Thursday 21 March 2019

The unfathomable grief of Bob Geldof

To spend years fighting to save other people's children and then to lose one's own seems the cruellest pirouette of fate

Tragic loss: Bob Geldof with Peaches
Tragic loss: Bob Geldof with Peaches
Peaches on the cover of Hello! magazine in 2012 with her dad Bob, and husband Thomas Cohen
Daddy’s girl: Peaches Geldof at a fashion show last year

Carol Midgely

For a man who has done so much good in life, Bob Geldof has been visited by a brutal amount of tragedy. We don't yet know what caused Peaches Geldof's sudden death at age 25, 14 years after her mother's Paula Yates's accidental heroin overdose, but one stark fact is beyond doubt – just as Peaches and her sisters had to grow up without their mother so now must her own two sons, aged just 23 months and 11 months.

If the Geldof family thought it had already been dealt its full quota of suffering, sadly they were wrong. Indeed, to spend years fighting to save other people's children and then to lose one's own seems the cruellest pirouette of fate

In the hours after news of Peaches' death broke many people questioned why it led TV news bulletins and newspaper front pages. The coverage and online reaction was hysterical and mawkish, they said.

It effectively "did a Diana" on a minor celebrity.

There may be some truth in this; a couple of newspaper headlines were tasteless and some media speculation about the cause of death insensitive, though Cosmopolitan's retrospective of Peaches' "best looks" was probably better described as "eye-wateringly crass".

Yet to dismiss public reaction to this young woman's death as simply another example of the modern disease of "grief bandwagoning" about famous people whom they have never met partly misses the point.

To millions of people, certainly of my generation, her father is one of the great humanitarians, the arsey straight-talker who dragged Third World famine into our front rooms and made us not only look at skeletal children but hand over our money too.

"Don't go to the pub tonight; stay in and give us the money. There are people dying NOW," said Bob famously and swearily, earning the prefix "Saint".

When his brilliant, witty wife Paula later left him for Michael Hutchence, with whom she had a daughter, he was so desperate he considered suicide. Hutchence was later found hanged in a Sydney hotel room and when Paula herself died in 2000 after "self-medicating" her grief with heroin, it left Tiger Lily, their daughter, an orphan.

Yet Geldof, despite his own grief, didn't hesitate. He took the little girl into his home and has brought her up ever since as his own. How many men would do that?

Many of those people expressing shock and empathy at the death of Peaches Geldof are doing so because they feel deeply for her father, a towering, generous public figure who has done so much for others, yet once again is suffering huge personal loss and whose statement about his "beautiful child" dripped with raw pain. "She was the wildest, funniest, cleverest, wittiest and the most bonkers of all of us," he wrote. "Writing 'was' destroys me afresh."

In its leader The Sun made a point that many people made to me since. "It is said that in life you reap what you sow," it read. "It could not be further from the truth for Bob Geldof. For all the good this man has done in the world, fate throws back at him one heartbreaking blow after another."

On online forums an oftrepeated phrase was, "Bob Geldof doesn't deserve this".

On my school run a fellow parent said she felt strangely "blindsided" by the news. "I feel sorry for that poor girl and her babies," she said, "but it's also a sense that bad things like this aren't supposed to happen to good people. How can all this rain down on one family?" It was almost as if it was an affront to her faith in "good karma".

As children, we're told that if you are good, good things will happen to you but of course that isn't always true. People get away with murder; rapists win the lottery. Sometimes terrible things keep happening to good people again and again.

As it happens I did once meet Peaches Geldof, straight from school for an interview in a London hotel.

She was 16, fiercely bright, the image of her mother and seemed as lively as a springer spaniel. This was before she commenced her so-called "wild" phase in which she was apparently buying drugs, was accused of shoplifting, had a brief teenage marriage to a rock star and became a prolific tweeter.

Yet she seemed older than her years even then, seeming to believe the tough times she had been through as a child (her parents divorced when she was 7 and her mother died when she was 11) had made her stronger. "If you have been through a lot in your life, good things, bad things, you learn from that," she said. I wrote at the time that she was a credit to her father.

Bob Geldof's loss will remain unfathomable. He now deserves privacy and some of the compassion he has always found so unstintingly for so many others.

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