A close friend of the late presenter Paula Yates has recounted a chance encounter they had with Princess Diana at the height of her fame.
The first act of a two-part documentary on the Big Breakfast presenter, titled Paula, aired tonight on Channel 4, in which friends of the stars and collaborators reflected on Yates’ rise to fame before her untimely death from a heroin overdose in 2000.
The presenter’s love life, especially her marriage and subsequent divorce from Bob Geldof and love affair with INXS frontman Michael Hutchence, who took his own life in Sydney in 1997, were tabloid fodder.
Speaking in the documentary, Paula’s close friend, Belinda Brewin recalled one instance where the Big Breakfast presenter bumped into the late Princess Diana while shopping in West London.
She claimed that the royal said she liked to see Paula on the front pages of the newspapers, because it meant she could escape public scrutiny for a day.
‘I remember, we were on Fulham road and we went into this jewellery shop, we went in and Princess Diana was in there,’ Belinda recalled in the documentary.
‘And Princess Diana said to Paula: “I love it when you’re on the front page of the papers, because it means I got the day off”,’ she added.
An unearthed clip showed Diana and King Charles, then Prince of Wales, meeting Bob Geldof and Paula at Live Aid, the charity concert put together by the musician in order to raise funds for relief of the 1983-1985 Ethiopia famine.
The two women could be see exchanging a smile as they stood by their husbands during the concert.
The documentary retraces Paula’s rise to fame as well as the later years of her life, following the death of her partner, Michael Hutchence.
The presenter could be heard saying that the public were ‘waiting for [her] to die’ in previously unheard tapes recorded shortly after the death of her partner that were unearthed for the programme.
Audio clips of Yates, who died aged 41 in her Notting Hill home after an accidental heroin overdose, were played on a new documentary examining her extraordinary career and her troubled personal life.
Later in the interview she revealed in heartbreaking detail the ‘physical pain’ of losing Michael and recalled how she tucked in his body with a duvet when she went to see him in the mortuary, while commenting on how the press and the public were expecting her not to make it through her grief.
Clips of Townsend and Yates speaking, which were played in the two-part documentary, feature a particularly upsetting moment when she says: ‘It’s kind if a weird feeling that everyone’s waiting for you to die,’ she says.
She later tells Townsend that, when she saw Hutchence’s body in the mortuary, she asked the staff to bring her a duvet for his ‘ice’ cold body and ‘tucked him in’.
Another chilling moment comes when she recalls being in London and telling Hutchence, who was in Sydney that she and their infant daughter were delaying their return to Australia amid a court battle with her ex-husband Bob Geldof.
She recalls turning to her barrister and saying: ‘This will kill him.’ Shortly afterwards, Hutchence was found dead.
During the tapes, she also speaks in detail of her relationship with Hutchence, lead singer of INXS.
She says: ‘I’d probably changed a lot when I was with Michael because once I was with him, the need to flirt – which had been the cornerstone of my personality, certainly the thing I was most famous for – evaporated. Why would I? I was with Michael.’
The presenter also addressed going back to work after having four children, Pixie, Peaches and Fifi Trixibelle with Bob Geldof and Heavenly Haraani Tiger Lily with Hutchence. She revealed how she considered her changed personality.
‘I didn’t have all those stupid girly tricks to fall back on anymore because they’d kind of gone,’ she reveals.
‘I was pushing 40, four children, very very happy. I was kind of curious what it would be like working again without all that stuff.’
The documentary charts Yates’ TV career which began on Channel 4’s The Tube in 1982 when the station first launched, and landed her a top presenting spot on Big Breakfast, where she interviewed famous guests on a bed.
It features interviews with Townsend, who had known Paula since her music magazine days, as well as some of her closest friends and commentators.
Belinda Brewin, who describes Paula as her ‘best friend’ from the early 1980s, reveals what life was like for one of the UK’s most famous women behind the scenes when she was at the height of her popularity, versus when things began to unravel.
She says: ‘Michael [Hutchence] was her love… well she never got over [his death].
‘I don’t think people do, they just learn to live with it. Paula didn’t really learn to live with it, that was the problem. It was a big black cloud every single day.’
She also reveals she was the person who broke the news to Yates that he had died.
‘She just said, ‘No, no, no’ and literally punched me and said, ‘Don’t say it, don’t say it’,’ Brewin recalled.
In the tapes of Yates speaking after Hutchence’s sudden death, she says she was ‘shocked’ by the physical pain of losing him.
‘It literally does feel like someone’s punched you or broken something you know? Your heart actually breaks… you can feel all the time this pain,’ she says.
As clips are played of Yates’s first meeting with the Australian singer on the Big Breakfast bed, with their legs intertwined, Brewin jokes the pair got together ‘five minutes’ later – before laughing and saying: ‘No, no.’
She also reveals Yates had had a crush on the INXS frontman for some time before meeting him.
She recalls: ‘She, for years had a picture of Michael on the fridge and it said Lovedog and Bob came down, and I think he wrote c*** across his picture.’
As the documentary follows Paula’s life after her split from Bob Geldof, people close to her, including Brewin, level criticism at the press for their coverage of the divorce and the bitter custody battle that ensued over their three daughters.
As Townsend recalls how the media sided with ‘Saint Bob’ during the split, clips are played from an appearance made on BBC panel show Have I Got News For You where Ian Hislop and Paul Merton make jokes about her having breast implants.
The audio also features Yates telling Townsend she was ‘under siege’ from the paparazzi following a ‘drugs bust’ on the London home she shared with Hutchence, and his death in 1997.
It is revealed that, as she flew out to Australia to identify Hutchence’s body, some journalists who had booked onto the same flight asked her for comment while she was on the plane. Belinda described how the scrutiny became even worse for Paula just weeks later when a DNA test revealed her father was not Jess Yates, but Hughie Green.
Many of the commentators including Vanessa Feltz and Grace Dent point to misogyny in the public attitude towards Yates as she approached the age of 40.
Dent tells the documentary: ‘All of the things that made Paula so loveable when she was in her 20s, the fact that she was gobby… all of those things, when she got into her late 30s, they were no longer attractive to lots and lots and lots of men.’
However, despite covering much of the pain in Yates’s private life, the documentary also focuses on happier times, with Yates recalling many of them in her own words.
In the tapes, she speaks to Townsend about giving birth to Tiger Lily.
She said: ‘I just look back on that night as the best night I ever ever had with Michael and laughing so much at Michael delivering the baby with the midwife.
‘I was so, sort of on my best behaviour because he hadn’t had a child before.’
Speaking separately about Yates, Townsend recalls the first time he met her when they were working for the same music magazine.
‘She was sitting there in the corner banging away… she was quite unapproachable,’ he recalls.
‘Fiercely intelligent. She was someone who knew what she wanted, and she knew how to get what she wanted as well.’
Belinda, too, makes a point of noting Yates’s intelligence, saying the presenter and journalist was ‘extraordinarily well read’.
She recalls: ‘[Yates was] a cross between Marilyn Monroe and Mary Poppins.’
She adds: ‘She kind of came across as this ditzy blonde but she definitely wasn’t.’
Robbie Williams also appears to give his recollection of Yates, after first meeting her on the Big Breakfast bed when he was being interviewed as a member of Take That.
He recalled feeling jealous that Yates might ‘fancy’ Jason Orange and thinking to himself: ‘Don’t fancy Jason’. He added he hoped she would be attracted to him instead.’
As the relationship between Yates and Hutchence is explored further, tapes of Paula are played in which she says: ‘We’d waited all our lives for each other and when we had each other it was everything we hoped it would be.’
Belinda added the couple were ‘so happy and really in love’.
The documentary recalls how, after a period of heavy drinking and depression, Yates was a few months into getting her life ‘back on track’ and had begun working again, with plans to release a novel inspired by her grief.
Describing her friend’s death as a ‘shock’ Brewin said: ‘She wanted to move on with her life, and probably when she died, it’s the best place I’d seen her ironically for a very long time.’
When asked what she would say if she saw her best friend again, Brewin jokes: ‘Fancy going out for lunch?’ before adding: ‘I’d just be very happy to see her face.’
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