In her heyday, the socialite Tara Palmer-Tomkinson was to gak what Alex James was to champagne. Her consumption was such that she probably accounted for a small but not insignificant percentage of Britain’s total intake. Following rehab and a Daniella Westbrook style septum collapse, T P-T got on the straight and narrow, staying clear of the all-glamour parties with Robbie Williams and three quarters of All Saints and settling down to a life of multi-platform creativity. She’s written books, penned columns and has a waxwork model of herself in Madame Tussauds. Now, she’s launching a career as a singer-songwriter, eschewing the easy warbling-over-a-thumping-House-track option in favour of a personal, piano-driven musing on life and heartbreak. It’s not quite as weird as if Vanessa Feltz unveiled solo material but it’s definitely unusual. Here’s a wide-ranging, deeply probing cultural analysis of the video that has been shot to accompany the song, which is called, simply, “5 seconds”.
The video opens with a simple piano line. Traditional music notation is shown with T P-T’s initials inscribed atop. We know instantly that this is to be a classy affair. None of your chart nonsense here, we’re dealing with a real lady, a lady who’s seen some things, felt some pain and learnt how to read both treble and bass clefs.
The camera flicks between images of a dressy Tara leaving a smart home, probably in the west of London, and her in the woods wearing what will be the first of many hats. The shooting style is domestic, it recalls The Office, perhaps the song is being released on David Brent’s imprint, Juxtaposition Records. The hat is being established as a symbol. Tara, after all, has worn many hats: socialite hat, novelist hat, columnist hat, cocaine hat. Perhaps our heroine wears these hats because she is hiding. But from what?
From love! From this handsome bearded man! The camera has moved in. We are witnessing a private moment, we the privileged few who are watching the video on YouTube. In the same way that photographers like Diane Arbus and Richard Avedon show humanity at its most unguarded, its most nakedly human, so the director of “5 seconds” shows Tara as she is: a woman who yearns to be loved by a man who knows how to wear a t-shirt.
Or is it the love of a noble beast she longs for? Tara playfully joshes with her reputation for being an enormous posho by showing herself rolling with the poshest things of all: horses. But there is more going on here. Patrick Swayze once told an interviewer that whenever he was worried about his arrogance all he had to do was get on his stallion to know who he was. The cameras flash as Tara holds the two horses but she knows that this is merely ephemera, she knows that what is real is her two thighs clenched against the flanks of a horse. The camera pulls in and she winks, telling us that hey, she’s got this fame game figured out.
This is the central image of the video. We are looking at the new Tara. She’s a sophisticated woman, an accomplished pianist, the elderly heir to Myleene Klass. This isn’t pop-opera but its pop with a distinctively classical edge.
“This heart will fall apart / in five seconds” sings Tara as the camera moves close enough to her nose for the viewing masses to gawp at it. Like Quasimodo and the Elephant Man before her, T P-T is striking at the public’s desire to look upon the physically unusual. “Will her nose fall apart in five seconds as well”, wonders the viewer.
Now she’s on a swing.
Things are starting to get a little unclear. Tara seems to be engaging in some kind of photo shoot. Is her life a photo shoot? Is she the epitome of Vogue woman? Has fashion destroyed her or has she destroyed it? One things for sure, if someone doesn’t get Anna Wintour her breakfast Muffin there’s gonna be trouble.
A frantic visual pile-up ensues and we re-visit all our past haunts: the hat in the woods, the swing, the nose close-up, the deep moment with the handsome yet age-appropriate stubble guy… Then suddenly Tara is going for a run with a couple of dogs.
“This girl will fall apart”, sings Tara. And we know which girl she’s talking about. The montage gathers pace and we see Tara throwing herself into a swimming pool and emerging from the water anew. A new chapter in her life has begun and we are its witnesses. Pop has a new Queen.
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