Belfast Telegraph

Home Life Weekend

'She was preparing for a full life and she was going to shine ... we've lost that and also the world has lost that'

Family and friends of 15-year-old Iris Goldsmith gathered earlier this month to say goodbye after she tragically died in an accident on July 8. Her parents tell Charlotte Edwardes about their daughter, whose mission it was to save the world

Iris Goldsmith had big plans for her life
Iris Goldsmith had big plans for her life

By Charlotte Edwardes

The last film Ben Goldsmith made of his daughter Iris was on holiday in Bequia, Saint Vincent, at Easter. She's there with her brothers and a friend, face pink and freckled from the sun, damp blonde hair pulled into an unselfconscious ponytail, denim miniskirt slightly off-centre. She's walking down to the wild beach in the way teenagers do, a note of defiance in her step. Then she looks around at the sea grass and palm trees, and sees plastic washed up on the shore, and she turns and says to her father: "We should come down here and do a clean-up."

In that simple 34-second clip, it's clear that this vibrant, beautiful child has the environmental conscience that marks her generation - and her family. On the way to the beach that day her father remembers coming across feral horses and that Iris had coaxed one to sniff her hand. Later, she had knelt to pick up a tortoise, "so gently. It was like she was seven again". She was a child who was in love with nature, he says. A child who, "if she lifted a piece of corrugated iron and saw a grass snake" would be fascinated, not scared. "She was courageous".

Iris Goldsmith died aged 15 on Monday, July 8, in a Somerset field after an accident on a 4x4 off-road farm vehicle. It was the start of the summer holidays. At her funeral at St Mary's Church, Barnes, last week, Ben and her brother Frankie (13) were bearers of her wicker coffin - small, covered with irises and roses. They were joined by her cousins Sulaiman and Kasim Khan, and her uncles, James Rothschild and Zac Goldsmith. Her mother Kate Rothschild and her brother Isaac (11) walked slowly down the central aisle, followed by aunts, grandparents, cousins, while the rolling notes of Heartbeats by Jose Gonzalez played through speakers.

On all sides the church was filled. At the back people stood five deep. They sat in the nave two to a chair. Children, mostly. Hundreds of teenagers came to say goodbye to their beloved friend. And family, a sprawling family, and many of Ben and Kate's friends who had known Iris since she was born. Kate, who works in music at Roc Nation, was already pregnant when they married - young at 20 and 22 - and little Iris went with them everywhere. She had, says Ben, environmentalism, her mother's Bohemian charm, her mother's extraordinary emotional intelligence and her playfulness. "But she was also extroverted, like me." And popular: a teenager with more than 4,000 followers on Instagram.

Iris all smiles with her father Ben
Iris all smiles with her father Ben

"She cared so much about all of you," Kate told the young heads bowed in church. She worried about you. She wanted you to be safe and happy, thriving and not hurting. She had an endless capacity for love and she loved you all so much. And I have seen in the last week how much you loved her back. How much she meant to you."

On Barnes Common, her friends held a memorial near her home. They'd created 'Iris's tree', decorating it with photos, flowers, leaves painted gold, poems, candles spelling out her name, heart-shaped sunglasses, name necklaces, her favourite drink (AriZona green tea), her favourite scent and the tiara she wore for a laugh. Some friends sat cross-legged, some signed the remembrance book, others graffitied the path with messages of love: "Iris, we will never forget you; Rest well in heaven; You are an angel; We love you; Iris 4 ever; Our guardian angel." Later, they released sky lanterns.

Her friends were from everywhere: local London kids she knew from dog walks, kids from school, clubs, holidays. They were inspired by her light. One turned to Ben, and said: "I am going to save the world, like Iris was going to."

In the church, Emeli Sande performed and, in her address, the chaplain of Wycombe Abbey spoke of Iris's academic brilliance, of her kindness, her spiritual depth. She was unmissable, even in a crowd. "She was going to be an attorney, a barrister, a judge," says her father. "Perhaps she could have gone into politics, such was the force of her personality and drive."

It was always there, the determination. As a seven-year-old she sought to prove to her parents that she had the capacity to care for a chinchilla by making an illustrated encyclopedia with chapter headings: "1. Taming; 2. Diet; 3. Scared chinchilla; 4. Playtime; 5. Fun facts."

She always studied hard, taking on Latin in her own time, committing sometimes seven hours of a free day to school work. In her bedroom her parents found spider diagrams of her plans on A4 lined notepads: universities to aim for - Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard; work experience she'd like to do - including Client Earth, the charity of environmental lawyers. She wanted to join the debating society, to visit more art galleries, to read Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys, to play more tennis. "She was preparing for a full life and she was going to shine," says her father.

The permutations of grief are unending. Sometimes Ben thinks about the obituary Iris should've had in her 80s when she had achieved all she was determined to do. "How much she would have bettered the world. We've lost that. The world has lost that."

Less painful is the knowledge that she crammed so much into those 15 years. "They were filled with such good things: joy, love," says Ben. "Another comforting line of thought is that maybe on some level she knew. And that was why she was in such a hurry to enjoy life. There seemed purpose to her drive."

In the eulogy, her mother Kate explained that she couldn't "possibly begin to explain the ocean of grief we find ourselves in, or the feeling of being shattered into a thousand unfindable pieces".

Iris as a toddler with her mother Kate
Iris as a toddler with her mother Kate

It was harder still, "to explain (Iris), to really do her justice. She was simply spectacular; her light was brighter than any I've ever known. She was just magical, but there aren't enough words, or I don't know how to find them at least".

But there were deeds. Iris's friends shared story after story of her kindness, of her empathy, of her compassion. There was the bullied child who Iris helped, the tears of teenage heartbreak she'd mopped up, the support she gave, the sound advice. A mother said her daughter idolised Iris. "One boy, almost mute with grief, said to me, 'She was good. So good'." One of her best friends, Carlota, made an acrostic of her name - "Incredible, Relentless, Inspirational, Special." She had a sense of community, Carlota says. They'd recently worked with disabled children. Days before she died she had been volunteering for City Harvest, a charity that redistributes surplus food. She'd visited a refuge and hostel and a food bank, Iris in her red high-vis vest jumping down from the van as soon as it stopped, swift to carry the food crates. "She was a bright light," the charity said. No one knew her background. They saw someone who made "an outsized impression".

That background also included a family link to Northern Ireland. Her grandmother, Lady Annabel Goldsmith, was born the daughter of Robin Vane-Tempest-Stewart, Viscount Castlereagh, who later became the 8th Marquess of Londonderry. She spent a great deal of her childhood at her family's former estate Mount Stewart, situated on the east shore of Strangford Lough. She was first married to entrepreneur Mark Birley and then to financier, Sir James Goldsmith.

When Iris waved goodbye to her charity friends on July 3, she was eating candyfloss. She told them she was going to the countryside for a few days. It wasn't something she did as often now that she boarded in the week and London was the focus of her weekends. But she was going to spend a couple of days with her dad, hoping to amaze him with her tennis, "I'm quite good now. Dad is going to be surprised", she told her mum and the day after her death her racquet had been left out because she'd been practising.

That Monday her father had gone to play cricket with her brothers and Iris had arrived with a friend. They wanted to visit an old friend - the daughter of neighbouring farmers. They took the farm vehicle - a Polaris Mule, an all-purpose utility vehicle with a roll bar and seats. Ben says: "Our worry was the quad bikes. I felt safer with her in the Mule. It was the vehicle everyone used to get across the fields."

Iris was in the last field before the road. She realised they were going to be 10 minutes early. "And so, on a whim, just to kill time, she started driving around the field. And she turned too fast, or too sharply, and the vehicle flipped." The other girl was thrown clear "but either Iris was thrown out or she tried to jump and the vehicle landed on her. It broke her clavicle and her leg. The gardener came running but I think Iris had already died. A couple of others helped lift it off. The ambulance crew spent an hour trying to save her".

"It was such an un-Iris way to go. She was incredibly sophisticated, sassy and cool: a bright girl barrelling around London. It was so unher to be killed by this stupid machine."

Ben put up on Twitter a film Iris had made on her phone and sent to him in March 2015, while walking back across a field with the horse she sometimes rode bareback. "Look dad, I'm right by the starlings," she says, breathless, the awe audible in her young voice. "I'll get them to fly. And look they are going up! Look how giant that is! I was right next to them."

© Evening Standard

Lady Annabel Goldsmith, grandmother of Iris
Lady Annabel Goldsmith, grandmother of Iris

Family and friends of 15-year-old Iris Goldsmith gathered earlier this month to say goodbye after she tragically died in an accident on July 8. Her parents tell Charlotte Edwardes about their daughter, whose mission it was to save the world

Iris playing with a baby leopard
Iris playing with a baby leopard

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