‘No amount of money can inure against the pain of losing a child’: the tragic death of Iris Goldsmith
A gorgeous teenage girl, revelling in the opening bars of summer, pushing for a taste of independence after the stricture of school and exams, endures a fatal, freak accident. It is the stuff of every parent’s nightmares.
Fifteen years ago, I interviewed Iris Annabel Goldsmith’s parents, environmentalist Ben Goldsmith and society heiress Kate Rothschild, shortly after her birth.
Fresh with the glow of a new marriage and the first blissful flush of parenthood, this young couple (Ben was 23 and Kate, 21) had just united two of society’s most distinguished bloodlines.
They were “camping” with their newborn at the Richmond home of Ben’s mother, Lady Annabel Goldsmith, (from whom Iris gained her middle name) because their new house wasn’t yet ready to inhabit. Fortunately, Ben told me, “Iris is a complete angel.”
I concluded of this supremely privileged yet grounded pair: “I can easily imagine them a few years hence, still young and in love, tilling organic soil on some sprawling estate surrounded by animals and children.”
I was haunted by these words, early yesterday morning, when my daughter, Daisy, 15, who is in the same school year as Iris (who had just completed her first year of GCSEs at Wycombe Abbey) told me of her tragic and shocking death.
Iris had been enjoying the start of the summer holidays at Cannwood Farm, the Goldsmith family’s 140-acre Somerset estate, with a friend on Monday, when the ranger vehicle she was driving – an all-terrain buggy with a roll cage that resembles a cross between a quadbike and a small jeep – overturned on top of her. She died later from the injuries that she sustained.
Her father, Ben, who learnt of the accident while playing cricket at Charterhouse School in Surrey, fled the ground with Iris’s brothers, Frankie, 13, and Isaac, 11, to rush to his daughter’s hospital bedside.
Although Daisy did not know Iris in person, she knew of her, due to the sprawling network of private school friends all connected via Snapchat. The news of this heartbreaking death quickly spread through the London teenage scene, devastating them all. Daisy, profoundly affected at breakfast, said that Iris was known as one of the nicest and coolest girls in their year. Her friends are reeling.
Etonian Alfie Dean, 15, was Iris’s closest male friend. Yesterday, he was too stunned to fully comprehend what had happened.
“It doesn’t seem real,” he told me. “Her whole friendship group is in terrible shock and we can’t stop crying. This amazing girl didn’t deserve this at all. Iris was like my sister. I loved her so much.”
Everybody who knew Iris adored her, Alfie explained. “She was just lovely. The sweetest, most beautiful, caring girl. She was so much fun but she was also really kind. If a group of friends were all together and we needed some food, Iris was always the one who offered to go and get it. She would help anyone. She was incredibly normal and secure within herself, despite her huge complicated family.”
According to Alfie, a group of her closest friends are organising a barbecue this weekend in her memory – they all want to go to her funeral and will support each other through their grief.
Olivia Ipkendanz, 15, another close friend of Iris’s explained: “She had this spark and brought so much energy and joy to so many people. She was incredibly funny and was loving and friendly to everyone. Her absence will be sorely felt because so many people adored her. I loved her.”
There can not be a parent amongst us who has not been left breathless by this catastrophic misfortune, murmuring: There But For The Grace of God Go I. Death is the ultimate leveller. No amount of money – the Goldsmith/Rothschild fortune is in excess of £300 million – or estimable family connections can inure against the pain of losing a child.
Indeed, it often appears as if there is a correlation between tremendous privilege and grievous misfortune. In the rarefied yet tangled world of the Goldsmith and Rothschild clans, there seems to be a surfeit of suffering.
Both Ben and Kate lost their fathers as teenagers. Ben was 16 when the billionaire industrialist and founder of the Referendum Party, Sir James Goldsmith, died of cancer. A year before, in 1996, Kate was just 13 when her father, Amschel Rothschild, was found hanged in his Paris hotel room at the age of 41. His death was blamed on the burden of his immense inheritance and the pressure of being expected to take over the English branch of his family bank.
I remember how young Ben and Kate seemed when I interviewed them: he was like a Labrador puppy, bounding around, while she was ethereally beautiful and still. An old friend of Ben’s later said of their marriage: “Ben was desperately in love with Kate, and I think marrying so young was a way of escaping the Goldsmith playboy image and establishing a stable foundation for his life. Then it all went wrong.”
Their marriage ended in acrimony eight years later, when Kate had an affair with an American rapper, Jay Electronica. Ben went on to marry Jemima Jones, a society chef, with whom he has two young children, Eliza and Arlo.
In a strange twist, Ben’s brother, Zac Goldsmith, Tory MP for Richmond, married Kate’s sister, Alice Rothschild, with whom he had an affair during his marriage to his first wife, Sheherazade Goldsmith. Apparently, Jimmy Goldsmith wanted one of his descendants to marry a Rothschild. Both his sons complied.
Ben’s mother, Lady Annabel, had also endured colossal heartbreak before the death of her adored granddaughter, Iris. Her eldest son, Rupert, by her first husband, Mark
Birley, drowned in Africa, aged 30, while her second son, Robin, was mauled by a tiger at their friend John Aspinall’s private zoo when he was a child.
Lady Annabel has two other daughters, India Jane Birley, and Jemima Khan, whose ex-husband is the former cricketer and now prime minister of Pakistan. What the plaudits piling in for Iris reveal is that in spite of her family’s marital complications, vast wealth and sprawling homes, the Goldsmith and Rothschild families have an admirably grounded side.
Kate and Ben, who overcame their fractious past to become united parents (last year, Ben revealed his wife and his ex were now “friends, which is a great joy and blessing”) did an excellent job with Iris, who was unpretentious and delightful. They are, understandably, said to be “numbed to their core.”
Iris, described as a “firecracker,” had her bright light extinguished far too early. The poet Raymond Carver offers some solace to the agonising quest of finding acceptance and meaning in death. In Late Fragment he asks: “And did you get what you wanted from this life, even so? I did. And what did you want? To call myself beloved. To feel beloved on this earth.”
The palpable grief, and heart-felt condolences flooding towards her family suggest Iris Annabel Goldsmith was beloved by all lucky enough to know her.