Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 23 December 2014

Peaches Geldof: 'How is it possible we won't see Peaches ever again?'

True love: Peaches with husband Thomas and son Astala meet an aardvark at London Zoo
True love: Peaches with husband Thomas and son Astala meeting an aardvark at London Zoo
Peaches, Pixie, Tiger Lily and Bob as he received the freedom of Dublin in 2006
Peaches (left) and Pixie in 1992
Paula Yates and Bob Geldof with Fifi (right), Peaches (left) and Pixie in 1992

Even in a smartphone-infested world where newsflashes announcing natural disasters, tragic accidents and sudden deaths routinely crash into our lives with a 'stop what you're doing' klaxon, the news that Peaches Geldof had died at 25 sent profound tremors around the country on Monday.

Social media always sees a flutter of exclamation, shock and tasteless jokes when a celebrity dies unexpectedly, but normal service is usually resumed within the hour, once the compulsive commentators have had their eye caught by a fresh thought, a new revelation.

This felt different. Whether you admired or were indifferent to Peaches, it was sickening to think of such a vibrant and alive young thing, a seemingly happy and at peace mother of two infant sons, being lost to her family at such an early age.

Tributes poured in, from celebrities who knew her – long-term friend Lily Allen, wrote: "Peaches, rest in peace gorgeous girl"; publishing entrepreneur James Brown said simply that he felt "sick" – and there weren't many who didn't – Nadine Coyle said she had loved "seeing her progress with her babies'"; Hollywood actress Susan Sarandon stated: "No words can express any comfort at the loss of a child and mother as beautiful as Peaches Geldof". Twitter filled up with expressions of horror and sadness from people who had never met her, but felt oddly troubled and upset by the news of her death.

Perhaps some of the impact of Peaches Geldof's death can be explained by a national familiarity with her life. We all know so much about the second daughter of Bob Geldof and Paula Yates. We've seen her develop from a fat-cheeked little toddler surrounded by sisters, to a pretty young woman whose every move – mistaken or inspired – was documented by a fascinated tabloid Press. We know her dad. We knew her mum. The shock of her sudden silencing at such an unspeakably tender age felt like something that just shouldn't, couldn't, have been allowed to happen.

Her father's tribute was the most moving of all – a mixture of heartfelt love, paternal affection, and unpalatable grief. Bob Geldof's description of Peaches as "the wildest, funniest, cleverest, wittiest and the most bonkers of all of us" struck a chord as the kind of adoring, frank, perceptive citation any daughter would give her eye-teeth to pull from her dad. This was a man who knew his child intimately, who had rolled his eyes at her daft behaviour, but secretly cherished it.

Geldof's tribute dispensed with the usual formalities of public statements. Instead, it sounded like the honest voice of a hit-for-six dad being repeatedly assaulted by the shock of writing about his child in the past tense. "Writing 'was' destroys me afresh. What a beautiful child. How is this possible that we will not see her again? How is that bearable?"

Many of us thought immediately of Bob Geldof when we heard Peaches had died. It felt cruel that a man who had borne such sadness and loss in his life had been dealt yet another agonising blow.

From the mid-Seventies, the rock star and global charity fundraiser was as famous in the UK for his relationship with model and TV presenter Paula Yates (they met in 1976, when he was the frontman of rising pop-punk band The Boomtown Rats and she was a 17-year-old music fan) as he was for any of his work. The unlikely union of the scrawny, sweary Irish big-mouth and his petite, pouty, London bohemian girlfriend caught the imagination of the Press, and provided an endless stream of gossip-fodder until the couple broke up 19 years later.

They had three daughters together – Fifi Trixibelle in 1983, Peaches Honeyblossom in 1989 and Little Pixie in 1990, sparking a trend for mind-bending celebrity baby names which perpetuates to this day – and seemed exceedingly happy together until Yates met and appeared to be instantly transfixed by INXS singer Michael Hutchence. She left Geldof in 1995, and whatever the indoors truth of the break-up was, the public perception was that the Irishman, known for his confrontational abruptness and unshakable confidence, was left heart-broken and bereft.

Yates appeared to be a doting mother and was often photographed snuggling up to her pretty little daughters, but the sudden death of her 37-year-old partner Hutchence in 1997 saw a marked descent in her psychological state. She railed against the coroner's verdict of suicide, sought psychiatric treatment for her grief, and lost custody of Fifi, Peaches and Pixie to Geldof after a suicide attempt in 1998. She died two years later, of what was ruled to be an accidental heroin overdose.

Peaches said later that she remembered Yates transforming from an amazing mother "who wrote books on parenting, and gave us this idyllic childhood in Kent", to a "heartbroken shell of a woman who was just medicating to get through the day".

Her father, "very embittered and depressed", fought to maintain an "almost Dickensian" household – a strict routine of homework, dinner and bed to combat the "complete chaos" of the children's time with Paula. Twenty-three years after her mother's death, Peaches said she still found it hard to talk about it.

"We all went to school (the next day) and tried to act as if nothing had happened. But it had happened. I didn't grieve. I didn't cry at her funeral. I couldn't express anything because I was just numb to it all," she said.

The stricken Geldof took guardianship of Yates and Hutchence's daughter Tiger Lily (he formally adopted her seven years later), then stood back to watch the fluctuating fortunes of his four daughters as they grew up. It was Peaches who appeared to give him the greatest cause for concern. She was a notably sharp-witted young teenager – from the age of 14 she wrote a weekly column espousing her political views for the Daily Telegraph, as well as numerous other articles for various publications. She continued to write after she broke into television, presenting various 'teenage insight' shows for Sky and ITV (most with her name in the title; the draw of her public persona was not lost on TV commissioners) and then launched her own interview-led magazine, Disappear Here, in 2009. She was clearly bright, ambitious and full of energy.

On the other hand, she also seemed to be turning into the classic wild-child rebel. She launched Disappear Here from New York because she was living there with her first husband, rock singer Max Drummey, whom she married in Las Vegas mere weeks into their relationship. Five months later she was calling the marriage "a little bit nuts" and, not long after, the couple separated.

It says much about her profile at the time that few eyebrows were raised at the announcement of her quickie wedding or subsequent equally quickie divorce. She already had a tabloid-fuelled reputation as a hedonistic party girl who revelled in hijinks and higher risks. She posed naked for Tatler when she was 19 and lost her six-figure deal as an Ultimo lingerie model when nude photographs and allegations of heroin use ran through the Press. She always insisted, however, that the notion of her as a regular hard drug-taker was fanciful: "I'm not Amy Winehouse. I never have been."

The last few years seem to have proved her right. In September 2012 she married singer Thomas Cohen at the Kent church where her parents married, and her mother's funeral was held. Cohen – who looks, rather winningly, like a combination of Peaches and her dad – appeared to have an almost magical, calming affect on his young wife, and within less than two years the couple had two sons; Astala Dylan Willow and Phaedra Bloom Forever.

Much has been made of the fact that Peaches tweeted a picture of Paula Yates hugging her when she was a child a few days ago, but it's possible that she had simply been thinking about Yates while embracing so thoroughly her own new role as a mother.

She said of her first son: "His birth was like a rebirth for me, and I honestly never thought anything in my life would ever be good. I'm obsessed with getting it right. The second I held him it was like this missing piece of my life being put into place; everything started to heal. Even if it's an archaic idea, I want Astala to have a mummy and daddy together forever. I want to be a good wife, a good mother, a good person." The day before she died, she posted a film online of her playing peek-a-boo with her sons. As happy families go, it was picture postcard.

There are many families dealing with tragedy, with motherless children, and the enduring pain of premature loss. Each one is an unbearable injustice. And many will understand and empathise with the last part of Bob Geldof's statement on Monday: "We loved her and will cherish her forever. How sad that sentence is. Tom and her sons Astala and Phaedra will always belong in our family, fractured so often, but never broken."

You shouldn't die at 25

Young Editor Kate Umphray (18) from Comber, who is studying A-Levels at Strathearn Grammar in Belfast, on the impact Peaches' death has had on younger people

The death of Peaches Geldof has touched hearts all over the world and – given that she was just 25 – has had a particular resonance with young people.

Social media sites have been overwhelmed with messages, both from the general public and celebrities.

Lily Allen tweeted: "Rest in peace gorgeous girl", while Ellie Goulding, expressing her condolences to Peaches' family, admitted: "I can't believe it".

For those around the same age as Peaches or a few years younger, the sense of incomprehension is palpable. Many will have looked upon her as something of a role model.

For some, who have also lost a parent young, there was a curiosity about how Peaches coped with growing up without her mother, Paula Yates. And then there were the others who regarded her as something of a fashion icon or enjoyed reading her journalism.

I suppose, too, what also strikes someone my age – 18 – is just how shockingly young an age 25 is to die. With all the potential that Peaches showed before her death – packing so much into her career and becoming a mum too – it makes her loss even harder to take in.

At 18, I and others my age can see what we would like to be achieving at 25 – the type of job we'd be in – where we would have travelled to.

You just don't imagine that you would be coming to the end of your life – that you would not be in the world at all at 25.

This beautiful young woman's death will cast a long shadow for years to come, as the younger generation she has left behind grows up and goes on without her.

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