Paula on Channel 4 Review: The sad but familiar story of how a unique talent went astray


aula Yates once met Princess Diana in a boutique on the Kings Road. “I love it when you’re on the front page because it means I have today off,” the Princess of Wales told Yates.

Between the mid-1980s and 1990s, Yates and Diana jostled for the unenviable (depending on how you looked at it) position of most famous woman in the UK. Both became known more for the men they dated than for their own talent. Both were doggedly pursued by the tabloids and their lives were cut short in bleak and avoidable circumstances.

Yates, with her snappy, flirtatious presentation style and trademark peroxide blonde hair, lit up the launch of new TV network Channel 4 in 1982 as the presenter of The Tube (alongside Jools Holland). Anarchic, irreverent and hilariously funny, she was the coolest chick around.

She became a household name as a presenter on The Big Breakfast and found disgrace with her On The Bed with Paula slot, where she sprawled out on a double bed and flirted wildly with the most famous musicians of the day. She casually asked the questions we all wanted answers to: “Is it true that you had an affair with Prince?” (to Kylie Minogue) – and persuaded Sting to take off his pants live on air.

But the party didn’t last, and what followed was heartbreak and tragedy.

Paula Yates at the 1994 Brit Awards

/ Popper photo via Getty Images

Paula, a new two-part documentary, looks back on the rise and fall of Yates through two never-before-seen interviews she recorded shortly before her death in 2000. Members of her inner circle – Robbie Williams (“she was a confidante, older sister”), hairstylist Nicky Clarke (“Bob Geldof called me and said, ‘Come on, she’s not having the baby until her hair is done’”) and her best friend Belinda Brewin give the most revealing glimpses into the life of the woman at the heart of so much tabloid mania.

Perhaps the best anecdote, however, comes from US singer Terence Trent D’Arby, with whom Yates had an affair for a year while married to Boomtown Rats frontman Geldof. Trent D’Arby recalls Geldof showing up at his hotel and shouting, “Did you bang my wife?” The shocking and racially charged News of the World headline “Bob’s Paula Caught With Black Star” that followed perhaps best illustrates best the toxic background of this time.

Paula Yates and Bob Geldof


Paula is a fascinating look at the insatiable ’90s celebrity gossip culture through the sad but familiar story of a unique talent who finds himself lost to fame, drugs and a mercenary tabloid. In many ways not much has changed.

Long before today’s many hyphens – where skincare lines and fashion collections are standard fare – Yates launched perfumes and lingerie lines and wrote books and newspaper columns. Tattooed and listless, she might have been an unlikely powerhouse, but Yates was also catnip for the tabloids with her mocking one-liners and messy personal life.

She married Geldof – who was basking in the fame and admiration of his Live Aid concert – in Las Vegas in 1986 and they became the It couple of their time. Yates is also known to have had affairs, including a six-year relationship with Rupert Everett. Geldof and Yates had three daughters – Fifi, Peaches and Pixie.

Michael Hutchence and Paula Yates in 1996

Then INXS frontman Michael Hutchence came along and blew Yates away. Footage of the couple lying intertwined on the bed during an interview on The Big Breakfast is brimming with chemistry. “For the first time, this is a guest I want my leg with,” she says. Generation Z, having grown up in a world where celebrities obsessively control their narrative, might be shocked that such interviews took place on a mainstream weekday morning show — it’s the pre-sanitized ’90s in all its glory.

Yates and Hutchence had an affair, she broke up with Geldof and chaos ensued. The documentary shows a woman under siege: paparazzi camped outside her house shouting abuse to get a raise (“How’s your f—— bastard today morning?”), tapped phones, journalists climbing through windows, misogynists Headlines (‘Why Paula is only as good as the last man she slept with’), a drug bust and a custody battle with Geldof that she lost. Particularly terrifying to watch is Yates being surrounded by the male guests in Have I Got New For You, who mock her for having breast implants. “Please stop being rude,” she says, her voice faltering.

It evokes the treatment of Britney, Pamela Anderson, Princess Diana, Amy Winehouse and Caroline Flack; the kind of sexist tabloid we’ve become all too accustomed to. The joy when a successful woman makes a mistake.

Paula Yates with Bob Geldof

/ Getty Images

The 1997 death of Hutchence (ruled a suicide by a coroner, although Yates remained convinced it was a sex act gone wrong) devastated Yates. Hearing her describe the depths of her despair is powerful. “It’s unbearable, almost unbearable in everyday life.” Getting out of hand, she accidentally received her own obituary from a tabloid. The headline, she says, was “Suicide Blonde.”

“It’s a weird feeling that everyone is waiting for you to die,” she says in the interviews. Shortly thereafter, she was found dead by a friend. It was an accidental drug overdose. she was 41

Paula is a compelling tale of the often-deadly combination of celebrity, tabloid toxicity and tragedy, but it’s one-sided — it paints the press as wholly to blame for the whole sad saga. The documentary is part of Channel 4’s 40th birthday celebrations and as such a celebration of the TV presenter they have chosen to host one of the channel’s flagship shows. This is Yates as Channel 4 wants her to be remembered: charismatic, extremely intelligent and groundbreaking. And she was all of those things.

Michael Hutchence and Paula Yates with two of Yates’ daughters, Peaches Geldof and Pixie Geldof and their friend Natasha

/ Getty Images

But little is said about Yates’ troubling background, the couple’s drug use, Hutchence’s depression, or the circumstances of his death. It glosses over the affairs and fragility of Yates. This tragedy had many layers. Still, I devoured it. Relive Yates’ effervescence was a treat. They don’t make them like Paula anymore.

Paula (2×60) airs Monday 13th and Tuesday 14th March at 9pm on Channel 4 Paula on Channel 4 Review: The sad but familiar story of how a unique talent went astray

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