A death deserves more than a hashtag

Peaches Geldof
Peaches Geldof

By Sheona Small

I was unexpectedly moved at the death of Peaches Geldof.

And now I’m wondering why I feel the need to justify adding ‘unexpectedly’ to that sentence.

Maybe it was unexpected because other than knowing who she was, she was of little relevance and even less interest to me.

Her wild-child teenage years of falling in and out of cabs, clubbing and tattoos were a mild irritation but not that much different from teenagers throughout the land, only her glassy-eyed misdemeanours were played out in front of the paparazzi.

In recent years she had popped back on to the periphery of my attention span with her on-going love affair with Twitter. Long before the Oscars brought selfies into the mainstream, Peaches was tweeting pictures of herself and her two young sons daily, as if declaring to the world “Look, I’ve turned it around and my life now is pretty damn perfect.”

I’d seen her on TV recently and grudgingly had to admit she came across as bright, smart and witty, though those things alone didn’t seem to merit her being held up as an icon of modern motherhood.

It was my teenage daughter who told me about her death, bursting into the room to ask if I’d heard the news. She then asked, rather sadly, if I knew that her mother had died of a drugs overdose and it dawned on me that for a whole post-internet generation, Peaches was just Peaches and not Peaches-daughter-of-Bob-and-Paula.

Back when we got all our news and celebrity gossip from newspapers and television, Bob Geldof and Paula Yates were the Beckhams, or even the Paltrow-Martins, of their day, just much more colourful and interesting.

There were the quirkily named children – which now seem almost restrained by today’s standards – and the transformation of the coquettish blonde bombshell from self-professed groupie to perfect ‘earth mother’ mum, with her down-to-earth books on parenthood.

And then it all went horribly wrong in a tragic you-couldn’t-make-it-up way – an affair with a heartthrob rock star that was kindled right in front of our eyes in a now infamous breakfast television interview, drugs, an angry and bitter custody battle, a bizarre death and finally the sad downward spiral of a Paula so grief-stricken that even her love for her children couldn’t save her.

So was this why I was so moved at Peaches’ death? I don’t think so, other than in the way you should feel empathy for any young woman who at 11 lost her mum to drugs but with the double whammy of it being in the full blitz of a media frenzy.

No, it was the immediate news coverage that did it for me.

First there were the facts, which because of circumstances were pretty scant, and really should have sufficed. But in today’s 24-hour rolling news coverage there is an incessant drive to be constantly reporting something, anything, to do with the story.

Depressingly, and ironically considering Peaches’ social media presence, this now means dredging through Facebook and Twitter for hashtag soundbites from even the lowest of ‘celebrities’ declaring their sympathy, not privately with a shred of common decency but out there for all to see.

And this isn’t our red top tabloids I’m talking about but our national television news where we expect to find maturity and gravitas.

It took a statement from Sir Bob Geldof and the description of being “beyond grief” to bring dignity to the proceedings. And to bring a lump to my throat.

We sympathise as we would with any family mourning the death of a loved one but maybe we should also be mourning the dumbing down, if not demise, of news reporting where populist pointless input, no matter how tragic the story, is considered an acceptable substitute for balanced professional journalism.