Blasted by the past

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Another old friend has gone.

I received some sad news just now, that an old friend of mine has died. And even worse, that she died in 2003 and none of us knew. 

It’s odd, it’s the second time in a year that this has happened – first the redoutable Phoebe Cresswell-Evans, who was an art editor at Dennis Publishing, and now Dominique Coughlin, with whom I worked 20 years ago at VNU. You lose touch with people, I guess, and then you never know what happened to them – you just assume that they’re alive and well and it’s a shock when you find they’re not. 

Dom was my sub-editor when I was a production editor, and we got on like a house on fire. We hired her because her boyfriend recommended her, but within short order, they split up with mega recriminations, slashed clothing and all the rest of it.

Dom was the younger sister of Con Coughlin, a Telegraph journalist who specialised in the Middle East, and we both went through a rough time together when the first Gulf War broke out and my nephew was sent in with the army, her brother as a journo.

For a year or two we were close friends. Dom’s love life was always a disaster zone (she was secretly in love with her flatmate and having an affair with another guy at work) and mine went through some terrible upheavals at the time, too, as I left my (then) partner for my (now) husband. We would hang out at her miniscule council flat, downing white wine spritzers, and we’d go on shopping expeditions together in St Christopher’s Place.

We were both skinny chicks, but Dom more naturally so – rake thin, with long, wavy hair, a greyhound elegance, and a marked taste for expensive labels. I will always remember her shoehorning herself into a stretch purple velvet Moschino minidress in order to go to a cocktail party at her mother’s where there would be lots of high-court judges present, whom she hoped to shock. 

Our friendship, sadly, didn’t survive. We had a major falling out a year or so later, and her wrath was implacable. And oddly enough, it was after she had an asthma attack. Her asthma was something that she was very sensitive about – the whole time we worked together we could never have a fan on, as the moving air irritated her, and she said the nuns at her convent had tried to block her university application, believing she was too frail to undergo tertiary education. She would not have her asthma mentioned. 

And then one day she had a huge attack. It was the weekend, and the first I knew of it was when I got a phone call from her flatmate. She was in St Thomas’s hospital for a week and then she left work without so much as a word. After she left, I followed her progress on magazines such as Period Living for another few years, but then she disappeared into the ether.  

It appears that Dom then built a successful career in interiors and fashion journalism, and she was covering London Fashion week for the Sunday Times when she had the asthma attack that killed her. It is terribly sad – she was always careful about her Ventolin, but perhaps on this occasion she didn’t have it with her, or perhaps it just didn’t work. Her brother Con informs me that she died in a taxi on the way to hospital and was pronounced dead on arrival.

I worry that an epipen might have saved her and simply feel astounded today that someone like Dom, who had so much life force, who was so difficult and funny and made me laugh my ass off, can no longer be with us. 

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