There is nothing inevitable about the way she died

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The Independent Online

One tabloid columnist, commenting on the announcement of Paula Yates this summer that she was going to start to rebuild her life, had some advice for her. "You have to be realistic when it comes to rebuilding. Sometimes, you take a good look and then go to work on careful reconstruction. Other times, you just shake your head, suck your teeth - and send out for eight sticks of dynamite."

One tabloid columnist, commenting on the announcement of Paula Yates this summer that she was going to start to rebuild her life, had some advice for her. "You have to be realistic when it comes to rebuilding. Sometimes, you take a good look and then go to work on careful reconstruction. Other times, you just shake your head, suck your teeth - and send out for eight sticks of dynamite."

In the light of this weekend's events, the callousness of that remark is obvious. But in their various ways, commentators continue to say much the same thing. Ms Yates's death was inevitable, even positive - what else can be made of the sentimental headlines proclaiming that Ms Yates is now reunited with Michael Hutchence, or those suggesting that at last her misery is over. Whatever the extenuating circumstances - and now, in death, Ms Yates is finally attracting the sympathy she needed for a long time - the consensus is that this tragic self-destruction was in some way a necessary release.

Ms Yates may not have sent out for dynamite on Saturday, but instead she sent an unnamed blonde woman in her twenties out for successive quarter-bottles of vodka. The people who run the off-licences near her home say that this was the way she usually bought vodka, little and often, quarter-bottles or miniatures, sometimes six or seven times a day.

Among all of the awful details of Ms Yates's decline and death, that is one of the most telling ones. Surely the small quantities suggest that Ms Yates did recognise that her dependence on alcohol was a large part of her difficulties. Did she believe that each small purchase was going to be her last, then find herself unable to resist the need for another drink? Or did each incremental purchase serve to shore up her denial that she was drinking in large quantities?

Whichever was the case, the fact remains that she was not able to resist drinking, and while drunk, would not have been able to resist drugs either. The rumours that she had taken heroin that day tend to make sense, even though yesterday's post-mortem examination was inconclusive. While large quantities of alcohol alone can kill, it is more likely that a death such as Ms Yates's should come while the body is anaesthetised by opiates.

As for the fact that her body was found by her four-year-old daughter, well, that is of course horrific and degenerate. It was worries over drug use that compelled Bob Geldof to seek and win custody of his three children by Ms Yates, while the father of Michael Hutchence was worried enough by Ms Yates's parenting to mount a claim for temporary custody. Cruelly, events bear out the concerns of both men. Any mother who gets into such a state while in charge of a child is, of course, by definition unfit.

For many, the fact that Ms Yates was not able to sort herself out for the sake of her daughters is the most baffling of them all. All of those close to Ms Yates agree that her children meant everything to her. So why were they not enough of an incentive for her to straighten up?

The sad truth is that the illness that blighted Ms Yates is not, like any illness, a respecter of logic. Which perhaps is part of the reason why we as a society refuse to treat it logically. Ms Yates had booked, on half a dozen occasions, into the Priory clinic in Roehampton for treatment of her depression and her drink and drug dependencies. Clearly, none of that treatment had worked for her. She had also attended some self-help groups, which had not aided her enough either.

No wonder it is difficult for people to take these places seriously. Few do. Self-help groups, which for hundreds of thousands of people are a lifeline, are constantly ridiculed, while the Priory itself - a hospital that treats desperate people - has achieved such glamorous notoriety that it has had its name appropriated by, of all things, a celebrity chat show. Yates herself was the victim of these weird double standards. Again and again it has been reported with gusto that she was off her face at this premiere or that party, as if being in the grip of such obsessive, destructive behaviour were a sort of light entertainment.

Many commentators have been quick to point to the attention-seeking childishness that made Ms Yates clamour constantly to be in the spotlight as a contributory factor in her unravelling. Of course it is true that celebrity culture is harsh and unforgiving, and that for some people it is an addiction in itself. Certainly this was a factor in Ms Yates's tragedy. But it is true as well that beyond the lurid headlines, many people suffer from similar problems to Ms Yates's and come to ends as tragic and pointless.

It is a hallmark of the kind of problems Ms Yates suffered from that she died estranged from her family and from many of her friends. Her life was littered with abandoned relationships and breakdowns in communication. A woman in a fragile state such as Ms Yates's was made all the more vulnerable because she lived alone.

She had no close family left - an only child, she had lost whom she thought was her father some years ago. Her mother, who a few months back told the press of her worries about Ms Yates's mental state, had not spoken to her for five years. She says she did not have her daughter's address or telephone number, although she did remain in touch with Ms Yates's daughters through Bob Geldof.

Ms Yates did still have some friends - notably Josephine Fairley, who telephoned Ms Yates on several occasions on Sunday morning before the phone was finally answered by her daughter, and Belinda Brewin, who accompanied the police into her home yesterday. But this fragile ring-fence was clearly not enough to provide the sort of support she needed. Indeed, in such situations it is often easier for those close to a person in Ms Yates's state not to be too critical or confrontational in order to keep the relationship going at all.

For the astonishing thing about drink and drug abuse is that while it appears under control it attracts droves of companions, who melt away as things get nasty. Drug and alcohol problems, whether they spring from other mental problems or are triggered by personal tragedy, are constantly misunderstood. As life spirals out of control, the speed with which friendship melts away is astounding.

That is not surprising, since the level of paranoia and plain nastiness engendered by such problems alienate and frighten people, who quickly feel out of their depth. The awful thing is that there will always be some co-dependent ally around, who will slide into the empty spaces left by driven-out family and friends and offer instead a repetition of the old patterns of release.

That is particularly true among celebrities, who can always find people who will pander to them and validate them, sometimes - perhaps because of the widespread and wilful failure of society to understand the dangers, perhaps because of their own, similar problems - without understanding what they are doing.

The amount of opiates in Ms Yates's bloodstream will come to light after further tests have been carried out. It will then be easy to assume that it was drugs that killed her. But while that may be technically correct, and will assure Ms Yates a place in the hall of clichéd rock-chick infamy, the truth is that those little bottles, available pretty much anywhere, and the refusal of people to realise that, whatever dangerous cocktail kills an addict, it always includes alcohol, played just as potent a role.

d.orr@independent.co.uk

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