Monday 18 December 2017

Childhood left Peaches Geldof hardwired for tragedy

From former wild child to earth mother, Peaches Geldof heartbreakingly mirrored her mum Paula Yates's fate

The late Peaches Geldof with her husband Thomas Cohen
The late Peaches Geldof with her husband Thomas Cohen
Donal Lynch

Donal Lynch

To nobody's great surprise, but to many people's dismay it was, after all, heroin which killed Peaches Geldof. Following the inquest results last Thursday there was a disconcerting sense among the grief whores of social media that Peaches was no longer the blameless angel in heaven.

We needed a Diana for this generation but the crucial element was that the candidate be a victim, someone we could eulogise with unreserved pity. What, some wondered, is the appropriate emotion for a young woman who held herself out as a paragon of motherhood yet died after doing smack while a short distance away her 11-month-old son slept? For the sake of her children, ought she not to have run screaming from a drug that killed her own mother and at least one of her friends?

They were questions that Peaches had almost certainly asked herself. We can only imagine the turmoil that raged inside her as she balanced her public persona – latterly fresh-faced and devoted to motherhood – with her private excesses, all the while knowing the world was watching her every move. "I could have been (an addict)", she tried to convince us (and herself). "I could have let myself spiral but all the time I remembered what happened to my mum."

Of course, memory is a strange thing. We don't just recall the deeds and days; we absorb events and sometimes relive them without even knowing. The author Stephen King once said that "beating heroin is child's play compared to beating your childhood" but unlucky Peaches was left trying to outrun both. She seemed tormented by the ghost of her mother, Paula Yates, and never quite escaped the long shadows cast by her chaotic early life as the middle child in a family torn by rancour, divorce and the pressures of public scrutiny.

Born as the Eighties – the decade that made her father an icon – breathed their last, she was given a whimsical pop star name but not the terra firma that every child needs. Yates had begun an affair with INXS front man Michael Hutchence when Peaches was young, setting the scene for a tumultuous childhood for her. On the one side she had her cuckolded father, Bob Geldof, the old lion protecting his cubs against the tumult of her mother's life with a man who she said believed that Paula - was "a combination of someone who wore baby-doll nighties but, at the same time, had a lot of children, and he liked the idea that he could have everything".

Paula got a boob job, traded her earth mother image for an ageing rock chick reboot and immersed herself in Hutchence's world of narcotic excess. Perhaps the most telling image of the kind of recklessly confused childhood Peaches had was the fact that the drugs were delivered to the house in Smartie tubes.

In 1996, just a couple of years after the photo of herself and her mother was taken, police began investigating claims that opium had been found at the London home that was shared by Yates and Hutchence. It was said that her nanny had tipped off the newspapers to the presence of drugs around the four children, and the papers had in turn alerted the police.

Worse was to follow. The following year Hutchence was found dead in a hotel room in Australia, having apparently committed suicide with a belt around his neck. Paula spent the next three years of her life fighting the coroner's conclusion – she refused to believe her lover would have committed suicide – and sinking further into addiction. She also waged bitter custody battles against Bob Geldof who wanted the three girls, and fought the Hutchence family for custody of Tiger Lily – her daughter with Hutchence.

Speaking to Elle magazine two years ago, Peaches said: "The transition of my mother who was amazing, who wrote books on parenting, who gave us this idyllic childhood in Kent; and who then turned into this heartbroken shell of a woman who was just medicating to get through the day." On top of that she said, she was dealing with a father who was "embittered and depressed" who imposed an "almost Dickensian" regimen of rules and order in an attempt to compensate for the chaos of life at Paula's.

Peaches would have grown up too quickly in such an environment. In a dysfunctional family, the lack of external control through consistent discipline results in an inability to develop internal discipline and self-control.

Children of addicts learn not to depend on their parent to meet their needs – instead, it is all up to themselves. And, because they can't trust their own parents, they become generally wary of other people. Yet, they are defenceless against the projection of blame and often feel responsible for a parent's addiction and feel pressure to maintain the family 'secrets'. They become 'little adults' that feel compelled to accept responsibilities well beyond their years. In later life these children tend to suffer from a kind of post-traumatic stress disorder and particularly suffer in areas where tenderness and intimacy are involved. It's little wonder that the children of addicts are over eight times more likely than the rest of the population to become addicts themselves.

Peaches began to emulate every aspect of her mother's life and times. She started working at an early age, actively seeking out the spotlight that her sisters shunned and by her mid-teens she was already penning newspaper columns and had modelled at London Fashion Week.

She numbered Kate Moss amongst her friends and her blithe, edgy persona and impeccable breeding made her a firm favourite in fashion and media circles. She was witty and sharp-tongued, with the brash confidence to dismiss Trinny and Susannah as "upper-class bitches with no fashion sense". Peaches knew whereof she spoke: As a child she was decked out in Prada, as an adult she once said she wore five items out of every 500 she was sent.

Like Paula she also cast herself as a rock chick. Her first marriage, to Max Drummey from the American band Chester French barely lasted six months. Two months after that first divorce she was engaged to another rocker, Thomas Cohen of London band S.C.U.M; they married and had two sons.

She preached "attachment parenting", a particularly arduous schedule of responding to an infant's every whim. She went on television to tell other mothers how to do it – just as Paula herself had once done. Indeed she almost slavishly followed her mother, casting herself first as a reformed wild child, then a charismatic, wise-cracking socialite who outshone her husband, and then latterly, the ultimate expert on maternity. And yet with the good came the bad: she was also part of the great majority of children of drug addicts who begin in adulthood to take drugs themselves.

Rumours of heroin use constantly stalked her and in February 2011 a friend of hers, Freddy McConnel, wrote in his diary: "The heroin has reached my stomach and I have been sick. Peaches is coming over later and I am going to inject for the first time; perhaps I will die. I hope I don't." He died the following May of a heroin overdose.

Peaches became the centre of a 'heroin sting' after footage apparently showing her buying heroin was pitched to a newspaper and magazines printed pictures of her with marks on her arms, fuelling further speculation that she was taking the drug. In the aftermath of those events, Bob Geldof said: "I can't talk about her as it inflames everything, so the discussion will be between a dad and his daughter – in as much as you can speak to a 23-year-old. I need to do the family thing and be left alone with this." Barely two years later the family were making similar pleas for privacy but this time they came in the wake of Peaches' own death.

She was found by her husband, Thomas Cohen, slumped on her bed. Hours before she had posted a picture of herself and her mother together as a child. For Bob Geldof the pain associated with these images must be unbearable. The news that he is to marry his long-term girlfriend, French actress Jeanne Marine, seemed like a touching, perhaps slightly desperate, attempt to somehow cauterise the wound left by the loss of his beloved daughter.

It's been said about her death that it was history repeating itself. But in fact it is even worse than that. If Peaches had merely repeated her mother's mistakes she would've had another two decades of good living in her. But while Paula spaced these difficult transitions over three decades, culminating in her "broken woman" phase, Peaches rattled though them at a determined clip.

"The funniest, cleverest wittiest and most bonkers" of them all, as Bob described her, never truly seemed broken. She was, quite simply, hardwired for tragedy.

Sunday Independent

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