LONDON — From the outside, actress and writer Tara Summers’ childhood seems the height of fun and fabulousness. The only daughter of the dashing art dealer Martin Summers and swimsuit designer Nona Summers, she grew up in a bohemian Chelsea mansion with nomads’ tents draped from the ceiling of the music room and a rambling roof garden filled with tinkling bells and wooden Buddhas. Jack Nicholson and Diane von Furstenberg are among her godparents, and Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel used to sing lullabies to her as a baby.
But there also was something very uncool going on during her childhood: Her mother’s longtime cocaine addiction. “I had 24 nannies from when I was six until I was 12. I was such a bitch, so spoiled,” says Summers, 25, over a vodka tonic and a cigarette at a Notting Hill restaurant. “My friend and I used to climb over the roofs of our houses, break into neighbors’ homes and steal. Clearly, I was totally escaping what was going on downstairs.”
Now, years later, she’s facing it head-on and will perform her one-woman autobiographical show, “Gypsy of Chelsea,” on Monday at, quite appropriately, Studio 54 in New York. During the 50-minute performance, which will raise money for the U.K. drug research charity Action on Addiction, Summers assumes the roles of real-life characters, including her world-champion bridge-playing Jewish grandmother; a petty thief from Narcotics Anonymous; her touchy-feely child therapist, and, of course, Nona herself.
“Fundamentally, the show is about my mum’s relationship with her mother, who was addicted to playing cards and who abandoned her, and then my mum abandoning me. Hopefully, people will identify with it. After all, everybody has some f—ed-up family member,” she says with a laugh. Summers’ energetic, voyeuristic show, which spans her life from age eight to 20, has a happy ending, though. Mama Nona made a full recovery after a stay at The Meadows clinic in Arizona (the same one at which Kate Moss just did a stint) and Summers went on to graduate from Brown University and the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts.
She’s also become quite the budding actress, with a starring role in the U.K. spoof documentary “Rabbit Fever,” which stars Tom Conti, and, later this month, she’ll travel to the U.S. to begin filming “Factory Girl,” in which she plays the American blue blood Brigid Berlin.
This story first appeared in the December 12, 2005 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
As for Summers’ parents’ initial reaction to “Gypsy of Chelsea,” it was pretty much what you’d expect.
“My father had a minor heart attack because, of course, it’s a complete exposé, and my mother just said ‘You hate me!'” says Summers with a laugh. “But it’s a celebration of my mother’s recovery. Now, of course, my mother loves it — because it’s all about her.”