It’s really sad about Peaches Geldof. A tragedy even. It’s often said that celebrity deaths come in threes and this is the second in a week after the loss of Mickey Rooney at the grand old age of 93. That’s not a tragedy. His death serves as a shining example, a long life and career well lived. Peaches serves an altogether darker narrative.
Peaches Geldof was born in 1989 to Africa lover and part-time rockstar Bob Geldof and telly presenter/lovely woman Paula Yates. It was one of them troubled loves that rockstars seem to have so bloody much. Paula was, by all accounts, a devoted mother – she even wrote two books on the subject. But her life was overshadowed by a sickness. An addiction to heroin led to her accidental overdose in 2000. She left four kids without a mother and the nation mourned her loss and Peaches’ life has been spent wallowing in the spotlight ever since. She partied and embarrassed herself, took drugs, fucked strangers and committed what seems to be the worst sin to the tabloid press by hanging around with Pete Doherty for a while. She was the perfect tabloid storm, the junkie’s daughter gone rotten.
It holds a particular resonance for me, this story, because my own dad died of a heroin overdose when I was a kid as well. That’s weird to say on the internet. It rarely comes up in real life, and then it’s easy enough to make a joke about him smacking himself instead of me and deflecting the question. It’s an odd kind of bond to share with somebody I suppose. I was only a baby when it happened, it was still the early nineties; heroin’s heyday. When Paula Yates died, Peaches was eleven.
Despite the age difference, we were both too young to understand why our parents chose to risk everything for a drug. I grew up knowing that my dad died of a heroin overdose. It was a scary word, a thief in the night, but I didn’t understand what it actually was until I was much older.
When I was about 10, a kid in my school told me my dad was a smackhead. I didn’t know exactly what that meant, but I knew it was bad. I asked a mate and he explained that a smackhead took heroin and was a pretty terrible thing to be. The realisation that what had killed my dad wasn’t an illness, like cancer, but something dirty, something he was to blame for, was a jagged pill. But it also romanticised him further in my head. He was an outsider to society, a rebel, a drug user. By then it was far too late to ask my dad why he’d picked drugs over me. It was a question I couldn’t get an answer to, without looking myself.
Like Peaches, I’ve been known to take partying too far. To push my body to the point of breaking in search of a good time. It’s a compulsion I feel the need to suppress, to varying degrees of success. I can’t drag every one of my decisions to the churchyard in Wales and pin them all to my father’s plot. But I do know his addiction left me with a question. What is about drugs, not just heroin, but all of them, that is so fucking good that someone who loved me would risk everything for it? That question has been on my lips when I was offered anything, I think.
If my own teenage (and older) exploits were held to the same scrutiny of hers, then I would need constant medical care to prevent my own death from shame. As I struggled to answer my own questions and come to terms with the nature of addiction I did so in the relative privacy of normal teenage life. A privacy that I didn’t know I appreciated so much until I considered having to do the same whilst being called a slag by The Sun on a daily basis.
I think Peaches was starting to find the answer to that question. She was clearly a passionate and devoted mother, as anyone who has seen her take down of Ursula from The Little Mermaid (Katie Hopkins) will attest to. In her mid-twenties the wild child had been replaced with a quick, smart example of a modern twenty something. We still don’t know what killed her, but I don’t think it’s relevant. It’s not about whether she fell off the edge. It’s about what took her there at all. This story is about more than the hole left in my, Peaches and the uncounted other people’s lives who’ve lost a parent to drug abuse. It’s a story which isn’t going to stop until this country stops treating addiction as the crime it is not and begins to treat is as the illness which it is.
A million and one column inches of opinion will follow Peaches Geldof’s memory into obscurity. Verbalised grief. In death her story becomes more than her, it belongs to the public now. To some it’s the story of a spoilt girl who didn’t know when to stop. To others, it’s the tragic loss of a mother of two young children. Most people probably simply don’t give a fuck what it is and wish people like me would shut up and let the poor girl rest in peace. For me it’s all of these and more.
It’s a cruel twist of fate. Two generations swallowed by the same snake. I really hope her kids work it out how to break out of it faster than their mum, and when they do, I’ll take answers on a postcard.
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