Tiger Lily, The Survivor
Sunday 17th September 2000, I received another one of those calls from a journalist. There was disturbing news of Paula Yates and I was being asked to comment on my feelings on hearing of her death. I didn't even know if what the journalist was saying was true. I could hear him saying that the cause of death was believed to be a heroin overdose. Of course I asked if there was any news on Tiger, but he couldn't elaborate any further, except to say it was difficult trying to get more information, as there seemed to be a shut down on any further press reports. But my mind could not shut down.
We learned from Tina that Tiger had been taken to Bob's home. It was heartbreaking; here was this little granddaughter of mine, this sweet little child who by all accounts should have had a charmed life, suddenly alone, left without either parent at the age of four, and the rest of her family on another continent. My mind raced thinking of what we could do to support her. Thankfully we were already scheduled to go to London for the launch of our biography of Michael; now we knew we needed to make plans to arrive earlier.
What shocked me more about hearing the rumours of the cause of Paula's death was the fact that Tiger had been alone with her after she died. In the three years since Michael's death Paula had sought help from several exclusive clinics in an attempt to overcome her depression and substance abuse. Tina and I had not been alone in in our fears that Tiger could have been at risk in that house.
Kell had been quoted in an interview talking about an unsuccessful bid to gain custody of Tiger Lily in 1999, indicating his intention as being to make sure she was taken care of while Paula regained her health. In the midst of his negotiations to take physical custody of Tiger, he contacted Colin Diamond and asked if he would support his endeavour by funding a live-in nanny for her. The answer was no. After this bid Paula cut ties with Kell also.
It always hurt to know that journalists, specifically those attached to glossy magazines who pay for a story, were allowed access to Tiger when requests for visitation from her own flesh and blood were turned down. I had seen many English magazines featuring Paula and Tiger on the cover, with pages of photographs of mother and daughter in Paula's home. One I read, written by the friend who found Tiger on that dreadful morning, depicted Paula as the perfect homemaker. She described how Paula had made breakfast for the crew of photographer, assistants and stylists. This had been particularly amusing to me, at the time, as I knew that Paula prided herself on the fact that she did not go near a kitchen.
It seems clear that Paula needed much more help than her friends could provide.
I spoke with Tiger Lily frequently over the next 4 weeks Tina sent her a photo album that she had made up especially for her. It contained photographs of her cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents on her father's side and included the few pictures she had of Paula. She had written stories to go along with the pictures, especially about Michael when he was a little boy and had decorated the pages with all sorts of stickers and glittery 'fairy dust' that little girls love.
I had given Bob our arrival date but we were disappointed to find that he had taken Tiger to Spain on thier half-term holiday. Undaunted, we contacted him and made plans for brunch the following weekend.
On our first meeting with Tiger she held the photo album under her arm and Bob said she had taken it to school to show her friends and teachers. She came around to me and sat on my knee to show me saying, “I know who my family are”. When she came to Michael she shrieked with excitement, “Look, Daddy, Daddy”! She sat with me for a while and was not the least shy or indifferent, and after a while she went to sit on Tina's knee and ate some of her food. I was pleased to see how amiable and happy she was and could hardly believe that we were back together again.
She suddenly jumped down from Tina's lap and walked over to me, sat on the table directly in front of me and made this motion with her neck. It was something that Michael used to do. He had the ability to move his head from side to side as the Balinese do. I looked at Tina and the hairs on my arms began to stand straight up, “She's doing that Michael thing”. It was so eerie, so incredible we couldn't get over that moment.
Bob had agreed that we would take Tiger for the afternoon and as we were leaving he insisted that we also take the two younger Geldof girls. After drawing a lot of attention walking up Kings Road, we decided to take the children back to our hotel.
Tiger was so loving and very generous with her cuddles. She sang and danced around the room, she was a bundle of energy. She said she was hungry and wanted a bacon sandwich. When a knock at the door indicated its' arrival on a trolley with a room service waiter, she made us laugh by saying, “I love your house, you just have to pick up the phone and the man brings you a table with bacon sandwiches!”.
Three days later Belinda Brewin bought Tiger to our hotel for another visit, which was uncomfortable for several reasons. It was dinner time and Tiger was tired, she was accompanied by Belinda's daughter and Jo Fairley, the woman who had discovered Paula's body. We had never met Ms Fairley before and when Tina opened the door she swept past her with an armful of magazines bearing Paula's picture on the cover and tossed them down on the bed. Without so much as an introduction, she began lecturing us on what a great friend Paula had been.This was not what this visit was about. We were supposed to be spending quality time with Tiger.
The suite became quite crowded with unpleasant vibes. We tried to make the most of it. Tiger ran into my room and making a stage out of my bed, sang a Britney Spears song over and over, “why do these tears come at night” and danced about the suite. She painted our nails and I ended up with purple sparkle all the way up to the first knuckle which, I proudly displayed the following day on national television.
Belinda disappeared down to the hotel bar after a while leaving Jo to 'watch over us'. There was no reason for her to be there, in fact no reason for any of them to be there except my granddaughter. Tina took Jo aside and asked her why she was still there and she replied that Bob told her to stay. I was quite insulted. After all, this was my granddaughter, who was this woman to be watching over me and who was Bob Geldof to be making the rules. Tina called Bob and complained that our time with Tiger was being compromised by these 'minders'. Bob denied asking Jo Fairley to come to our hotel to watch us. Tina put the phone down, walked over to Ms Fairley and quietly told her to leave or she would call the hotel security.
When Belinda returned, out of earshot of the children, I asked her what happened that last night she had gone to see Paula. She told me that she had gone to Paula's house early in the evening. She had found her in a dreadful state, empty vodka bottles littered the floor and Paula was sick and groggy. She said she was angry with Paula and tried to revive her by walking her around the block and putting her in a bath. I asked her why she had left Tiger in the house and she said she thought Paula would take her to bed and sleep it off. I wondered how she could have walked out of that house that evening knowing what condition Paula was in. Who did she think was going to look after her four-year-old Godchild.
In the three years since Michael's death Paula had sought help from several exclusive clinics in an attempt to overcome her depression and substance abuse. Mother and I had lobbied the British Social Services for months warning them that something terrible was going to happen in that house.
Our letters and phone calls were politely answered at first, then brushed off. When we pushed harder we were told that they had ‘ made an appointment' to see Paula and would get back to us. This made no sense to me. Shortly after this we were informed that they had heard from Paula's attorney and that Tiger's family would no longer be entitled to information or updates on her situation.
Even though it was not a secret that Paula had been in and out of rehab, it was shocking to hear of her death. I felt very sad for her children, especially my niece Tiger Lily, who at just four-years-old had lost both parents in extreme circumstances. She would need careful, loving, nurturing. From everything I had read on child rearing I also knew that more than ever she needed to bond with someone who would always be there for her because in her very short lifetime, her reference would be that the people who love you the most, leave. She was in danger of believing that she was at fault. She also needed to connect with someone who could give her a sense of family history, most of all she needed a hand to hold and I immediately wanted to be that person.
Bob called to let me know that Tiger was safe at his home. I informed him that I would be in London in 4 weeks and he said she would be well taken care of until then. I was so relieved that she and her nanny were able to move over to Bob's apartment and that I could now have daily phone contact with her from my home in California. I looked forward to seeing her in London.
When he was called by the press, Kell made a completely unexpected statement to the effect that he was relieved that Tiger was with Bob Geldof, and that he had spoken with him and they had decided that this is where she would stay. I was astounded on many levels. In his initial police statement taken just three days after Michael's death, Kell had attributed Michaels' troubling mood in those last hours on the fact that Bob Geldof would not allow Paula to bring the two younger Geldof children to Australia for Christmas as promised. He had stated in an interview two months before Paula's demise that he hoped Michael was haunting Bob's house. The fact is, Kell had yet to meet Bob in person. Putting this aside, I did not think it was his decision alone, after all at seventy-seven-years-old he may have been too old to care for little Tiger, but there were others in the family who were willing to do so.
Bob did not mention that Tiger had been found alone with her mother. Paula had died sometime during the night with Tiger sleeping beside her, and it was by chance that her friend Jo Fairley had called her the following morning as she later told the court, to remind her that it was her daughter Pixies' tenth birthday. The three Geldof girls had not lived with their mother for at least 2 years prior to her death, but there are not many people who would need to be reminded of their own daughters' birthday. This alone tells me that it is obvious that Paula's friends were aware that she was mentally fragile. When Tiger picked up the phone and said she couldn't wake her mummy, Fairley became alarmed and went around to Paula's house at approximately 10:30am. On the nightstand lay a rolled up five pound note containing heroin residue. Nobody knows how long Tiger had been awake wondering around the house alone, it is a miracle that she did not ingest anything dangerous.
In the next few days I spoke with Bob often. He asked me if I was coming over for Paula's funeral which, I had not given thought to as I assumed her friends would not appreciate my attendance since it was clear to them that Paula did not like Michael's family. It was made even more pronounced when Belinda Brewin told the press that she was co-executor of Paula's will -made one month after Michael's death - the other executor being Colin Diamond. She announced that Paula had added a clause which, in essence says that Tiger Lily was to have no contact with her paternal grandparents. I mentioned my hesitance to Bob and he told me not to worry about these people. Easy for him to say I thought.
I did make plans to attend Paula's service, obviously realizing that it was an opportunity to see Tiger. If I arrived on Friday, attended the service on Saturday and left on Tuesday afternoon; when could I see Tiger? I asked. I discovered that apart from dinner with family on Sunday evening, Tiger was going to be too busy to see me. Too busy? She was four years old! My thoughts were to comfort and distract Tiger. I did not see the point of traveling nine hours in a plane and another two by train, staying alone at a country inn, to catch a glimpse of my niece for one evening surrounded by a lot of people I did not know. I passed and sent flowers to the girls and a bouquet of lilies to the chapel for Paula.
I was told that Michael's name was not mentioned in the service for Paula just as it had not been mentioned at Tiger's christening.
I was so excited about the prospect of seeing Tiger and finally being able to hug her, just to be an aunt and let her know she was loved. I called Tiger often. I sent cards almost every other day.
Mother and I discussed Tigers' future at length, it was decided that either she and Ross would come to California to live or I would take Tiger to Australia. We finally settled on California as it would be in between destination. Her half sisters could visit more readily if she were here. We had been advised, that my mother being Michael's mother, and therefore Tiger's grandmother and closest living relative, would be considered first and could nominate me as primary caretaker. This is how it had been explained to us two years previously.
From further conversations with Bob, I began to feel strongly that he was planning to keep Tiger. I rose early one morning and called him to ask point blank about his intentions. Very matter-of-factly he told me that, Tiger was staying with him and that I could come see her at any time. He spoke as if I lived in the next suburb. I sensed that he did not want to be having this conversation. I told him that I was not happy with that arrangement as I knew it would be the last thing Michael would want for his little daughter.
My mind wondered back to my conversation with Michael on Thanksgiving Day 1996 when he had insisted that Bob was trying to gain custody of his little daughter, at the time I told him this was a bizarre notion. Now I began to take on his frustration and anger.
I asked Bob how he was going to teach Tiger about her father, how on earth was she going to have an essence of this special man, the man she so closely physically resembled. He said that he had Michael's music videos, to which I said that she could never, learn about her father through contrived music videos. I asked him to remember how he felt when he thought that Michael would become father to his children, how hard he fought to get them back. It went downhill from there as he said I was insulting him just by asking these questions. I told him he was insulting me by telling me that my niece could learn about her father through MTV.
London is a twenty hour flight from Australia, and I knew for this reason alone, if Tiger stayed with Bob it would be difficult for her to ever know her father's family. My idea was that if she were in California, she would be half way between her half sisters and most of her father's family. I thought another plus would be the absence of press. The press is not as aggressive in the United States as it is in the United Kingdom, there is always someone more famous, more interesting next door. I know for certain that she will always be an oddity in London.
As I counted down the days to my departure I made plans for the future, Tiger's future. I inquired around locally about pre-schools and began readying my home for a little girl. I was getting quite excited about the prospect of raising another child. My daughter Erin called to tell me that she was looking forward to helping with Tiger Lily's care, Brent called offering to accompany me to London in order to assist in returning his little cousin to California. I inquired about a video-phone as I thought it important that she be able to keep contact with her half sisters. I wanted to give Tiger all the love she deserved and I naturally imagined that I would be bringing her back with me.
Before leaving California, I spoke briefly with the official solicitor for Tiger who said he would see us while we were in London. I had not done anything about an attorney as, we did not know we needed one. I did not see any urgency, we were family, blood relatives, why would Tiger be taken away from us? From what had been said in a letter we had all received from the courts, Tiger was a ward of the court and they wanted some input from the family.
We had been disappointed that Bob had taken the children to Spain the week we arrived in London as it meant that we would have to wait a little longer to see Tiger. After sitting in our hotel rooms for five days, we eventually met up with Bob and the girls for brunch. It was the day before we were to begin press for our book. We had been booked solid with interviews with press, television and radio for five days in London and one day in Ireland, so we knew that we would have to make the most of this visit.
During brunch and over the next six hours we had with her, Tiger was, so loving. She wanted to look at the photo album I had sent her, and ask about all of the pictures and she asked me to read the stories. I had sprinkled fairy dust around the pages and written stories about Michael when he was a little boy. I had included the few pictures I had of Paula too. She saw a picture of Erin when she was about her age and she said, “Look, it's me, where am I!” I explained that although it did look just like her, it was her cousin Erin. She said she wanted to go see her, play with her. I told her that she no longer looks like that, as she is grown, of course she did not comprehend this. When we took the girls back to the hotel Tiger wanted to paint my nails. Of course I joined in and before long I had purple sparkle polish up to my knuckles. We told Bob that we would like to see Tiger again in three days and he agreed pointing out that Wednesday was her nanny's day off. My mother remarked that it felt very strange having to ask Bob's permission to see her grandchild.
Unfortunately our next visit with Tiger was not ideal and did not go as smoothly as we had hoped. We were not permitted even five minutes alone with her. Paula's friends took turns sitting in our rooms, talking and playing with Tiger for our whole visit. At some point Erin and Joshua called and Tiger took the phone and talked animatedly. She was giggling as Joshua told her a joke and my mother taped the conversation for a keepsake. She has audio tapes of my children and Rhetts' and it is fun to listen to them many years later. This must have been reported back to Bob as I received a curt letter from his attorney shortly after this to demand that the tape be returned to him. I did not see any reason to do so.
I delayed my departure so that I could spend a weekend with Tiger, however I was informed that she was spending the weekend in the country with Paula's friend, Jo. I persevered and delayed my flight, cancelled my interview with the Foreign Press and spent a glorious afternoon and evening with my niece. I sat in on her afternoon class, and joined in finger painting, we went shopping and returned to the hotel to play ‘Fashion Polly' and ordered afternoon tea. The wonderful chef at the five star hotel did not so much as clear his throat or roll his eyes as I ordered Nutella sandwiches. He simply sent out for a jar and had it delivered to my room.
When it came to promoting the first edition of this book we thought we were prepared for anything after what we had been through over the previous three years, Mother said nothing could hurt as much as losing Michael, but many of the interviews were quite vicious. We resolved to answer every question in an attempt to bring the subject back to Michael and the book we wrote about him . I had been warned about the English press by Michael of course, and the fact that Paula had many friends in the media was not a secret, but we were not quite prepared for some of the nastiness that confronted us.
As we were escorted onto the set of our very first talk show, a production assistant whispered that we were not to mention Bob Geldof's name. Digesting that statement, I must have looked like a deer in headlights as both hosts pelted us with questions mostly pertaining to Paula. The substance of the interview was that by releasing our book on Michael just one month after Paula's death, we were being disrespectful of her. After being bombarded with accusations, I made note of the fact that the book was a biography on Michael. I mentioned that Paula was in his life for less than three of his 37 years, it was obvious that the host had not read our book and I asked him on camera if he had. He had to admit that he had not and went on to ask about Tiger Lily. Anyone who read a newspaper, or watched the evening news would know that it would be a thorny path I would be treading to answer without mentioning Bob's name.
This was such a harsh interview that my mother walked off the set weeping. It seemed that nobody on this show was taking into consideration that she had lost a son and the book was about that son. As my mother disappeared out of the studio, and we went to commercial, one of the hosts hugged me and whispered, “I knew Paula, she could be a bitch couldn't she!” I sat in the limousine on the way to my next interview in stunned silence.
Directly after the television show we were driven to a very popular, call-in, radio program. Once again, we were attacked. This time by both host and listening audience, for even thinking of removing Tiger Lily from the United Kingdom. The public was concerned about the fact that we were ‘taking her away from her sisters'. In fact they did not understand that she had not lived with her half sisters for two years and she was only 4-years-old. I tried to put it into perspective by saying that Australia is where she has the most relatives, including little cousins around her age, apart from the fact that I did not take the view that children should raise children. Fifi was seventeen and attending boarding school, Peaches was 12 and getting ready for boarding school, and ten-year-old Pixie could not be viewed as a playmate to four-year-old Tiger. The Geldof girls would not and should not be Tiger's caregivers. I also believed that people had lost sight of the fact that Bob Geldof and Michael had not been on speaking terms.
After our meeting with the Official Solicitor, the person who was representing Tiger's interests; Mother and I realized for the first time that Tiger's future was not going to be as simple as a round table discussion or a letter to the courts –he advised us to get an attorney. Fortunately prior to departing Los Angeles I had secured the phone number of a London barrister, from the Australian Consulate office, one who specialized in family law, and I made an appointment to see her. What I learned about British law in that first meeting was frightening to me. Apparently if someone has already put in an application for a child, anyone else wishing to do so must seek the permission of the first applicant. How very proper and ‘British'. I told the attorney that this was counter-active, as it did not seem plausible that the first applicant would want to co-operate.
Suffice to say my application to the British Court was not heard and Tiger Lily remains in London with Bob Geldof and his girlfriend Jeanne Marine. I look forward to the day when she is old enough to seek me and I know she will. when she does I will have many memories to share with her about her beautiful father.
END CHAPTER EIGHTEEN