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Peaches Geldof, celebocrat, a sign of the failed Glorious Revolution

Celebrities fill a hole left in British society by the aristocracy. Peaches Geldof was a celebocrat — the outpouring of coverage following her death was inevitable, because we needed it to be.

Love without hope, as when the young bird-catcher
Swept off his tall hat to the Squire’s own daughter,
So let the imprisoned larks escape and fly
Singing about her head, as she rode by.
 — Robert Graves

The breaking news pre-empted stories on BBC Radio’s flagship news PM program for the announcement. The Guardian bumped its endless MH370 coverage to lead with Peaches — and left it up there, even when pro-Russian separatists occupied Kharkov and Donetsk and appealed for Vladimir Putin to invade the Ukraine. The Twitter parade began then, with the usual suspects — Susan Sarandon, Peter Andre, Mamamia — and then went further afield: Irvine Welsh, author of Trainspotting, expressed his sorrow, as did young Brit Left firebrand Owen Jones. Firebrand feminista Laurie Penny got in on the act, and, Christ of all people, Fred Nile. Cosmopolitan mourned her the way it knew best, by featuring a re-run of her “25 best outfits”, which then gave everyone the controversy they needed to have a barney.

That Peaches Geldof (pictured) had, the day before, instagrammed a picture of herself as a child with her mother — hopeless, suicidal fuck-up Paula Yates — was too good for the morning papers to resist. Though no cause of death had been announced, speculation immediately began on the effect of her chaotic early life, the teenage drinking and drugging years, etc. By morning, the sites of The Telegraph and The Guardian had racked up eight stories each, photo galleries, and the inevitable think pieces — “she was the perfect alternative role model,” said Daisy Buchanan, whoever she is. Which all of course generated a fresh round of articles on whether the coverage was over the top.

For anyone outside of the UK, I suspect the answer was not so much “yes” as “hell, yes”. Wire services and foreign corros took up the story because it was a Bob Geldof angle. The last time most people had heard of Peaches was during the Geldof-Yates-Hutchence breakup-custody-deathmatch at the end of the ’90s, when the trio’s naming practices appeared to have a hit a high not known since the days of Moon Unit and Dweezil Zappa. But for anyone in the UK, it was something else, which fuelled the compulsive coverage. The doings of celebrities are interesting to us despite ourselves, as are the doings of royals — but the British have perfected an ideal hybrid, celebrocracy. Celebrocracy is that strange condition whereby the children of celebs become more interesting than the celebs themselves — not in the car-crash-waiting-to-happen sort of way, but with a degree of inherent legitimacy.

Essentially, the British have never lost the habit of aristocracy — the idea that a class of people are not merely better than us, but that their role is simply to live, while the rest of us work — and celebs fill that role. The old idea that ancient families somehow generate people who are better, rather than luckier, can no longer be sustained — and just as it died (the last presentation of debutantes to the Queen occurred in 1958. 1958!), the celeb culture came along to save it. British culture continues to generate enormous amounts of genuine talent, which it exports, and that talent — their doings and their output — circulates and recirculates endlessly via the still-viable print/news site media, a public broadcaster that huge numbers actually watch, radio, umpteen subcultures, etc.

The effect is to turn the whole country — all but Northern Ireland and the most far-flung parts of Scotland — into one huge village, all in each other’s doings, all sharing to some degree the same triumphs, disasters, jokes and moments. And the celebrocrats parade through the tabloids, like the squire’s young daughter riding by — part of it all, but elevated, like us, but not. Lily Allen, Nigella Lawson, Peaches, the other skinny Geldof one, Pippa Middleton, Rachel Johnson, and others you’ve never heard of: Amanda de Cadenet, Tara Palmer-Tomkinson, and countless others, mostly young women. They fill the media in a way quite unlike Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan, as a sort of deathwatch-by-instalments. Hopes are invested in them; a sort of deference attaches. There’s bugger all you can do about it, at an individual level. That’s what a culture is.

The problem is the culture that dictated her death would have meaning for so many, because her life had so much meaning.”

So they get to do everything, and publicly. By the time she died, Peaches had been a model, a party DJ, a photographer, a glossies columnist, a radio DJ, a TV presenter, a TV producer, a mother, and an advocate of a fashionable one-dimensional theory of parenting. She wasn’t that great at any of them — mothering aside, though a photo sequence of her dropping her baby while never ceasing to talk on her mobile was grimly funny until yesterday — but of course you don’t have to be great at any of those things. They’re the modern equivalent of gavottes and cantering, things the celebrocracy do. Every night as you stagger home exhausted on the Tube to a microwaved readymeal and a reality show in which ex-members of Westlife help violent teenagers save a private zoo, the Evening Standard Londoner’s Diary or DailyMail.co.uk keeps you updated on what the squire’s daughters are doing, maybe no more than a couple of kilometres away. Such a cultural system cannot survive unless at some point, people stop minding it — or never did in the first place. Young girls are favoured, and their only job is to exist. Actual talent would detract.

Peaches Geldof fit the bill because her dad had become a celebrocrat himself, by making a transition from his pretty ordinary music to pretty average charity management to being simply a figurehead. She was essentially in waiting to be the countess of Geldof. Short, doe-eyed, bottle-blonde, perky, she was endlessly photographed tracking out of either some Dalston grime club, or Annabelle’s, the St James’s disco where celebrity and real aristocracy come together, or gormlessly spinning discs at some party, with all the confident touch of someone patting an armadillo. But who could judge? If you’d been born to the celebrocrat purple, and London was your playground, wouldn’t you do one of everything? How great would it feel? As great as it always felt to be an aristocrat, I reckon. Soho, St James, Hackney, Vauxhall, old squares and pleasure gardens, with four centuries of elite abandon written into them, by slippered and stilettoed feet.

Which is why debate as to whether the coverage of her death was excessive or not was missing the point. There was no chance that it wouldn’t be marked by obsessive coverage — and real grief. Aristocracy only ever worked if there was an implicit idea that someone should get to have a life, to experience the world as a free being, unconstrained by necessity. The dream of utopia was that everyone would live like an aristocrat — ultimately drawn into Marx’s idea of communism, in which one would hunt in the morning, breed peacocks in the afternoon, discuss “critical criticism” in the evening. Once that dream died — kept alive to a degree in the ’60s — the existing structures were revealed unchanged. In such a historically defeated condition, celebrocracy is no imposition — but a necessary means by which culture works, a way of living.

So the deep and collective sadness around the death of a young woman none of us ever knew is not the problem. The problem is the culture that dictated her death would have meaning for so many, because her life had so much meaning. It is a sign of a failed revolution. The problem for Britain is that that revolution occurred and faltered in 1688. The problem for the rest of the world is that they are becoming dependent on it too, which is why the death of an unremarkable young woman echoes around the world, and untold thousands feel themselves reaching for Twitter, sending out trite unremarkable words, which fly, singing around her head, as she rides by.

17
  • 1
    rhwombat
    Posted Wednesday, 9 April 2014 at 11:20 am | Permalink

    Another good piece Guy, even if oxymoronically meta.

  • 2
    Phil L
    Posted Wednesday, 9 April 2014 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

    I was thinking of cancelling my Crikey subscription, Guy has single handedly changed my mind….take note editor, much more of this type of quality writing from now on please.

  • 3
    Rob Hoffman
    Posted Wednesday, 9 April 2014 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

    I just treat it as a Rundle subscription Phil, and ignore the rest.

  • 4
    Dez Paul
    Posted Wednesday, 9 April 2014 at 1:23 pm | Permalink

    Aaaaaarrrgghhhh. Those far flung parts of Scotland sound bloody marvellous, Guy. Anything to avoid the culture of “celebocracy” and the villagers living vicariously on the dream life of celebs. I guess for Ms Geldof, the dream life wasn’t so dreamy after all. Reality bites everyone in the end.

    Keep up the excellent work, Rundle, and you are risk of being knighted by our own chief village idiot.

  • 5
    Corban Hicks
    Posted Wednesday, 9 April 2014 at 1:44 pm | Permalink

    STOP OUTDOING YOURSELF RUNDLE I CAN’T KEEP UP

  • 6
    paddy
    Posted Wednesday, 9 April 2014 at 1:50 pm | Permalink

    Top stuff Rundle.

  • 7
    Alan Wearne
    Posted Wednesday, 9 April 2014 at 2:21 pm | Permalink

    I had never heard of this member of the British Celebritocracy until her death and even now I am wondering who exactly was she? Someone alas whose parents gave her (as their other off-spring) idiotic British Celebritocracy first names. That she was addicted to self promotion through the wretched twitter and other outlets saddens one, of course, as does the thought of any death of a twentyfive yearold, though surely in this country it needn’t have had any media coverage at all.

  • 8
    zut alors
    Posted Wednesday, 9 April 2014 at 5:11 pm | Permalink

    …a reality show in which ex-members of Westlife help violent teenagers save a private zoo…”

    Please tell us you made that up.

    Excellent commentary. Guy is now the main bait to renew my subscription.

  • 9
    Flowenswell
    Posted Wednesday, 9 April 2014 at 5:37 pm | Permalink

    Yep, aside from perhaps having heard her name floating about in the media’s dense emptiness, I had no idea who Peaches Geldoff was/lives on being in the minds of those who ‘knew’ her (for want of anything better to know). Thanks for filling in the gaps Rundle.

  • 10
    fractious
    Posted Wednesday, 9 April 2014 at 5:44 pm | Permalink

    Celebrities fill a hole left in British society by the aristocracy”

    If you say so. I mean, it couldn’t be they’re fascinated for the same reasons people in the US, Oz and just about everywhere else? are, could it.

    Essentially, the British have never lost the habit of aristocracy”

    That has to be a (very lame) joke, because no-one who wanted to be taken as a serious commentator could ever write that and keep a straight face.

    Don’t give up the day job.

  • 11
    PDGFD1
    Posted Wednesday, 9 April 2014 at 5:55 pm | Permalink

    Celebocracy’ sigh… the vacuousness + waste of potential at the privileged end of society is just as wrenching as the everyday waste of potential at the other.

    Alan@7, yep, she barely registered on my radar either, but then - same goes for the blathering coverage of the demise of some of our ‘TV-Week-ers’ and sports ‘stars’(not to mention their wives)… probably not sufficient to say “who cares?” So…

    Rundle thinking pretty clearly - 5 stars, and I’m with Zut.

  • 12
    @chrispydog
    Posted Wednesday, 9 April 2014 at 6:22 pm | Permalink

    Peaches?

    Who?

  • 13
    DiddyWrote
    Posted Wednesday, 9 April 2014 at 7:40 pm | Permalink

    Panem et circenses.
    Not a very novel excercise I’m afraid Guy. An opportunity to pontificate over the low brow celebrity fascination in the death of a young woman (click bait) and then try to turn this into a profound insight into modern society and class division.
    It may seem insightful but in reality it’s just following what the tabloids do; dead celeb means the punters will be interested.

  • 14
    AR
    Posted Wednesday, 9 April 2014 at 8:43 pm | Permalink

    After the first line or three, I felt as though the treacle would become impossible to wade so gave up but some commenters above give it the OK so I shall try again … maybe.

  • 15
    Ken Lambert
    Posted Wednesday, 9 April 2014 at 9:26 pm | Permalink

    Touche Guy

    Once upon a time before the end of Empire, Peaches would have taken up ornithology, nursed the sick, taught contraception to the lower orders (ladies like her mum) or even sat for the Indian Civil Service exam….Oh and had a name like Florence, Rose, Daisy, Lavinia, Gertrude or Emmeline…

  • 16
    Moving to Paraguay
    Posted Thursday, 10 April 2014 at 3:23 am | Permalink

    This is worth minting. Rundle at the top of his craft. My Crikey subscription is secure for another year, dog or no dog. I would dip my lid if it didn’t mean all those tweets escaping into the ether.

  • 17
    Kym Leather
    Posted Thursday, 10 April 2014 at 8:48 am | Permalink

    Nahhhhh. I was saddened by her death because I’m often at home as the lone adult with two young kids. In my darker moments I wonder what would happen to my kids if I dropped dead suddenly. I’m still following this story because of a morbid curiosity - were the two little boys there when the police arrived? Who called the ambulance? Was it because she wasn’t picking up the phone or something like that? I. want. to. know. What a terribly sad death.

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