Garth Gibbs, the former Daily Mirror stalwart who has died at 75, led a complicated but inordinately cheerful and endearingly self-deprecating life.
He made a great many friends – largely because of his devil-may-care optimism, disdain for petty bureaucracy and his refusal to take anything too seriously. This went down well with his Fleet Street colleagues but perhaps less well with his three wives, of whom he once said: ‘The only gift any of my former wives ever wanted from me over Christmas was a divorce, so I was often free for shifts or assignments over the festive season.’
Born in South Africa (he never lost his accent), along with two brothers and a sister, Garth Gibbs worked on the Rand Daily Mail in Johannesburg and the Evening Post in Port Elizabeth before helping to launch a newspaper in Zambia in 1966. He moved to England in 1969 where he worked for Reuters, the Evening News and finally settled at the Daily Mirror where he worked for more than 20 years. He travelled extensively before becoming Mirror royal correspondent and later a columnist, penning Gibbs’ Gossip.
Apart from chasing royals, he also chased various Miss Worlds. Revel Barker, a former Mirror executive whose Gentlemen Ranters website Garth often wrote for, said: “The Miss World pageant was one of his successful specialities, and he and the photographer Kent Gavin invariably tipped the winner.”
Garth also managed to spend much of his time chasing various ‘sightings’ of ‘Lucky’ Lord Lucan, who was thought to have fled abroad after apparently mistaking his nanny for his wife and bludgeoning the ‘wrong’ woman to death. Of this colourful period in an almost continually helter-skelter career, Garth himself wrote: ‘As that brilliantly bigoted and crusty old columnist John Junor once cannily observed: ‘Laddie, you don’t ever want to shoot the fox. Once the fox is dead there is nothing left to chase.'”
With a wonderfully fertile imagination – a prerequisite of any good tabloid journalist – plus a good deal of chutzpah, Garth relished the challenge of keeping Lord Lucan alive, but never finding him.
‘I regard not finding Lord Lucan as my most spectacular success in journalism,’he said. ‘Of course, many of my colleagues have also been fairly successful in not finding Lord Lucan. But I have successfully not found him in more exotic spots than anybody else.
‘I spent three glorious weeks not finding him in Cape Town, magical days and nights not finding him in the Black Mountains of Wales, and wonderful and successful short breaks not finding him in Macau either, or in Hong Kong or even in Green Turtle Cay in the Bahamas where you can find anyone.”
As well as three wives, Garth had 13 grandchildren. His first wife, Beth, was the mother of his two sons, Gary and Warren. Both live in Australia where Beth went to live when Garth met wife number two (Christine) and the marriage broke up. Gary is a high-ranking officer in the Australian Air Force and Warren is a journalist on the Australian Sunday Telegraph. Garth and Christine had two more children, Juliette and Russell, before he married Louise Montgomery, a Daily Mirror colleague.
Garth lived with Louise Montgomery and her daughter Daska from 1979 to 1993.
Daska said: “Garth and Louise met when I was nine and he embraced being a stepfather with possibly more enthusiasm than being a father. He bowled into my life with a Snoopy radio which was wildly impressive to my tender years and never stopped giving in every sense since. He would do crazy things like encourage me to set forth around London to chase pop stars, much to Louise’s annoyance, and reap the rewards with titbits for his gossip column. In what became a tale of family legend, he once climbed into the loft – one of his great hideaways – and put his foot through my bedroom ceiling. Rather than confess to Louise, he sent me out to buy a poster to cover the gaping hole, not considering the dust and rubble-covered sheets would be a giveaway.”
Peter Tory, who had Garth as his deputy on the Mirror diary, said: ‘He was a lovely man. And the best wingman you could have – as long as you could keep him out of the pub. If I ever felt I might be in trouble, in any circumstances, Garth would be the man I’d want at my side.’
Another ex-Mirror colleague, Neil Mackwood, said: ‘He always seemed to be roaring around the place dressed hugely inappropriately. I remember when we more toff-posing hacks dressed in suits, ties and boaters covering Henley, Garth was dressed in jeans and a top with a disgusting logo which had some crazed animal on it.
‘Imagine my annoyance at not getting into the hallowed Steward’s Enclosure – not that I knew any of the silly boaty people in there – but Garth did (get in, I mean). Why? They thought he was the man who put up the marquee and was there to attend to a slack guy-rope.”
For many of his last years Garth lived alone, in semi-retirement, in the Isle of Wight. For a while his sole companion was a cat, called Lord Kismul of Barra (aka ‘Kizzy”). It originally belonged to Alison Jane Reid, a feature writer who lived with Garth for nine years.
She said: ‘He had a god-given talent for writing, and a rare kind of charisma. Everyone loved him, and was changed by meeting him. I was also really thrilled that in the last few years he started to write some wonderful comment and opinion pieces for Gentlemen Ranters and the Independent. He taught me so much about the craft of writing, and made it seem effortless.”
Garth was never heard complaining about his lot, or being lonely. In his spare time he had fun editing a magazine called Quicksilver for a while – a sort of low-budget version of Saga magazine.
While he himself may not have been so good at marriage, Garth was loved by almost everyone whose path he crossed.
Another ex-Mirror senior figure, Michael Hellicar, now working for the Daily Mail said: ‘So sorry about the ever-upbeat Garth. I knew him at the Mirror and beyond, and I always regarded him as the archetypal diary writer. He knew everyone, and more importantly everything about everyone, had social and chatting-up and drawing-out skills that one could only envy, and while hilariously reeling off anecdotes and scurrilous gossip, he was also very discreet when required.”
When he heard that his lung cancer had spread to his bones Garth rang a few of his closest friends to tell them he only had months to live. With typical Gibbs bravado and feigned nonchalance, he insisted that he wasn’t bothered. ‘That’s life’he said. ‘I’m 75, it’s no big deal. It’s just one of those things.’