She didn’t last long back in Yorkshire—Brontë country. At 15, she enrolled in London’s Italia Conti Academy of Theatre Arts. Mother had married someone for about six months and lost all of Father’s pensions, but Tricia says she made so much money off commercials that by age 17 she was thinking of buying a brand-new four-bedroom house in Spain. “But I didn’t know how to do it. I remember going to the school and saying, I need somebody to help me with investments.” They found her a man who sold insurance. She groans at the memory.
She was a Bunny Girl at the Playboy Club on Park Lane back when it was prestigious to be one. That’s where she met husband No. 1, John Obertelli, thirteen years older and running a nightclub for the Hilton hotel chain. She paid for her own wedding: “We had real Champagne. Mo-aay.” She was pregnant with her son, Jamie, when husband John suddenly required open-heart surgery. After Jamie arrived, John got controlling, she says—didn’t want her to work, got his kicks watching her make him sandwiches. Only when she threatened to walk did he permit an au pair, paid for with her own money, which she partly earned waitressing at the Greedy Grape wine bar. But she wanted to act, and started up with theater after a role in the slasher movie Terror (she insists it’s a cult film). “I speak a real Cockney, saying things like, ‘Well, if it’s ’er, you’re going to be next, oran’ cha?’ ”
The two fought bitterly—she reportedly smashed a painting over his head. She says he was after her to use her money to buy a new living-room set. Then she looked into his safe, she says, and found it stuffed with cash. That was the end.
Tricia knows the value of a good story; 12-stepping her way through years of confessional meetings has made her exceptionally free with the details of what she calls “a colorful life,” an impresario of overshare. “I had an affair with a married man,” she continues. She got half the house in her divorce from Obertelli but didn’t fight for full custody of Jamie—so the private-school bills would continue being paid, she says. She had been a hands-on mom, says her old friend actress Diane Janssen. “She and Jamie were very close.”
Tricia wrote and starred in the play Bonkers, about a bulimic ex-model whose husband is always having affairs. “Tricia has never been the kind of woman to let the grass grow under her feet,” says Janssen. She took the play national, though “I was as a producer what Inspector Clouseau was to the police force,” Tricia freely admits.
There followed a string of quashed engagements and entanglements—with a Canadian businessman, a U.N. official, an entrepreneur from Bristol, and the son of a Spanish count—the last of which reportedly vaporized after all of three hours. After she fired her Bonkers co-star Ross Davidson, she remembers he told the tabloids, “I never bonked that Bonkers bird.”
It might be said that Tricia had prepped for her star turn on YouTube with a long-running engagement in the British tabloids. The late gossip columnist Nigel Dempster “adored me,” says Tricia. She was always phoning stuff in to him, the zanier the better. He liked to run a publicity still of Tricia hunkered down on all fours, draped in a leopard skin like Racquel Welch in One Million Years B.C. “I think they had quite a lot of fun with me,” she says, not unhappily. “I think even now they’re all having fun with this.”
She somehow couldn’t make it to those court-appointed-therapist appointments and lost joint custody. Scheduled to see Jamie on weekends and holidays, maybe she’d be five minutes late, she says. “When you have a child on the weekend, it’s not the same as having a child in daily life and taking them to school. You have to entertain them. So it’s like museums. Yeah, it was horrible,” she admits.
One night, she got absolutely looped with her friend Champagne Pat, who told her about a friend who had attempted to overdose on Mogadon sleeping pills, thereby gaining some advantage in her divorce. Tricia swallowed about fifteen Mogadons herself, but only succeeded in almost breaking her nose when she fell off the hospital gurney. “It was just the most stupid thing I’ve ever done in my whole life,” she says.
They wouldn’t let Jamie see her after that, she says. Booze blunted the pain when her child hung up the phone on her. Now came what Tricia Walsh-Smith calls her “Eugene O’Neill years.” Her stay in an Antigua hotel was comped when she told them she was writing a book mentioning the hotel. She would park her suitcase with the front desk whenever a yacht pulled in with some noisy Brits inviting her for a sail to Barbuda. In London for a spell, she met some guy at a club who wanted to be her agent, said there was a deal waiting at Random House. Turns out he was an airline pilot.