s generation.
It was the decade that brought us heroin chic, Brazilian waxing and that skirt over trousers trend that nobody has ever spoken about since. It was the decade that turned its back on the unrelenting political battles of the 80s and reignited the power of self-indulgence. TV comedies about 20-somethings who lived in fabulous New York apartments despite working one day a week. Nights out at Cream and pill-fuelled holiday to Ibiza. The street-cred of owning a brick-like mobile phone you used for the sole purpose of texting your best friend things you’d already talked about five times.
Despite the horrors of going through adolescence without appropriate hair-straightening tools, the 90s remains one of my favourite decades. From unappealing first kisses to watching Sex and the City on mute to avoid my parents finding out, it represented a time of possibility. If we lived in a world where partying had become a legitimate career choice, there was every reason to believe my mum might relent and let me get my belly button pierced. (She didn’t. But she did show me a series of pictures from her nursing journal of some gruesomely infected belly button piercings.)
The 90s showed me the freedom I could expect in my forthcoming adulthood, the hedonistic activities I could one day pursue, the creativity I could enjoy. Sure, there were school rules about not carrying your coat in the corridor and I had to wear six pairs of tights to keep my knobbly knees free from anorexia insults. But there was also opportunity. The chance to make boys fancy you by spraying industrial quantities of Impulse O2, to try out purple hair mascara or flaunt your non-regulation Kickers shoes to the rest of the class. Of course, nobody ever actually fancied me, and teachers would march us to the toilets for a face scrub at the mere hint of blusher, but that was what the 90s was for, tiny acts of teen rebellion preparing us for the wild times ahead.
While Tara and Kate Moss cavorted in night clubs across London, girls my age were producing hit records and posing in sexy school girl uniforms. The latter half of the decade was like one long Friday afternoon, waiting optimistically to turn into a swan for a crazy weekend of drugs, sex and rock ‘n roll.
Tragically for Tara, and many other socialites of the era, the reality of hard partying and addiction wasn’t quite as magical as the 90s made it out to be. As she grew up, she moved away from IT girl status to charity patron and media professional, quietly nursing her own battles with drugs and later, serious illness.
In the end I never bothered with cocaine. Or ecstasy. Or wild raves in East London warehouses. I never even got that sought-after belly button bar. Perhaps it was the dire warnings of our drug awareness classes, or the recession immediately after graduation. For whatever reason, my own twenties were relatively tame compared with the promise of the 90s. In all honesty, it’s probably better that way- if the Wolf of Wall Street is anything to go by I think the think the illusion of unadulterated hedonism is probably more attractive than the reality. But TPT will always be a defining face of the 90s to me, the expectation of a fabulous future, and the designer-clad, party-filled fantasy of young adulthood.