Le Supplici di Euripide. Photograph by Marco Garro
by Jenny Diski
In April, sadness and surprise settled over the nation after the news was announced of the death of Peaches Geldof, the 25 year old daughter of Bob Geldof, famous for a long defunct pop group and more so for so charismatically starting rock’s involvement in charity fund raising. His marriage to Paula Yates made them a kind of royal couple, much more interesting than the Beckhams. There was a vigour and intelligence about him and a childlike joy in stylish, even wild domesticity about her. She was famous for – well, being stylish and married to Bob. For being on television, in programmes produced by her husband, for being charming, pretty and part of a publicly loving couple. I think the way in which she was so obviously adored by Geldof imparted something more about her qualities than just having a flair for style and wacky children’s names. She gently mocked his pomposity, but you felt that somewhere she was being held by his serious strength. Then the children: Fifi Trixibelle, Peaches Honeyblossom and Little Pixie. It seemed quite likely that the names were thought up by Paula and ever-loving serious Bob was dragged along in her frivolity. Later after leaving Geldof for Michael Hutchence, Paula Yates had another child, Heavenly Hiraani Tiger Lily. The nation was both sorry for children given these names and also delighted by the freedom for daftness that they took.
The divorce was ghastly, these delightful loving people who even seemed to care about the poorer sectors of the world, revealing all manner of unkindness about each other in the fight for custody of the children. Then when Hutchence died from hanging himself either in suicide or a sexual act gone wrong, Paula Yates fell apart and the newspapers found a new victim, long term as she was pictured regularly in various states of drugged and drunken disarray. Finally, in 2000, she died from an overdose with her four year old daughter alone in the house until a neighbour found them.
I know all this, because everybody – almost everybody – knows the story of the Geldofs. Gilded and then muddied. Children with fairy names who lost their mother before they were fourteen: and in the youngest’s case, both parents. We also couldn’t fail to know what happened to the children if we were in any way alert to the world around us. Particularly Peaches and Pixie, who were generally referred to as ‘socialites’ who were in their early teens given columns in newspapers, did a bit of DJ-ing, modelling, and were seen out and about at fashionable places being the worse for drugs or drink. Famous teenagers famous for being the children of famous and notorious parents, taken up by the fashionable world because of that, and slotted into activities that required little more than a desire for a fashionable life. Bob Geldof’s fierce and generally effective good intentions were more or less forgotten. I more of less stopped taking an interest, as much as it was possible. I didn’t know that Peaches married for a month and then divorced. I didn’t know that she became far too thin on a diet of juiced vegetable. I had known simply that she was around, although I got her and her sister muddled. I hadn’t followed her ‘career’ but her name popped up on the front pages of newspapers or online sites. I gathered that she seemed to be staggering towards disaster, like Amy Winehouse, but without her talent. However faintly, I thought I didn’t want that to happen again, although it was none of my business. I vaguely knew that a couple of years ago, she married again and had two very young children, and that she declared that she, like her mother, adored domesticity and Twittered loving pictures of the babies. Who wouldn’t be pleased at the idea that such a troubled family, which had started out so charmingly, should return to being contented?
Of course, it was nonsense even to notice them. Rich and spoiled, for all their early tragedy, what did they matter in a world where so many were poor, starving, homeless, imprisoned, fighting and dying for freedom. I was slightly ashamed of even knowing they existed. Still, I did, even if I didn’t think about them. They’d been around outside my life for so long, they were a narrative. And anyway, pain is pain in the rich as well as the poor. The bankers and CEOs getting away with a disgustingly privileged life is a disgrace, but the Peaches and Pixies of the world hadn’t asked to be born into their mix of privilege and public tragedy. Why not hope the best for them? Why not hope that the tinsel world lost one of their own to a more substantial life? Or at the very least hope that the two new children of such a troubled family might grow up without too many troubles of their own? None of it my business or my concern, and I never gave it more than a passing thought.
Then the news on all the front pages that 25 year old Peaches had died. Who knows why? The post-mortem was been inconclusive. Later, it seemed it was a heroin overdose. I was sad that a 25 year old has died. Even sadder that her death adds to a string of tragedies. Just hours after the death, her father eulogised his middle-daughter: ‘She was the wildest, funniest, cleverest, wittiest and the most bonkers of all of us.’ Once again the Geldofs, living inside the cliché, somehow reach beyond it to be genuinely human and moving.
I see that the newspapers are now saying that the youngest, 11 month child was found beside his dead mother. Who knows if it’s true? The banal repetition of her mother’s death is reported with too much glee, whether it’s true or not. I’m going to skip any further news about the Geldofs that I come across from now on. Nothing more I know or find out will add anything positive to my life or anyone else’s. My reading about it (or writing about it) will contribute nothing to the world or how we can understand it. The knowledge of the death of Peaches Geldof was unavoidable to anyone who keeps up with the news. It struck me with the shock and glare that tragedy, fictional or real, strikes outsiders. It is said that Greek tragedy is cathartic. That audiences work through the sadness and arbitrariness of their own lives by immersing themselves in the on-going horror of Aeschylus’s house of Atreus. I imagine something like that is what is going on. Or we could put a psychoanalytical interpretation on it. That’s why it becomes interesting even in spite of one’s attempted resistance to gossipy glee. But in this case, I think, a little knowledge is enough. Catharsis easily becomes indulgence, even sadism, when its personae are real people, seemingly acting out tragedy on our behalf. Perhaps this very article is part of the problem.
Piece crossposted with This and That Continued
Originally published in Swedish in Goteborgs-Posten.