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Thursday 21 August 2014

Peaches escaped her presumed fate only to tragically meet its bitter end

Brendan O'Connor met with Peaches Geldof three times – and on each occasion she blossomed into a more lovely, grounded woman

Brendan O'Connor

Published 13/04/2014 | 02:30

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Peaches with her second husband Tom Cohen, in 2012. Photo: Yui Mok/PA Wire
Tragedy: The late Peaches Geldof
Tragedy: The late Peaches Geldof
Bob Geldof, Paula Yates and five-year-old daughter Fifi Trixiebelle, show off baby Peaches, in 1989. Photo: Martin Keene/PA Wire

The second time we had Peaches Geldof on the Saturday Night Show, I told her sincerely that if my daughters grew up to be as charming and bright and generally fantastic as her, I'd be very proud. For all you have read about her in the past week, she was fundamentally an admirable young woman. Her dad must have been so proud of her. Who can imagine his anguish now. Beyond pain is right.

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It was very sad watching back her three appearances on the show. You couldn't help but keep forgetting, and then remembering again, that this little bright spark was snuffed out now. And she was such a little bright spark. I only met her three times but I think we sort of clicked, and she was always first on my list when they asked if there was anyone we should get for the show. You couldn't help but be fond of her.

There was really only one thing people wanted to know about Peaches Geldof when she came to Dublin to appear on the Saturday Night Show. It might have been framed as, "How is she doing?" But it was more specific than that. What people really wanted to know was, "Is she managing to escape her fate?" The world had decided a fate for Peaches Geldof and it was that she was destined to end up like her mother – dead, tragically too young.

It seemed Peaches knew this as well. She referred to it as, "a Peaches Geldof watch: 'I wonder if she's going to die like her mum. Let's count the days until she dies like her mum'."

And while she might have dismissed it, Peaches could strike you as someone who was trying to dodge a fate that she half feared might be destined for her. It must have hung over her, the history and the weight of expectations. It was not an expectation for high achievement, but the opposite. There were lots of people always waiting for Peaches Geldof to fuck up, for her life to become a train wreck.

And she worked hard to dodge that. And the really sad thing is that just when she seemed to have dodged it, to have transcended it, it came and got her anyway.

We loved having Peaches on the show. People say there are no great chat-show guests anymore. There are. Most of them tend to be older people, people who have lived a little, a lot of them tend to be women, maybe writers. They tend to be people who think about the meanings of things, and whose thoughtfulness offers bittersweet laughs, and moments of insight for the rest of us.

Peaches was not older, but she had lived a little. Even when she first came on the show at 20, she had lived a little. And being the daughter of Paula and Bob, what else could she have been but coquettishly charming, fiercely intelligent, witty and brutally honest about the things she chose to be brutally honest about.

The first time she came, just out of her teens and perhaps still with a charming brattiness about her, she was writing a book. She had also just become an Ultimo girl. The photoshoot of her, in Ultimo underwear, with her tattoos, and her body that was not that of a too-thin model, had caused a certain amount of controversy. She had done it, she said, to promote the notions of healthy body image among girls. She was not as slim at that point as she would become. The photos were a kind of political statement, she agreed. And you believed her. She seemed like the kind of kid who liked things to have a point, whether that point was just mischief or to stir things up, or to make young girls feel OK about their bodies.

There is a certain type of intelligence in being a good performer in that situation, and she had that. I watched it back during the week and she is sandwiched between a presenter who is, shall we say, raw, and Oliver Callan, who was throwing in impressions of her father. And once she got that this was messy, she relaxed and got into it and adapted, within a minute or two. She sussed it out and got with it, so composed. And on the other hand she was just a kid, who liked Jedward, and who told us she fancied Edward.

On the difficulties in her life this far, she said, "Everyone has sad days. It's sad when you burn your toast. Some things are more sad than others. I feel like I've had more of a happy life in turn."

The next time she came on was a little over a year later. She had been spending a lot of time in LA and there were stories of heroin use and other bad behaviour, as well as Scientology. She looked, naturally, like butter wouldn't melt in her mouth and, perhaps because we knew each other a little better this time, she was sharper and more fun than the last time.

When I asked her whether her dad ever gave out about reports of her bad behaviour, she said, "My dad knows it's all bullshit – 98 per cent absolute crap. If he rang me and gave out, it would be buying into that Daily Mail mentality." Of the life she had, she said this time, "It's how you handle your experiences. It's what you choose to do with them. It's made me who I am."

She had just moved in with her new boyfriend Tom, whom she had got together with just four months before, but whom, she assured me, she had known for three years before that. They liked to stay in, she said. She was finished with the party lifestyle. Even in LA, she said, she had mainly stayed in. We talked about how good-looking Tom was, and Peaches said that often she felt like "the grosser party in the relationship". When we talked about Tom and some other boyfriends who were long-haired gangly rockers and I asked her if she was looking for her daddy, she said, "I'm not looking for my daddy. My daddy's there and he's a great dad." She talked too about how Bob had "a Dun Laoghaire mentality", which meant nothing was given to her on a plate, that she was left to make her own way, which is why she had her first column at 14.

Unlike the last time she had been over, when she was keen to hit the gay bars, Peaches headed back for a quiet night in her hotel this time and there was certainly evidence of the domestic Peaches starting to show. She talked about how "sometimes I feel like a granny".

I remembered that night of reading about how Paula Yates had worked hard to create almost a fantasy of a domestic idyll, to repair what was broken in her own childhood. It seemed Peaches was on the way to doing this with Tom.

The next time she came she had the idyll fully in place. She had also changed completely, as one does between 21 and 24. We had been supposed to have her on after she married Tom and then after she had her first child, but then she had got pregnant again. So now she was a mother of two. She had the house in Kent, back where she had known the most happiness as a child. She wore Temperley now instead of Dolce & Gabbana. And while she had brought a friend with her to do her hair and make- up the previous two times, this time it was just her and Tom. Far from being some kind of an angry rocker, Tom was a nice, polite young gent. Beforehand we talked about everything from music to tractor mowers.

She talked that night about how parenthood had changed her. "A lot of my life I spent drifting around going to different countries, rootless," she said. "When I had the kids I was really anchored to one place, and through my husband as well I found a real sense of serenity and peace and I've been a sort of earth mother, which no one would ever have predicted."

Again it was all about staying in. You'd be reminded of another reformed character, Robbie Williams, who when asked if he ever went out anymore, said, "I've been out." Peaches had been out, and now, it seemed, she was home. Of Tom, Peaches said: "He really is the anti-rock guy. He just likes to hang out at home with me with some fish and chips, watching Strictly Come Dancing – which I like to watch and he hates."

In fact, it wouldn't have been that hard to predict that Peaches would want to create a domestic fantasy down in Kent. Her mother had done the same thing before her. Paula Yates was the original media domestic goddess, and became a parenting guru for a while, freely admitting that it was all rooted in the insecurity of her own background growing up. The man whom Paula thought to be her father was Jess Yates, a kind of a bizarre TV evangelist who eventually ran off with a showgirl.

Later in life Paula would be shocked to find out that her real dad was Opportunity Knocks presenter Hughie Green. As if that wasn't enough Paula's mother, a former showgirl, actress and writer of erotic novels, named Elaine Smith, who used the stage names Helene Thornton and Heller Torren, abandoned Paula for most of her childhood, which left Paula with huge attachment issues. Paula recalled how she became "this whinging, whining, clinging child; she [her mother] must have been driven almost mad by it. She would come back from being off, and I would lie outside the toilet if she went to the loo. She must have felt that she was coming back to my dad, and me and my whining – so in the end, to avoid the confrontation, she'd leave in the night. I used to go to bed not knowing if she'd still be there in the morning, and then whether she'd be back for six months."

So instead Paula developed fantasies of family. "I spent a lot of time looking at 1955 editions of the Saturday Evening Post," she said once. "My dad had this whole room devoted to magazines – and they were the formulation of all my ideas about families. Everyone had a white picket fence, a mum in a fucking apron, and a big fridge."

Peaches spoke last October on the show about her determination to break this cycle. "In a way, when you have your own children," she said, "you can become like your parents or you be a chain breaker and do the antithesis of what they did and with me it's like ... A lot of things they did totally wrong".

But she did seem to have inherited her mother's fantasies about family. When I asked her what bits of parenting she'd take from her mother, she said, "She wrote two parenting books. I've actually read them and they're really funny ... I see parallels between her parenting style and mine," mentioning attachment parenting and co sleeping.

So there Peaches was, reliving her mother's domestic fantasies down in Kent, near the converted priory where her own happiest childhood memories were based. She had the doting husband, the kids, and the tractor mower. It was as if she had escaped the fate that many predicted by embracing some aspects of her mother's fate – breaking the chain by reliving it, but this time, presumably, without the tragic ending. This time she was fixing it.

She was willowy in her Temperley that time but not as thin as she would seem to be in recent pictures. She boasted about how she could eat what she wanted due to a thyroid issue developed in her second pregnancy. (In her first pregnancy she had, like Kate Middleton, suffered from hyperemesis gravidar, which, for her, meant throwing up 14 times a day). She talked about the burger and chips she had had in the hotel beforehand.

Her family, she felt that night, was still incomplete. "I would like to have a little girl," she said. "I'm only 24 so I have a lot of time."

Sunday Independent

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