Clara to Tara

If every generation gets the `It' girls it deserves, we are in deep trouble. by Emma Forrest
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The Independent Online
"The It Girl" was a sobriquet invented in the Twenties for Clara Bow, the definitive silent film star. This month, Tara Palmer-Tompkinson and Normandie Keith grace the cover of Tatler under the "It Girl" headline. Tara's family are tight with Prince Charles and she often skis with him at Klosters. Normandie is a toothy, American would-be model who has struck up a great friendship with Tara. They don't have jobs as such, since they come from inordinately wealthy families. What Tara and Normandie do, what makes them worthy of the "It" girl title, is ... hanging around the fringes of social gatherings. Hey, (cheesy, fixed grin) London is swinging again. Lord, how did it come to this?

Compared to Julie Christie, Twiggy and Mary Quant, the Nineties wannabe doesn't need much to make "it". The Sixties "It" girls were always talented in their fields: Julie Christie was a respected actress as well as being unbelievably gorgeous. Twiggy was a great model, a ground-breaking model. Mary Quant was the Zeitgeist-defining designer.

Not only do the modern "It" girls not have jobs, but they aren't even good at what they purport to do. The skinny, crop-haired Palmer-Tompkinson is, one takes it, "supposed" to be a gamine. Yet, from her interview technique, she has more in common with Sarah Ferguson than with Audrey Hepburn. Trust fund party-goer Tamara Beckwith, Normandie Keith and American heiress Caprice Bourret are allegedly "blonde babes".

Unfortunately, Beckwith has been described by one unkind source as "looking like a boiled egg with eyebrows painted on" while Keith and Bourret are just doggedly average. They don't even have the riveting, car-crash appeal of Amanda de Cadenet. They are girls with everything in the right place, but nothing special, as if their dresser bought their "look" for them at an overpriced and old-fashioned boutique. It's all so half-hearted, and so tasteless.

Mark Frith, 25-year-old editor of Sky magazine (whose first move as boss was to slap Trainspotting's luscious Kelly MacDonald on the cover), is bemused: "I think it just shows a real desperation on the part of the magazines. I doubt that those girls mean anything, even in Tatler circles. It's a magazine's job to say "trust us, they're famous". But putting Tara Palmer-Tompkinson on the cover probably just means that they didn't have any good stories that issue."

In the Sixties, being born into the upper class had some equation with sophistication and elegance - think Lucie Clayton models such as Jean Shrimpton and Celia Hammond. Last week, Caprice Bourret appeared in a Sun newspaper spread, naked, with her breasts pressed against glass to promote the Wonderbra. Classy. And in a recent Channel 4 documentary, she was seen fussing over a pounds 7,000 dress, while Tamara Beckwith was kind enough to note that "working-class people really have less worries. All they have to think about is getting food on the table."

What really puzzles is, what do these people think gives them the right to choose a career as a socialite in the first place? And why would any host worth their canapes want to have them at their party? Every job requires some form of qualification or special skill, and social climbing is no exception. If that's what Mick Jagger wants to be, why not - he was the greatest rock star of all time. Bianca Jagger was a true trendsetter and fashion icon. Christine Keeler was genuinely beautiful. Truman Capote had been so incandescently brilliant that he had every right to settle into the life of a shallow social climber as he approached old age.

"Glamour is achieved by having achieved something. You can't be a real glamour figure until you have done something of note," says Mark Frith. "These girls just don't have anything to their names."

The constant shots of Tara/Tamara at Planet Hollywood parties and restaurant openings isn't decadence, it's just laziness. And they don't even look as if they're having a great time. Who needs Breakfast At Tiffany's when you can have warm Coke at one of a chain of theme restaurants? If this is their chosen job, then they have to go at it with gusto. They should make us want to be there.

Not only do the Taras and Caprices and Tamaras make poor socialites, but also they have done nothing to merit the job, let alone the crown of "It" girl. What they really are is "Been There Babes": twenty-something girls who have been hanging around night clubs so much that they look like forty-year-old divorcees. Caprice Bourret claims she is twenty-two. How sad. Because there's no point in being twenty-two if you have the face and fashion sensibility of Ivana Trump. These girls all look far too old to be acting the way they do, yet too young to be puffing out the pages of Tatler and Hello! They clearly don't have what it takes to make a sexy older woman, either, as "It" girls Julie Christie and Twiggy have shown they do. Tara Palmer-Tompkinson is never going to look the right age. They are terribly old-fashioned girls, and it all harks back to the Fifties, when young women just looked like miniature adults.

Of course, old millionaires love Been There Babes because they mistake the air of desperation for enthusiasm - the girls always excel at seeming interested in the dull conversation of the man sitting next to them in Tramp or Annabel's. Now, really, can you imagine a genuine Nineties "It" girl such as Justine Frischmann or Kate Moss going to Tramp with Taki? They wouldn't be caught dead. "It" girls don't go to Tramp or give interviews to Hello! Otherwise they'd be Bagsy Not "It" Girls.

On seeing the disastrous Showgirls, one American critic wrote of Elizabeth Berkley: "She can't act, she can't dance, she can't have sex in a swimming pool." Likewise, even on the most basic level, Tara Palmer-Tompkinson, Tamara Beckwith, Caprice Bourret and Normandie Keith fail. OK, they're never going to be rocket scientists, but how hard is it to be a great blonde? Patsy Kensit, whether or not she is a good actress (and she may well be), was, when she first hit the scene, aged 16, a great blonde. Little girls wanted to look like her, just as their mothers had wanted to be Marianne Faithfull or Julie Christie. Tara, Caprice, Normandie and Tamara are known insofar as they are a joke, freaks who must surely exist only in a Channel 4 documentary. At this year's mud-strewn Phoenix pop festival, headlined by the Sex Pistols, Tamara Beckwith turned up wearing a lilac, spaghetti-strapped evening dress. Everyone did turn to look at her, because she looked so daft. And then they looked away.

The tragedy of the current crop of "It" girls is that nobody envies them and nobody wants to be them. If you don't want to be it, then it isn't "It"n