Family & Education

The boy who had no fear

He was a mischievous child who started smoking dope at 14. Rosa Doherty tells the tragic story of Simon Gold's descent into addiction


When four-year-old Simon ran feet first into a swimming pool not knowing how to swim, his parents knew they had a “daredevil” on their hands.

“He just didn’t care,” Rachel Gold says, “he wasn’t afraid of anything.”

She remembers the day clearly, although it was more than 30 years ago. “One second he was there, and the next he was running and jumping. I was terrified he’d drown. He just thought he was funny.”

Simon was a “typical Jewish child,” she says, “with wispy brown hair and shiny brown eyes.

His father, Jeff, drove a taxi and his mother worked in the cab company’s office. Their daughter Liz loved singing and dancing and won a scholarship to stage school. Simon started out at Torah nursery school in Brighton, where he enjoyed a Jewish education, but, Rachel says, “he was always so naughty and cheeky.

“He liked to do it Simon’s way. Even when he made his barmitzvah, he didn’t want to go to the Hebrew classes. I had to help him. He was stubborn.”

At six, he was expelled from school for spitting at the headteacher. His parents believe he’d been beaten. “Simon was a rebel and always wanted to play the fool, always trying to make his class laugh. We tried everything you could with him but there was just no telling him.

“He wasn’t violent or mean, just cheeky. He had this little smile, and he was also gentle and kind.”

Simon was expelled from three more schools, much to his mother’s distress, before he gave up with education at 15 and from then on “always struggled to decide what direction to go in.”

He was 14 when he tried his first spliff. “It is what they do, isn’t it? They try it, someone offers it to them and they have a go. You tell them not to, but they do.”

By the time he was 20 he was injecting heroin to escape everyday things that he could not cope with. His older sister Liz explains: “They say the first step on the road to the hard stuff is the soft stuff and it is true. Simon was always chasing that high.”

According to Rachel: “He didn’t know what he wanted to be or do. He wasn’t like Liz, who just got on with it. She was into her dance and drama and she was focused. Nothing that he took to seemed to stick; he would get bored or not enjoy it.”

Rachel and Jeff went to a number of doctors to try and help their son. “He was on the drugs, then off the drugs, so many times. One second he would be great but every time he had a problem in life that would be it,” Rachel says.

She says she tore herself apart watching her son yo-yo from being clean to using again. Now, she questions her own strategy. “They tell you they have to hit rock bottom and feel the gutter or they’ll never know but I was always there for him. I had to be. I couldn’t turn my back on him.” Her voice shakes as she explains: “I wouldn’t give him money for drugs but I would feed him, clothe him, and give him somewhere to stay. I couldn’t see my son on the street.” She pauses. “Maybe that was a mistake, I don’t know, but I just couldn’t do it.”

A father to three children by three different women, Simon struggled to deal with the guilt associated with not being a consistent source of support in their lives. But he quit the drugs and completed a personal training qualification.

And then, in June this year, he died, aged just 35. He had been due to travel home from a rehabilitation facility in Preston, when he was found by police in a crack-house near the station. An accidental heroin overdose is suspected to have caused his death.

“He had his suitcase all packed, it was with him, he was coming home,” his sister Liz says. “Ironically, he was the healthiest he had been in his life. I just don’t get it.

“We were brought up in a nice Jewish family, we were happy children, loved, and our parents were great. It is not the story you usually imagine of neglect. There was no reason for Simon to do the drugs that he did, other than he was an addict.

“I have no idea why he went to do the drugs that day. He had been doing so well, I don’t think he intended to die. People with addiction think they can control it but they can’t. It controls them.”

She believes there is “a lot” of addiction within the Jewish community but “it is not talked about or discussed. Be it sex, drugs or gambling, addiction is an illness and it can affect anybody.” This lack of awareness is something she is determined to tackle.

The stereotype of an addict, alone in a dark room with no friends or family was “just not true” of her brother. “Simon was functioning when he wanted to be. He was loved and he always wanted to help other people. He was like a second father to my children and I was blessed to be his sister. They are devastated, they have lost a special uncle.”

Liz, 39, had grown closer to her brother, in the last few years, offering him a place to stay after he got clean.

“It was a big risk, but it was great, until he fell off and started using again. I had to tell him to go, there were needles in the house.

“Addicts think they can do it their way, they do the rehab, get better and then they don’t think they have to stick to the steps or the programmes they were on, but they do. They have to stick to it.”

Simon had regular counselling and support from Brighton’s Lubavitch rabbi, Pesach Efune during his long battle with heroin addiction. Rabbi Efune describes their relationship as close and was “absolutely devastated” by his death. “Simon was a lovely, kind-hearted person. He obviously had his challenges and he struggled time and time again to overcome them.”

While Rachel and Jeff are struggling to cope, Liz has thrown herself into raising awareness of addiction by using Facebook to set up the Simon Gold Jewish Recovery group for others to share their stories and advice.

She’s training for a half-marathon in February, which she’ll run in Simon’s memory to raise funds for drug addiction charities.

For Liz, if a life can be saved by sharing her brother’s story then that is enough.

She says: “The last message he sent me was about a girl he had met in rehab, who was living in Brighton. He had asked me to go and check on her just to make sure she was all right.

“That was my brother, always trying to save other people. He just couldn’t save himself.” for the Facebook group


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