tamara beckwith: interview
Readers of Hello! and Tatler will know just who Tamara Beckwith is; she is something of a fixture in the glossy pages of those two magazines. Readers of the Independent on Sunday may not. So, Tamara, perhaps you could briefly sum up your claim to fame?

It seems this is easier said than done. "Ummm," says Miss Beckwith, rolling her eyes. There is a pause. To fill in this embarrassing gap: Tamara was one of the original wild- child tribe - up to now, famous mainly for being famous. She has done a quantity of high-profile dabbling in modelling, acting, television and journalism (file under MAW - Model, Actress, Whatever - or WAIF - Why Am I Famous?) She would have been a gymslip mum at 17, had she not already ditched her gymslip in favour of more outre fashions. She has been had up for drink-driving and possessing cocaine. She has had a turbulent on- off relationship with Michael Stone, ex-jailbird, ex-cocaine dealer, brother of Sharon. Oh yes, and she is the daughter of multi-millionaire property developer Peter Beckwith, who is worth anything between pounds 40m and pounds 100m, depending on which gossip columns you read - though that is not something she's keen to play up these days.

"I am a little bit over this socialite-heiress thing," she says throatily. "I've now been working properly for a whole year. I suppose theoretically I'm a TV presenter, but to be honest, I kind of think of myself as a bit of a cartoon character, which I'm quite happy with." Perhaps rather than a cartoon character, she looks more like a Muppet: all huge eyes and extravagant mouth, exaggerated by the full make-up she's wearing, fresh from the recording studios at the Big Breakfast - one of her current projects is their showbiz gossip slot. She is pretty, in an assisted kind of way, from her heavily highlighted hair to her enamelled skin and orange-bronzed eyelids.

But her face needn't be her fortune if chatting ever becomes an Olympic sport - this girl could talk for England. Pity the guests on her new show, which she has just started recording; they will be hard-pressed to get a word in edgewise. Tamara's World, she says, produced under the auspices of her very own brand-new company, All That Glitters Productions, will be going global. She is negotiating with an enthusiastic American channel, and cashing in on her notoriety for all it's worth. "I don't believe that I'm on the same par as Princess Di or anything," she says, "but people do know who I am, in America, and Australia, and Europe. Whether it's just as a girl who dresses in some peculiar, out-going Versace outfits, or just a girl who goes to lots of parties, it doesn't really matter, as long as you channel it."

Today's Tamara, she says, embraces the joys of hard work with the same feverish enthusiasm that she once embraced partying and shopping. At the ripe old age of 26, she insists that she is a somewhat different proposition to the tearaway of yore. In fact, the whole little-madam thing was a bit of a mistake - really, the kind of label that anyone might find themselves landed with. "I know this sounds really weird and everything, but it wasn't like I was doing anything on purpose," she says. "I mean, if you live in London there is a social scene and if you do get a little bit wrapped up in it, it's a massive whirlwind. I don't really think it was a conscious effort on my part to be naughty, it wasn't to get a reaction or to upset anybody. I just always go with the flow. We didn't do anything terribly bad, we just went out."

"Going out" on this mega-scale is obviously quite a demanding full-time prospect; to be attempted only by those with nothing to be up early for, such as students and the monied. But if there's nothing much more than a bit of innocent "going out" on the balance sheet, how has she managed to stir up such a seething stew of hatred? She is extraordinarily disliked, outside the glossy pages of the socialites' bibles. Nigel Dempster, rather unchivalrously, referred to her in Punch as "extraneous to the human race, a superfluous person," before commenting that she looks like a boiled egg. She has been the subject of a number of coruscating profiles that would make anyone who didn't have the hide of a rhino refuse to ever step outside their front door again. Her latest escapade was the starring role in an extraordinary Channel 4 documentary, Daddies' Girls, in which Tamara and two other gels-about-town sashayed maddeningly through London, lunching with aplomb, getting their hair done, squawking on their mobile phones and buying hideously expensive new frocks, while freely giving some hilariously unconsidered comments on life, the universe and everything. (Tamara on the working classes: "They have less things to worry about than we do, other than putting food on the table and paying bills.")

"To be honest, if I wasn't me and I read about me, I probably would think I was an awful creature, too," she says, furrowing her brow. "It really doesn't bother me. Well, obviously it bothers me because I don't think that's who I am. But I know most of my friends are pretty loyal. I figure if I was that awful, I wouldn't have any friends."

But surely That Television Programme must have had stitch-up written all over it? Not in big enough letters, evidently. She was, she claims , the innocent victim of extremely selective editing. "Seeing that programme, you would kind of think, especially if you didn't know me, 'Jesus, what planet is this girl from?' I mean, that's totally fair. There were a couple of things that I said that they cut in at a different place in the film. I did say them, but how I put it in the big picture looked so very different."

She has decided to try to be more careful in future. "Before, I wasn't very good at choosing what I should and shouldn't do. I'd just be, like, 'Oh, what a laugh!' I don't do the 'what a laugh' too much any more," she explains seriously. Before she took on her current, rather strict PR, she let a friend handle her image. "He was very much of the school of thought that just being in the newspapers was the important thing."

Michael Stone, her erstwhile fiance, was covered in some detail under this regime ("How Britain's Most Eligible Heiress Romanced Me In A Desert Love Nest"). "An awful lot was given to the papers, sort of not having passed by me or Michael first - just sort of, accidentally, and then he'd be sort of, like, 'Isn't it fabulous?' and you'd think, 'No, it wasn't actually that fabulous'. I think the relationship, as a result, suffered. I would never do that again, having learned from my mistakes with him."

Learning from mistakes, she says, is one of her fortes (probably just as well). "I'm an Aries - Aries girls are pretty strong, they have to learn everything for themselves. As long as it's taught me a lesson and I don't carry on making the same mistakes, I think that's worthwhile."

Would she do anything differently, looking back? "I'm not a big one for regret," she says (again, just as well). "I tend to think that everything is sent to test you. There are certain events that I piled on my family that I'd rather had not happened. As much as anybody thinks I only think about myself, I don't really like seeing them upset and screaming and shouting, eyes bulging and stuff - it's not something I go out of my way to achieve."

Pressed for details of marathon lunching sessions, she says such fripperies are behind her now, even though she has recently moved to Chelsea, centre of the lunching universe. In the past she has been criticised for being a less-than-doting mother; this too has changed. "I get up at eight, and I make Noushie's breakfast, [Noushie is Anouska Poppy Pearl Beckwith, her daughter, now nine years old]. We have our Ready-Brek, and then I make her school lunch, then I put on my track suit and I whiz her to school, then I come back, have a bath, tidy up her bedroom and my bedroom. Lunch, unfortunately, does not come into it terribly much." Well, shopping then? Lots of it, surely? "I do like shopping, but it's not a big palaver, I go in, and I know what suits me, I know what I want, and then I'm out." But those high-heeled strappy snakeskin shoes are definitely Prada. "Those were a great buy, actually." The Prada shoes are accompanied by a skin- tight pair of turquoise vinyl trousers and a tiny white T-shirt that (rather gamely) bears the logo "It was fun".

So what does she do if she isn't partying on every night? "I play with my poodle, Balthasar Beckwith, or Balthasar Percy Beckwith, if you want his full name. He's actually my surrogate boyfriend, and, obviously, my surrogate son. I've come to the conclusion I'm going to have a bit of time off from boys. I haven't been single for a very long time and I figure that it's not such a bad thing. To be honest, maybe I'm not such a nice girlfriend," she says, with a gurgle of laughter. "I read a lot - I tend to read two books at a time. You see, I'm manic! I read one good book, I ask my intellectual friends for advice, and I'm allowed one crappy book, to sort of go to sleep with." Interior design is another hobby - she is looking for somewhere to fix up as "mine and Anouska's pink palace, all pink and gold."

Being stuck in a lift with her without a sturdy pair of ear-plugs might be something of a nightmare, but she is, in fact, far from as ghastly as she's painted. Somewhere in the welter of gleeful putting-the-boot- in that has characterised her encounters with the media, she has developed a sense of humour and a habit of sending herself up. "I don't take myself terribly seriously, and I think life's dealt me quite a good hand, really," says Tamara, astutely. "I always say, if people give me 20 minutes and they still think I'm awful, well, fine." Asked where she'll be in 10 years time, she says, "In the plastic surgeon's waiting room," with a great shriek of laughter.

She features in Tatler this month (quelle surprise!), in a lengthy story on the "It Girls": the quota of glossy Chelsea blondes that surfaces each year in trendy London. These social butterflies may be parasites, but "there's a limit to how much you can hate someone for just having a good time," concludes the article, which, is sort of, like, true, actually.