Peaches Honeyblossom Michelle Charlotte Angel Vanessa Geldof. Dead at 25. Mother of two young boys.
Such a scenario would be shocking and tragic even if Peaches wasn’t the daughter of Bob Geldof. No matter what your personal opinion of her lifestyle or her personality, it has left a gaping hole in the lives of those who knew her.
It is an event which is also harrowing because the narrative is so desperately familiar. Someone who should be in the prime of their life; someone with fame aplenty and relatively successful; not least witty and clever.
For Peaches Geldof, you could read Amy Winehouse, L’Wren Scott, or even the former model and Australian television star Charlotte Dawson, who became an anti-bullying activist after she was targeted online. The list goes on: Heath Ledger, Mark Speight, Gary Speed and Paul Bhattacharjee to remember just a few more.
And this is not to pre-judge any inquest. Police have said they are treating the death of Peaches Geldof as “non-suspicious” but “unexplained”.
But why are such episodes of tragedy so shocking to us each time they happen? Undoubtedly it’s because each one represents a treasured life; a story which has finished somewhat unnaturally and has caused unprecedented pain and loss for those close to them.
Perhaps though we should turn the lens of examination towards ourselves; to scrutinise our own responses to such events.
We are shocked by the death of celebrities, film stars, or famous sportsmen and women in part, because we all make particular assumptions.
We assume such people ‘have it all’. And we also fail to recognise that what we see of them is not their real self per se.
Although we know rationally that being rich, glamorous and famous doesn’t equate to some sort of constant, demi-god, spiritual nirvana; we still believe the smiling faces of fans and the red-carpet treatment that the distinguished receive to mean that they are special; and that therefore they are immune to the sorts of problems we might face.
But if we look closely, it doesn’t take some sort of overwhelming epiphany to realise this is not true.
In the case of Peaches Geldof, she is just one of many to have been in the public glare, and to have tried to deal with this by projecting herself in a particular way.
At just 15 years old, she was writing for a fashion and beauty magazine, while at 18, readers of FHM declared her to be 53rd sexiest woman in the world. She was also a regular on the catwalk.
Two years later, she was signed to a six-figure modelling deal.
And while all this was going on, we learnt, she hadn’t really processed the grief from her mother’s death which happened when she was 11.
Speaking to Elle magazine in 2012, she said: “I remember the day my mother died, and it’s still hard to talk about it. I just blocked it out. I went to school the next day because my father’s mentality was “keep calm and carry on”.
“We all…tried to act as if nothing had happened. But it had happened. I didn’t grieve. I didn’t cry at her funeral. I couldn’t express anything because I was just numb to it all. I didn’t start grieving for my mother properly until I was maybe 16.”
In the same interview, talking about her parents’ divorce, she said: “It was like living on a permanent see-saw and very scary and sad. Those feelings have always stayed with me, they just never went away.”
Perhaps it takes such candidness – and even then it’s only in the form of an interview – for us to realise fame doesn’t equate to being happy, perfect, or free of pain.
Becoming a mother when her first son Astala was born, Peaches said, was “like a rebirth” for her, and in holding him “everything started to heal”.
Although she was open enough to admit to experimenting with drugs in the past, she wasn’t someone who would be earmarked in media circles as a celebrity with a ‘life in freefall’.
Perhaps her biggest problem was that she, and others, often have their identity crafted and understood solely through the lens of the media. Maybe we don’t remember that they too have a fragile identity underneath the glamour; that they experience emotions like us, have plenty of ‘off-days’, and ask the same philosophical questions many of us do.
Put simply, her identity has been ‘understood’ through the insatiable hunger of the media.
Her attempt to bridge the gap between public and private could be seen in her perceived over-confidence. She once told Fearne Cotton in the documentary When Fearne Met Peaches, that she was intrigued by the theories of Richard Dawkins and Stephen Hawking and that it was her motivation for getting “involved with spirituality”. Five minutes later she proclaimed she was a scientologist.
The issue we face is in learning to not take the façade of the famous – transmitted by the media – at face value.
So keen to capitalise on being the first organisation to report something new about a celebrity, news outlets often lead the way in both lighting and extinguishing the flame, and myth, of celebrity status. Whether that be models, footballers, or actors.
We need to learn to confront the irrational beliefs our society holds about fame and perfection, and not just when tragedy strikes. We should form our perceptions based on truth rather than trivia and not be lulled into believing the false narratives offered to us.
(picture Wikimedia Commons)