Sad as any death is, the profligate press coverage of the passing of the socialite Sara Parker Tomkinson, a gallivanting Mayfair butterfly of great charm but no discernible talent, is unfathomable.
I wouldn’t add to it except that she has been known in London’s fashionable circles as an ‘It girl’.
What that ‘It’ stands for is a matter for the observer to define. My Oxford English Dictionary – tagging the term as ‘informal’ – comes up with “a young woman who has achieved celebrity because of her socialite lifestyle”.
The origin is not mentioned. Some hark back to Rudyard Kipling, who wrote, “It isn’t beauty, so to speak, nor good talk necessarily. It’s just it.” None of Kipling’s ‘its’ were given quotation marks.
A more durable origin stems from a 1920’s film called ‘It’, written and produced by Elinor Glyn – she of Nell Gwynn fame – and starring the Hollywood vamp Clara Bow, who was for ever after and beyond the grave known as Hollywood’s ‘It Girl’. Bow by then had become America’s most popular and highest paid film star.
She led a Bohemian lifestyle, as if to validate her wild screen image, but also because it was her nature. As one contemporary observer, Adela Rogers S. John, put it, “There seems to be no pattern, no purpose to her life. She swings from one emotion to another, but she gains nothing, stores nothing for the future. She lives entirely in the present.”
That description might also be applied to Marilyn Monroe, who arguable qualified as Bow’s successor a generation later.
It also fits the talent-light Tara Parker Tomkinson to the proverbial tee.
TPT, as she was known, seems to have spent her days shopping and her evenings attending parties hosted by wealthy aristocrats, in whose circles she moved (including those of the heir to the throne, Prince Charles) and attended mainly by minor celebrities such as herself. These occasions and connections failed to provide her with a decent living, of course, and she otherwise had few if any sources of income. Still, such as such sources may have been, they can’t have been insubstantial because she was a slave to cocaine, which would eventually destroy her septum and her looks, and may have contributed to the truncation of her life.
She had been, in her younger days, pleasing on the eye, and was by all accounts a delightful social companion. She had a knack for publicity – either that, or a clever agent – and turned herself into one of those people who define the celebrity-driven age in which we live as someone famous for being famous. In the end, as the cocaine affected her looks and her personality, she became not so much famous as fatuous.
Her achievements being invisible to the naked eye, it is surprising that the media went so overboard to cover her demise, which may have been related to the non-benign brain tumour that apparently affected both her health and her mood in her final months. The excuse may be that TPT’s principal achievement was to contribute to the celebrity ‘culture’ that tends these days to define, and demean, our society.
Obituary writers often refer to lives “lived to the full”. Somehow I doubt that they will be reaching for the phrase in Tara’s case.