Born in Colwyn Bay, Wales, she was brought up in a show business family. Her mother was Elaine Smith, a former showgirl, actress and writer of erotic novels, who used the stage names Helene Thornton and Heller Torren. Until late in her life, Yates believed her father to be Jess Yates, who was known as "the Bishop" and hosted the ITV religious programme Stars on Sunday. Jess Yates and Elaine Smith were married from 1958 to 1975. Jess Yates was 16 years older than his wife and their marriage was unconventional. Jess Yates was sacked as the Stars on Sunday presenter in 1974 because of newspaper stories about his private life.
In an unsettled childhood, Paula attended school at Rowen Primary School, Penrhos College, Ysgol Aberconwy. The Yates family ran the Deganwy Castle Hotel for a time, before moving to a large house in Rowen, Conwy. After the break-up of her parents' marriage in 1975, Paula lived mostly with her mother, including periods inMalta and Mallorca where she was a pupil at Bellver International College, before returning to Britain.
Yates became a fan of the Boomtown Rats and their lead singer, Bob Geldof, with whom she became involved and who fathered her first three daughters. She posed naked for Penthouse in 1979, just before she became a music journalist, writing a column called "Natural Blonde" in the Record Mirror. She first came to prominence in the 1980s, as co-presenter (with Jools Holland) of the Channel 4 pop music programme The Tube. She also appeared alongside friend Jennifer Saunders in 1987 for a spoof 'mockumentary' on Bananarama.
After the birth of her daughters, Yates wrote two books on motherhood.
Yates continued with her rock journalism, in addition to being presenter of the cutting-edge music show The Tube. She became most notorious for her "on the bed" interviews on the show The Big Breakfast, produced by Geldof. On 27 October 1995 Yates appeared on the quiz programme Have I Got News for You and repeatedly clashed with Ian Hislop. Yates referred to Hislop as "the sperm of the devil".
Yates met Geldof in the early days of the Boomtown Rats. They became a couple in 1976 when she flew to Paris to surprise him while the band was playing there. Their first daughter, Fifi Trixibelle, was born on 31 March 1983, named Fifi after Bob's aunt Fifi and Trixibelle because Paula wanted a belle in the family. After 10 years together, they married on 31 August 1986 in Las Vegas, with Simon Le Bon of Duran Duran acting as Geldof's best man. The couple then had two more daughters,Peaches Geldof on 13 March 1989, and Pixie Geldof on 17 September 1990.
During this appearance on The Tube, Yates was reportedly asked to leave Hutchence alone by the road manager of INXS when Paula walked up to him and said, "I'm going to have that boy." "Paula was unmoved and began to show up at INXS gigs everywhere for the next few years...she even brought her daughter (Fifi Geldof)." Yates maintained an irregular contact during the intervening nine years and their affair had been underway long before the Big Breakfast interview. In 1995, Yates left Geldof.
Geldof and Yates divorced in May 1996. Yates's daughter with Hutchence, Heavenly Hiraani Tiger Lily Hutchence (known as 'Tiger') was born on 22 July 1996.
On 22 November 1997, Hutchence was found dead in a hotel room in Sydney. Paula Yates wrote in her police statement that Michael Hutchence was "frightened and couldn't stand a minute more without his baby". During their phone conversations on the morning of his suicide he had said, "I don't know how I'll live without Tiger". Yates also wrote that Bob Geldof had threatened them repeatedly with, "Don't forget, I am above the law". Yates became distraught, refusing to accept the coroner's verdict of suicide. She eventually sought psychiatric treatment.
In June 1998, Bob Geldof won full custody of the couple's three daughters after Yates attempted suicide. Michael Hutchence's father, Kell Hutchence, "launched proceedings in Australia seeking sole custody of Tiger Lily after concerns over a new relationship Miss Yates began while being treated at a clinic for a nervous breakdown earlier this year." She met Kingsley O'Keke, 26, during her stay but the pair broke up after a six-week romance. O'Keke later sold his story to a tabloid newspaper.
Yates's dispute with the Hutchence family over Michael's estate saw her struggling to bring up her daughter.
While Yates was fighting for custody of Tiger, it was reported in the media that Jess Yates had not been Yates's natural father. A paternity test proved that the talent show host Hughie Green, who died six months before Hutchence, had in fact been her natural father.
In his memoir Red Carpets and Other Banana Skins (2006), actor Rupert Everett wrote that he had a six-year affair with Yates.
On 17 September 2000, her daughter Pixie's 10th birthday, Yates, 41, was found dead at her home in London of a heroin overdose. The coroner ruled that it was not a suicide, but a result of "foolish and incautious" behaviour.
Soon after her death, ex-husband Bob Geldof assumed foster custody of Tiger Lily with the willing consent of Hutchence's parents, so that she could be brought up with her three older half-sisters, Fifi, Peachesand Pixie. Her aunt, Tina Hutchence, the sister of INXS singer Michael Hutchence, was denied permission by the judge to apply for Tiger Lily to live with her in California.
In 2007, Geldof applied to a British court for and was granted formal adoption of Tiger Lily and a change of her surname to Geldof, despite opposition from Hutchence's mother and sister. Since January 2008 her legal full name has been Heavenly Hiraani Tiger Lily Hutchence Geldof.
Paula Yates was the author of several books, including:
- Rock Stars in Their Underpants (1980)
- A Tail of Two Kitties (1983)
- Blondes (1983)
- Sex with Paula Yates (1986)
- The Fun Starts Here (1990)
- The Fun Don't Stop: Loads of Rip-roaring Activities for You and Your Toddler (1991)
- And the Fun Goes On: A Practical Guide to Playing and Learning with Your Pre-school Child (1991)
- Village People (1993)