Ben Goldsmith is no longer half-crazy with grief for the loss of his brilliant daughter Iris who died in a terrible accident four years ago, but he co
Ben Goldsmith is no longer half-crazy with grief for the loss of his brilliant daughter Iris who died in a terrible accident four years ago, but he continues to wake up with his pillow soaked in tears.
‘I have dreams in which I am with Iris. They are both joyful and tearful at the same time,’ he says.
‘On one level I know she’s dead and I’m in floods of tears but, on another level, because of the strange things that happen in dreams, I sort of don’t know [she’s dead] and I’m just joyful to be with her. I often wake up with a wet pillow.’
Iris, a dazzling 15-year-old and the eldest of Ben’s seven children, died on his 280-acre Cannwood Farm estate in Somerset in July 2019.
She was playing around in an off-road farm vehicle when it lost balance, flipped over and pinned her to the ground. The friend, who had been riding with her, was unhurt, but the vehicle was too heavy for her to lift.
By the time a distraught Ben, who was playing cricket with friends and family at Charterhouse public school in Surrey, arrived an hour later, Iris had died.
Ben Goldsmith is no longer half-crazy with grief for the loss of his brilliant daughter Iris who died in a terrible accident four years ago, but he continues to wake up with his pillow soaked in tears
Iris, a dazzling 15-year-old and the eldest of Ben’s seven children, died on his 280-acre Cannwood Farm estate in Somerset in July 2019
He recalls receiving a phone call about the accident and finding himself on a building site at the school. ‘The builders were very shocked to see this panic-stricken guy run into their tearoom. One of them gave me a glass of water.’ It was 3.55pm. Iris was declared dead by the emergency services at 4.30pm.
When Ben finally reached his beautiful, vibrant daughter, she was on a metal trolley, partially zipped into a body bag, her hands visible at her side. The only sign of injury was a few flecks of blood beneath her nostrils.
Consumed with grief, Ben was, he says, completely lost, ‘like a zombie’. He sobbed helplessly, pleading with his daughter to reach out to him, wherever she was.
At her funeral, which passed in ‘a fog’, he read E.E. Cummings’s poem, I Carry Your Heart With Me.
‘Someone handed me the poem and I thought, ‘That’ll be good,’ he says. ‘I sort of dumbly recited it. It was all a big fog at that time. I didn’t really know what it [the poem] meant. Now I do.
‘That kind of loss remains with you for ever. It doesn’t get lighter but you learn to carry it with you. It goes from being kind of jagged to being kind of smooth, rounded at the edges and kind of warm.
‘In a strange way, you come to love the weight of that loss. It’s the place where my ongoing connection with Iris resides and, on occasion, when I sit alone and think about her, the connection will be overwhelming. I have a very clear memory of the loves we had between us and it feels reciprocal.
‘I find it hard to describe what I mean but this feeling of love is kind of like a radio frequency with which I can communicate with her. It feels two-way so, in that sense, I am together with her from time to time.’
Iris was playing around in an off-road farm vehicle when it lost balance, flipped over and pinned her to the ground
Consumed with grief, Ben was, he says, completely lost, ‘like a zombie’. He sobbed helplessly, pleading with his daughter to reach out to him, wherever she was
One such place where he seeks out his daughter is a stone circle of eight upright slabs of Cornish granite erected on his farm in her memory. A ninth stone is laid flat, marking the spot in the grass where life ran out of her as she lay beneath the off-road vehicle.
‘If she’d just stayed on the track,’ he says nodding to a stone track that is within spitting distance of the flat granite slab. ‘That’s where she was going but she’d veered off it into the newly cut grass, laughing, trying to frighten her friend.’
He points to a tree that’s taller than those around it. ‘I can’t believe it’s more than 100 yards. They didn’t even put shoes on. They left the music playing by the pool on the lawn. They thought they were going to go back there. I’ve thought about that so many times.
‘Obviously, if I could go back and whisper something in the ear of my younger self, I would say, ‘Never let your children drive motor vehicles until they’ve got a driving licence.’
The stone circle is a stirring place. In the weeks and months following his daughter’s death he searched through books on reincarnation, Jewish kabbalah, the Buddhist wheel of dharma and sufism to try to make sense of where she might be.
He visited a spiritual medium who told him things about his daughter — the teddy under her pillow, details of dreams he’d had about her, a pink book filled with photos and condolences from her friends — she couldn’t possibly have known. He’d thought such ideas were ‘complete hocus-pocus’ before her death.
‘In the madness of my grief in the first months it was such an enormous comfort. I don’t know how she did what she did — whether it was telepathy or whether Iris was present in some extraordinary way — but it was real for me in that moment.’
The turning point, he says, came a year after Iris’s death when he was persuaded by friends to undergo a psychedelic experience by taking part in a two-day sacred ritual drinking tea known as Ayahuasca. He was frightened half-witless and vomited each night but, as he says, ‘I thought, ‘If I’m going to see Iris — if I’m going to get a glimpse of whatever is out there — that’s how I’m going to do it.’
‘It was one of the most meaningful experiences of my whole life because it turns out that’s sort of what happened.
Ben visited a spiritual medium who told him things about his daughter — the teddy under her pillow, details of dreams he’d had about her, a pink book filled with photos and condolences from her friends — she couldn’t possibly have known. He’d thought such ideas were ‘complete hocus-pocus’ before her death
‘In the madness of my grief in the first months it was such an enormous comfort. I don’t know how she did what she did — whether it was telepathy or whether Iris was present in some extraordinary way — but it was real for me in that moment’
‘I think we’re part of a grand mystery that’s impossible for us to understand or explain but I feel with every fibre of my being that we will be together again. I just don’t know how or what that even means, but I know.’
Following that experience, he cried ‘a lot less’ and decided to commit himself to rewilding his farm, thus allowing natural wildlife to thrive.
Ben’s face lights up like a sparkle of fireflies as he shows me the beavers’ dams, tadpoles and wild-flowers on his estate, but you sense he’d gladly hand over every last blade of grass to have his precious daughter back.
‘I would give anything,’ he says with such feeling you can almost reach out and touch it. ‘But it’s a pointless line of thought so I don’t pursue it. We have no way of unpicking what happened. It is what it is.
‘It’s something you imagine you couldn’t survive but, as it turns out, you can. I didn’t really have a choice. I have a young wife, young children, other children and people in my family that kind of rely on me.
‘They didn’t deserve to have me just shrivel up and forget how to live. So, I made a conscious choice quite early on that I was going to find a way to live but it did feel to me like it was going to be a prison sentence.’
‘I felt, I’m now stuck. I have to live out the rest of my days and be a good father, husband, friend, brother and son. I’ve got, potentially, a long time ahead of me feeling like this.’
When Iris died, his former brother-in-law Imran Khan, the former prime minister of Pakistan, who was married to his sister producer and film-writer Jemima, 49 and whom Ben loves dearly, called and told him to ‘have faith’.
‘I didn’t at the time,’ says Ben. ‘My mother [Lady Annabel Goldsmith] said, ‘It does get better.’. Ben couldn’t imagine how on earth it possibly could. Today, the Iris hole remains but his Cannwood Farm is full of warmth and laughter.
When Iris died, his former brother-in-law Imran Khan, the former prime minister of Pakistan, who was married to his sister producer and film-writer Jemima, 49 and whom Ben loves dearly, called and told him to ‘have faith’
His three-year-old daughter Vita — he has four children between six and one with his lovely second wife chef Jemima Jones — is a particularly joyous little scrap of a thing who beetles about the terrace in a baby walker.
She was delivered nine months after Iris’s death by emergency caesarean and, for the first week, they did not think she would live. A year later they learnt she had a brain injury. The umbrella term is cerebral palsy. Her mobility and speech have been impacted. She cannot yet walk or talk. Ben calls her his ‘miracle child’.
‘[In the beginning] I definitely found it hard to cope because I had two massive blows in really quick succession. But the difference with this situation is that I was able to pick Vita up and cuddle her and play with her when I felt fearful or anxious.
‘Once you’re sitting with a little girl on the floor of the kitchen playing with toys and cuddling and kissing her and laughing, it’s hard to feel too low. She’s such a happy, bright and adorable little creature.’
We move from the terrace to a converted cow barn next to the farmhouse where Iris spent the night before her death with her friend. There is a painting of her as a child on the wall that looks down upon us. Ben has her name tattooed on the inside of his left arm.
We’re here to discuss his extraordinary book God Is An Octopus (it’s what he scribbled down during his psychedelic experience) in which he writes movingly about his attempts to make sense of what happened to Iris.
Voices drift from the terrace where Eliza, his six-year-old, plays with a toy pony that was once Iris’s. Much of what was once his eldest daughter’s has been handed down.
‘She’s present,’ says Ben. ‘Her physical objects have kind of come to Eliza. Iris is nowhere to be seen but is present in conversation and in our hearts. She’s a mythical creature, to some degree, in Eliza’s mind. She should have had a much older sister who came to collect her from school and took her shopping but now she’s more of a guardian angel.
‘Those are big ideas for a little girl so she’s been doing art therapy which was recommended by the school.’
Ben is a thoroughly likeable, sensitive man who speaks with the sort of raw honesty that, at times, takes your breath away. He says, for him, to talk is a therapy of sorts. Each morning, he starts the day with a cup of tea in bed with Jemima.
‘I’m never so low that I can’t get out of bed and go and get us two cups of tea,’ he says. ‘Seeing as she looks after me all day, it’s one small practical thing I can do for her. I just thank God every day for Jemima.
‘My mother adores her. My ex-wife Kate loves her. She’s such a wonderful mother. My older children love her. Iris loved her.’
Ben is the youngest son of the late financier Sir James Goldsmith and part of an eye-wateringly wealthy, and unwieldy, family.
Ben’s first wife was banking heiress Kate Rothschild, mother to Iris and her brothers Frankie, 17, and Isaac 15. Kate’s sister, Alice, was married to Ben’s brother, Conservative peer, Zac.
Today, Alice Rothschild who separated from Zac last month, has joined Ben for lunch.
‘I’m trying not to be involved in any way, but I understand it’s all fine so here’s Alice having had lunch with us,’ says Ben.
‘More than anything, my mother always said, especially if you have children with someone, the idea you should be at war or behave in an unpleasant or undignified way is just not acceptable.’
When he and Kate separated in 2012 as rumours spread that she was having an affair with American rapper Jay Electronica, a bitter war of words ensued on Twitter.
‘I wanted to kill her,’ says Ben. ‘I behaved in an undignified way, getting very angry and upset. It wasn’t fair. We both made mistakes. We just got married too young — we were 22 and 20 — and didn’t respect the marriage. I wasn’t seeing anyone else but I’d been in and out [of our home] and wasn’t really fully living there anymore.
‘But it [the undignified behaviour] was very quick. My mother kind of knocked our heads together. She said, ‘You know that friendship within a marriage can be the most valuable thing in your life.’
The turning point, he says, came a year after Iris’s death when he was persuaded by friends to undergo a psychedelic experience by taking part in a two-day sacred ritual drinking tea known as Ayahuasca
‘My father effectively left her for another woman but they remained close until he died [from pancreatic cancer at the age of 64 in 1997]. She was by his deathbed. I suppose my mother’s house was a bit of a commune — like an artist’s colony without the artists.’
This is the first time Ben has spoken so openly about his unconventional life. He says, ‘My father was a kind of typhoon who came in several times a year for a few days. Rooms that weren’t often used would be lit up and different guests would come.
‘Amazingly, I think I was conceived after they separated, which is so typical of my family. I don’t know the full details but I think they were sort of separated from 1978 or 79 onwards because that’s when the other woman, Laura Boulay de la Meurthe, was in the mix.
‘She was my father’s mistress to the end of his life but, somehow, I was conceived in 1980 so there must have been a brief reconciliation of some sort. All the edges were blurred but my mother created extraordinary stability.’
This tribe, that included nephews and nieces, instantly cancelled their summer plans after Iris’s death and, Ben says, ‘made the difference between survival and not.
‘They were with me for months on end at the start. We began to call ourselves the Grief Kibbutz here in Somerset because there were a dozen of us coming and going the whole time. That really mattered hugely to me.’
He finds it hard to comprehend how four years have passed since his daughter’s senseless death. He and Kate have spent each of Iris’s birthdays — February 3 — together.
‘I know how hard it is for Kate,’ says Ben. ‘I almost dread it more for her than I do for myself. I try to go for a walk with her and I’ll do that on Iris’s birthday for as long as I live.
‘Iris was Kate’s only daughter. Boys are wonderful but they don’t remember the details like daughters do. Iris used to post a picture on Instagram of her on Kate’s birthday and those kind of things. They should have had a lifetime of that so I find it really hard to think of the scale of Kate’s loss.’
Together they’ve established the Iris Project in memory of their daughter, which identifies and helps the most promising young environmentalists around the world. The first three winners were awarded funding and mentorship last September.
‘As my mother said, life does return. It does get easier,’ he says. ‘I didn’t want to hear it at the time but she was right. ‘Does the rest of my life feel like a prison sentence now? No. When I feel joy, there’s a depth to my joy, but it’s been hard won.’
He pauses. ‘But I’d give anything to have Iris back.’
God Is An Octopus: Loss, Love And A Calling To Nature’ by Ben Goldsmith, £20, is published by Bloomsbury Wildlife
Source: | This article originally belongs to Dailymail.co.uk