I don’t think it speaks ill of the dead to say Peaches Geldof was never a central cog in the cultural or moral life of modern Britain. And yet her death has been turned into a national event, with not only the celebocracy churning out trite tweets of brief grief for its fallen member, but even politicians, presidents and significant swathes of the public expressing sorrow for her passing. That even an It girl, mostly famous for being the daughter of Sir Bob and once having had a televisual run-in with foghorn-made-flesh Katie Hopkins, can be mourned like this, can become the object of ceaseless howls of 140 characters of sorrow, shows how ravenous the culture of public grieving has become. It doesn’t even need a Diana or pope anymore in order to get its death-watching rocks off; anyone will do.
Of course, none of us needs the media to tell us that the death of a 25-year-old mother of two children is very sad. But it is one thing to report the untimely demise of a young celebrity; it is another thing to turn that death into a focal point of ersatz Twittergrief, to invite the public, as the Guardian did, to ‘express their sadness about this terrible news’. Within hours of her death, Ms Geldof went at eye-swivelling speed from being a joke celeb, widely mocked by the respectable press as a parasite on Sir Bob’s fame whose cushy jobs in medialand were ‘laughably undeserved’, to being a sad, beautiful saint, a cut-price Diana whose ‘death touches us and makes us reach out’, as one newspaper claimed. It wasn’t anything that Ms Geldof did or achieved that led to this media beatification; rather it is the sad and increasingly needy culture of shared mourning that means even someone written off as an airhead a week ago can become a figurehead of weepy Britain the minute she dies.
Peaches’ body was barely cold before the shallow grieving started. First, of course, there was the Twittergrief - the Twittersphere prides itself on being ahead of the curve, including when it comes to bashing out badly spelled mournful messages for someone most of us did not know or care very much for. ‘Floods of condolences were expressed on social media’, as one report put it. ‘There are no words’, said many of the Twittergrievers, which makes you wonder how they managed to churn out 370,000 tweets about Geldof in the first few hours after her death was announced. ‘So sad to hear about peaches’, said Gok Wan. ‘So sad to hear about the passing of Peaches Geldof’, said Boris Becker. Hollywood actress Susan Sarandon paid a heartfelt tribute to ‘Peaches Geldorf’. Queeny celeb-watcher Perez Hilton collected together these mournful tweets from the rich and famous and invited his readers to roll up, roll up and read the ‘heartbreakingly candid Twitter reactions’.
But it wasn’t just the usual celeb suspects who told everyone how sad they felt. So did politicians. Martin McGuinness - yes, that Martin McGuinness, deputy minister for Northern Ireland and supposed hardman of politics - told his 27,000 Twitter followers that he found Peaches’ death ‘so tragic’. The president of Ireland issued a statement expressing his shock at this ‘sudden and untimely’ death. Some have said the president’s intervention was understandable, given he was due to have a meeting with Bob Geldof this week; but might not a private message of condolence to Sir Bob have been more fitting from the head of state of the Republic of Ireland, rather than a Gok Wan-style public statement of unconvincing personal sorrow?
The media both echoed and inflamed all this showy grieving. The papers republished the sorrowful tweets of the famous and kinda famous in the same way they might once have told us what men or women of influence had said about big political matters. The BBC demoted both the instability in Ukraine and even its obsession with Oscar Pistorius - another favourite celebrity death story of our times - in order to let the nation know in detail who Peaches Geldof was and how sad everyone was about her passing. Cosmopolitan marked Peaches’ death with a look-back at her ‘25 best outfits’, which simultaneously took the media mourning to a new low while also unwittingly raising a pressing question: just what were the achievements of this young woman everyone was suddenly weeping for? She wore clothes, that’s one thing.