IT was not the absurd prices which caused pop star Michael Hutchence's mother to choke in a designer boutique in London recently. It was when the salesgirl said to her shopping companion: 'Can I help you, Lady Geldof?' As all the world knows, Paula Yates is Lady Geldof in name only. Paula left Bob a year ago and ever since she has been stepping out with the lead singer of the Australian rock group INXS. As celebrity splits go, that of Geldof and Yates was sensational. After 18 years, Yates, quintessential rock chick, outrageous TV talk show host, author of Rock Stars In Their Underpants among other books and devoted mother of three, was leaving Saint Bob, whose Live Aid campaign in the mid-80s raised millions of pounds to help feed starving Ethiopians. But what Yates wants to make clear is that she left Geldof because she was deeply unhappy in her marriage and had been for two years before she walked out. Yates had changed. Vulnerable no more, she no longer needed the man in her life to be her boss. When Yates' father died in April 1993, she realised life was too short to waste being unhappy, resolved to 'change everything before it was too late', moved out, taking the children with her, and started to see Hutchence in earnest. Yates insists she did not leave Bob for Michael - although she admits she has lusted after the Australian since first meeting him 12 years ago, and that she did start seeing him intimately before leaving Geldof. There was a horrible scene, just days before the News of the World exposed the affair, when Hutchence called Yates on her mobile phone, and Geldof, cut to the quick, snatched the phone from her hand and yelled: 'What's this about you sleeping with my wife?' Nor, says Yates, did Hutchence, who grew up and studied at King George V School in Hong Kong, leave Helena Christensen for her. Apparently that celebrity relationship had been falling apart for a year before it ended. Yates and Hutchence are now living together in Yates' new home in Clapham, South London, and if Yates has her way, they will soon have children. 'Michael and I would like some kids, it'd be nice. He's really good with my girls. It's a nice idea and if it happens it happens,' says Yates. Fifi Trixibelle, 12, Peaches Honey Blossom, six, and Little Pixie, five, meanwhile, have adjusted well to their new living arrangements, says Yates. 'I am very, very close to my daughters and they are so loyal which is really fantastic. The minute the door closes it's just me and them. It's really fantastic, it's like a feminist house. 'You've got these three young women who totally know what's going on. They're really bright and totally understanding. In the last year it has been absolutely amazing how they've dealt with it. 'The oldest one has seen the papers which she thinks are completely ridiculous. She sees things which say I'm not the best mother in the world and that drives her frantic, mad. The two younger ones wouldn't have a clue why anybody would ask for my autograph. They're good girls and they like me. I'm lucky.' All the gory details of the Yates-Geldof split, the flourishing of Yates' romance with Hutchence as well as details of Yates' new 'Gina Lollobrigida breasts' are in the just-published Paula Yates: The Autobiography. 'That's all in. I'd have only sold three copies if I hadn't put that in,' she says ruefully. 'There's an entire chapter on Michael. He read the whole book before it was published. He was very helpful and quite critical about some bits, so it was very useful.' Yates wrote the book for two reasons: to raise money to buy a new house and support her three daughters who she considers her sole responsibility and not a joint venture with Geldof. 'I did it mainly because I needed the money. I don't crave success. I crave money. I am terribly, terribly, terribly needy of large amounts of cash at all times,' says Yates. 'That's my main driving force. I support my children on my own and always have done and so it is a big responsibility. It means you are always slightly worried.' The other reason Yates penned her autobiography so prematurely - she is only 36 - was to set the record straight on her personal life after years of distortions in the British press, which seems to find her irritating. 'It's not nice being me and being famous. That's quite hard. The tabloids are always on my case and I find the hardest thing to deal with is the fact they attack your mothering. I find that agonising. I sort of didn't mind when they kept saying I was ugly. But when they started saying things about me and the girls it drove me crazy. And the paparazzi are incredible. On one occasion, a photographer chased my youngest daughter down the street until she fell over and then they all took photos of her crying.' Yates has had misgivings about writing her autobiography ever since she agreed to swap the manuscript for a six-figure sum earlier this year. This is because, she says, she is essentially secretive. Secretive? Are we talking about the same Paula Yates? The one who modelled nude for Penthouse magazine in 1979? The one who is the author of Sex With Paula Yates? Yes. Yates' so-called secrecy stems from her appalling childhood, about which she had so much trouble writing. Publishers HarperCollins gave Yates 12 weeks to write the book, but nine weeks later she had not written a word because she was still thinking about her childhood. (She managed to write it in the three weeks remaining.) 'I have always been very secretive about everything. I think my essential personality is that of an M15 double agent. With my parents I was like that particularly because it was all a bit gothic and not very nice. I didn't want people to know that I'd been through that sort of thing.' Yates' father was Jess Yates, the former presenter of religious TV programme Stars on Sunday, who scandalised Britain when he had a fling with an actress 38 years his junior. Yates' mother is the former movie starlet Heller Toren who appeared in the odd Fellini picture and was rarely at home. Toren lives in Provence in France, but mother and daughter are not close and see each other infrequently. 'My father was mentally ill with manic depression and my mother was away a lot, so I was left up a mountain side in Wales with my father who was barking mad. He was seriously mentally ill and was left in sole charge of a five-year-old, so it was very difficult. And it rained all the time, it was constantly damp and raining and grey. My father made me sit in a box, day after day. It was quite odd,' recalls Yates. 'He had lots of obsessions because of his illness and most of them were centred around me. They sound funny in the book, but to live like that was weird. He was convinced I was going to die from cold so I always had all my clothes on at the same time and a balaclava and a hat. I was sent to school like that, wearing 15, 20 pieces of clothing and I wasn't allowed to take anything off.' Yates dedicates her autobiography to three Australian men - her lover Michael Hutchence, her friend Richard Neville and her writing hero Clive James, upon whose autobiography, Unreliable Memoirs, Yates modelled her book. 'I wanted to do a book that made people feel the way his did. It's such a lovely book. Mine's got more harrowing bits in than his, but at the same time it maintains that light atmosphere. 'I wanted to leave out anything that was mean about people, or anything that would hurt people and I left out quite a lot of things that I felt were really personal. But I wanted to keep in everything that was funny. I really wanted it to be a funny book. 'My daughter Fifi has read quite a lot of it because she used to lurk around while I was writing it. There'd be sharp intakes of breath over my shoulder. She'd say: 'Did you really, mum?' and 'My god, how dis-gus-ting'. ' On all fronts, Yates' future looks bright. It's likely she will have her own chat show next year and she will do another how-to baby series on BBC TV based on a book she plans to write called How To Have a Cool Baby. And she is not done with writing either. Two novels are planned - one an updated version of Daphne du Maurier's classic Rebecca and the other, Wakey Wakey, about breakfast television.