Gareth Smyth

19th October 1958 - 15th January 2023

On Thursday 14th March, 2024 at 11:30am a service of thanksgiving for the life of Gareth Smyth was held at St Bride’s Church, Fleet Street.
Download Order of Service (pdf)


The Revd Canon Dr Alison Joyce delivered the opening:

A very warm welcome to St Bride’s, as we come together to honour the memory and to celebrate the life of a man who was not only outstanding in his field – Gareth was a consummate journalist, dedicated, courageous, and respected by all – but who was also an outstanding human being: a man of integrity, compassion, and wonderful good humour.

When Gareth’s life was cut short so suddenly and tragically last January, the shock was devastating, and the sense of loss shared by those who knew him and loved him remains acute.

And yet, we also have so much for which we can be thankful – because the world was so much the richer for Gareth’s presence within it – and all whose lives he touched were the richer for having known him.

We shall have as few announcements as possible during this service, so if you would please stand for the hymns and sit for just about everything else, you will not go far wrong.

We begin with an opening prayer. Let us pray:

Spirit of God, source of all love, within us and between us;
As we come together to give thanks for Gareth’s life,
Comfort with your gentleness all who are gathered here today.
Thank you for the gift of love, from which we can never be separated;
For although gone from our sight,
Gareth will never leave our hearts.
And when the dark shadows fall, may we have the courage
and the faithfulness, to know that he is safe in your care;
may the gift of your peace rest upon us,
and the strength of your embrace support us,
until we are reunited with him once more
in your heavenly presence.
In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.


Michael Karam

There is so much to say in such a short space of time to capture the essence of the man we have gathered to remember today.

A man who affected those to whom he was a friend and a man whose writing, underpinned by a strong sense of fairness and decency, went a long way in explaining a very complex part of the world.

When I first met Gareth, he used to say to me, “Michael, journalism is simply man bites dog” which essentially meant, is whatever happened relevant enough to justify telling it?

Let’s put it to the test.

It must have been around January 2002. It was a rainy Saturday afternoon – football season. I remember the phone rang my in our apartment in Beirut and on the other end waxed the familiar nasal twang, “Do you wanna go buy a TV?” Khaled, the journalist Khaled Oweis whose shopping habits were famously unconventional, recommended a really good place in Burj Hammoud which was in the Armenian sector of Beirut.

I said Gareth, “Why don’t you just go to BHV?” which was the Lebanese version of Currys. Gareth replied, “No! No! Khaled says this place is only place to go. he says they’re experts. Come on… anyway I need your car.”

So, I got in my car. I went to his flat in Gemmayzeh, above the legendary Le chef eatery, and we drove the short distance to the Armenian quarter. “Khaled swears by this place” I wasn’t convinced and drove in silence, Gareth staring ahead impassive, then said “After we’ve bought the TV we’ll go and get the Basturma sandwich.” We were living the dream!

The shop had been there for generations. Family run, you just knew it was being forced out by the more competitive malls that were springing up across Beirut and its suburbs.

It was empty. A woman, the granddaughter of the owner, it later transpired, was sitting behind the desk bored.

“We’d like a TV”
“What are you looking for?”
“I don’t know, you tell me.”
“What do you want to know?”

This could go either way, I thought.

And then it began, the poor woman was interrogated not only on TVs but on the TV manufacturing industry and the state of the local electronics market.

Life expectancy, would it work in Iran, difference between China, Malaysia, Japan and South Korea.

Could it pick up cable channels, play DVDs?

Would he like a plasma TV? Because this was the age just before flat screen …he was tempted but only momentarily.

And all the time, Gareth’s infectious magic was rubbing off on her. She had opened up to someone who valued her knowledge. She bought out coffee. Gareth got the story of the family business.

Bottom line…he wanted to speak to someone in authority, and that person was not going to be spotty youth at BHV.

In the end, a TV was chosen. Big, fat, old school. A Sony made in Japan. “I want a proper brand.”

But, it was almost an afterthought and it paled when compared to the exchange of information, the human interaction that spawned the sale.

Over a basterma sandwich, he was beside himself with bubbling enthusiasm.

“Michael, she was magnificent. Did you see how much she knew… that was fantastic.” And, just at that moment, she was up there with his other heroes: Miles Davis, Van Morrison, Brian Clough, and Bobby Moore.

It didn’t occur to me till the day I walked into his house on the west coast of Ireland, not long after he died, suddenly and far too early, and I saw the possessions that he had amassed from the places he’d visited, that an afternoon spent buying a TV would encapsulate so much.

It captured his sense of adventure, his natural curiosity and steely determination to seek out the most accurate information from the most authoritative source.

In that sense, the Burj Hammoud afternoon was man bites dog. Enough of a story to share here today.

But I get the feeling that he’d be pleased to hear – as most of us would – that most of his life was man bites dog.

The boy from Slough, whose family was from a land mired in conflict, who eventually went back to Ireland via countries that allowed him to look beyond the ordinary to unravel the complexity and find the humanity.

We are not one dimensional. Gareth had his faults. He could be a stubborn and argumentative, and not everyone understood his sense of humour, but he was blessed with an abundance of compassion, fairness and decency.

And, of course, there was always the almost childlike enthusiasm – the enthusiasm that made buying a TV an expedition, an adventure – that I hope will abide in the memory.

Zeinab Charafeddine

I hope you can appreciate my unique Arabized English… Gareth certainly did, turning it into fodder for his jokes instead of correcting me.

When I protested, he’d simply say, “But Zeinab, you speak Arabic similarly.” Conclusion reached during a conversation with my funniest nephew.

Eventually, Gareth often became my spokesperson when my own words fell short, stepping in when I stumbled.

Stories abound, especially when they involve Gareth.

The day after we first met, around 28 years ago, Gareth called the number I had given him. Nader, who was 7, answered the call, didn’t understand the caller’s words, and dropped the phone. I knew it was Gareth. I had to wait for a few hours.

Finally, a voice with somewhat stumbling Arabic, “I’m Micheal Karam, my friend Gareth wants to speak to ZEINAB, but …hmmm”

Then, I heard Gareth’s voice asking if he could see me that day. “I’m going to the theatre with my son.” Moments of silence, then he said, “Can I join you?”… ” Sure, if you are fond of children’s theatre.”

Rivalry between Gareth and Nader didn’t last long. Gareth soon began to join us in our nightly ritual of bedtime stories. After a short while, he started to fall asleep before Nader did.

Nader found delight in the quirky character snoring beside him, and their bond flourished when Nader learned to join Gareth in playful mockery, often making me the unsuspecting target.

Meanwhile, Gareth never attempted to play the role of the father. He just embodied fatherly qualities. His love and support were profound and limitless. He never expected recognition for being the “World’s Best Dad” on a coffee mug.

Gareth wasn’t only generous intellectually or in his prompt readiness for help. On my sixtieth birthday, he made my dream come true, he offered me this ……(miniature Jaguar car).

However, when I brought up the marriage topic, considering my super-religious conservative family, raising a child while living with a foreigner without tying the knot, he responded, “Oh, marriage… but I have three older brothers, and they are all divorced.” I had to laugh.

However, the longer I lived with him, the clearer his stubbornness became, especially regarding his beliefs. Yet, his commitment surpassed that of most conventionally married guys. He didn’t need paperwork to validate our connection. Likewise, he displayed the same level of devotion to his friends, family, and work.

Never forget how dedicated he was to championing arguments, proudly deeming them a Smyth family highlight. During a rainy vacation in Cork with Bernard and John, inside the Fairy cottage, as Gareth dubbed it, not a drop of water came from the tap. Bernard, lost in his jazz tunes, John frustrated with Gareth’s choice, stormed out. Gareth, under the Irish rain, fixing the water pipes, saw John shooting off with his suitcase… Freakish!

I truly believed in Gareth. During one of our hikes, I expected him to save us when a dog attacked us. Clinging to him, I whispered, “What do we do now?” Silence greeted me. Trembling, I sought guidance from his face, only to find it painted with myriad emotions. Amidst danger, we erupted into laughter.

Yes, Gareth was as brave as his Welsh name suggests, yet as delicate as a petal.

During a perilous journalist mission, Gareth formed lasting friendships with members of the peshmerga, sharing the depths of the jungle with them. Whenever he spoke of them, tears welled in his eyes, fuelled by the profound belief in the righteousness of their cause. Tragically, he never had the chance to return to Kurdistan as planned.

Returning from Iraq, post Saddam; Gareth grew a beard. Back to Lebanon, spotting my surprise, he said, “Adel Murad mistook me for a local beggar.” Armed with a plastic bag and his beard, he successfully tackled a daring task for a Western journalist.

In Iran, he turned into a fashion critic, objecting vehemently to my wardrobe choices that apparently were not fitting enough for the Islamic traditions.

Najme, his former Iranian assistant told me, “His profound empathy for others was exemplified when an earthquake struck the town our janitor hailed from. Gareth, with his deep human feelings, was the sole person who thought about the janitor’s family and took it upon himself to mend the cracks in the walls of their modest home. Learning about this act of kindness from our janitor was a testament to the Gareth I had come to know – humane, straightforward, honest, and compassionate.”

Yet, his painful stint with the Financial Times, which had let him go because he refused biased reporting, led Gareth to seek solace in what he called his God Chosen Country, Ireland. Amidst ferocious Atlantic winds, his garden thrived. Playing his part in balancing the world’s imbalance, he triumphed in perilous missions but succumbed to the relentless world’s filth. The cold he caught wasn’t his seasonal one, it was a pain in his heart he could no longer endure.

Gareth, a true warrior, didn’t sit idly by, in the face of injustice and hypocrisy. Instead, he fought persistently in any way he could.

Regrettably, Gareth departed, leaving thirty unplanted trees and a void everywhere. He never received the garden apron Nader sent for the planting to come. Let’s prepare for the tales he’ll never share, like those of the garden worms, now tended by his friend Timmy.

The laughter of this vibrant individual who defied categorization, resonates within me, as vivid as his moments of despair in a world he often saw crumbling. It’s nearly impossible to encounter beauty without feeling a pang, knowing Gareth is no longer here to share these moments. With him gone as well, the essence of experiencing such delights. Sweet and bitter, a dance we’ve known…Yet our bond deepened, seeds sown.

We have all lost Gareth, and the world is just not the same without him. Let us cherish his memory with smiles for the joy he brought, gratitude for the meaningful impact he had on our lives, and love for the enduring imprint he left on our hearts.

John Jackson, David Donaldson & Janet Pope

John: I first met Gareth in the autumn of 1975 when we were applying to Queen’s College, Oxford. He was just 17, me just 18.

I felt inexperienced in the world. Gareth seemed much more sophisticated and mature despite his young age. I was in awe of his intellectual abilities. Gareth had read the life of Trotsky at the age of 13. At 18, I hadn’t read anything by any socialist or even any political thinker. But Gareth didn’t seem to mind; he always wanted to talk and listen to people whoever they were. He also liked arguing and was keen to defend people who were being unfairly attacked or abused.

Gareth was passionate about everything whether it was politics, cricket, football, poetry. However, his greatest love – other than people – was music.

At university, Gareth introduced me to reggae: Bob Marley first, and then many other artists. My musical education continued over the years: more recently, he introduced me to Tired Pony, Richard Hawley and Haydn’s string quartets.

Whenever we stayed in Ireland with him, music was always playing, and I went home thinking I must play more music. Nowadays every time I listen to a new piece of music, I think I won’t be able to talk to Gareth about this.

David: (Janet Pope, who read earlier, has passed me some thoughts about Gareth’s time in Camden). Gareth grew up in the Labour Party. It was where his parents met, and it defined his formative years. It’s where he and Janet met and it’s how Philippa, Jab, Andrew, Pat, Sheila, Hannah, Tony, Clare, Ben and Jean all come to be here today, to remember the comrade and friend they knew through the local Labour Party in Camden.

Gareth was a formidable election campaigner. He was elected to Camden Council in 1986 along with quite a few here today. And also with his great friend and co-conspirator Ken Hulme. Gareth and Ken formed a formidable partnership on the council, getting things done (Gareth was Chair of Housing) and standing up to the Trots.

Gareth showed that Labour in power will tackle social injustice and make the world a better place. He would be pleased to know that the answer to his book title “Can the Tories Lose?” will shortly be shown, again, to be “yes they can, sometimes crushingly”.

John: As a family we were able to have many holidays with Gareth in Ireland as well as seeing him regularly in Britain. It felt to me – and I think many others – that Gareth had come back to his roots. One particularly interesting holiday was the time we spent in Monaghan exploring the roots of his father’s family – the ruined house in which his father had been brought up and the stories of what happened there over the years. And of course, in Ireland listening to the craic and music was the priority. Gareth died on a walk from his house close to the beach in County Mayo – one of the most beautiful places in the world. It is tragic he died young but at least he was doing what he enjoyed most in a wonderful place.

Just before my first wife died in 1996, Gareth wrote: “We are together always”. That advice supported me then and will do so forever.

David: We all remember that Gareth was special.

He had a razor-sharp sense of humour, a lugubrious combination of Rowan Atkinson and Louis Theroux. At Camden, he was on the sensible side of the Labour Party, but it didn’t stop him and Ken Hulme producing their hilariously ruthless spoof, Camden Labour Briefing. His humour was a weapon. After he was released from 4 days in a jail in Tehran, he had his usual meeting with his minder from the Ministry, who, in full knowledge of Gareth’s arrest, asked him disingenuously “Are you experiencing any difficulties covering the country?” Gareth’s deadpan response was: “No, none spring to mind”.

Gareth was great with people – especially children, even though he had none himself. The children of many of those here today – including John and me along with Nader, Zeinab’s son – were entertained by Gareth when they were little, and spoken to as adults when they were teenagers. As a journalist in Beirut and Tehran, he listened to former Presidents, but also to football players, taxi drivers, barbers and café owners. Even with his outlandish ways, he quickly became an integral part of Louisburgh life when he moved there.

And he always told, and wrote, what he believed to be the truth. Sometimes it was his version, of course. His campaign as JCR Food President, to put more vegetables on the table probably went beyond most people’s palates when he insisted on including mushy peas. He was not always right – but he usually was. He used to say: once you have defended your essay on Wittgenstein in front of Brian McGuinness at Queen’s, an exchange with your Chief Editor or an Iranian Revolutionary Guard holds no fears. Telling things as they really are, was his anchor. And moving way out there to Emlagh, a long way from friends and family was, I think, a continuing part of his approach, to face up to the existential truths of life. It wasn’t easy, necessarily, particularly during Covid, but it gave him time to think.

Gareth was complicated, and occasionally difficult, but we will remember this extraordinary mixture: passion for music, football, politics, nature, people and life itself. He was a person who travelled to hard places in the world, but for whom family roots were fundamental. He had humour and pure integrity. An acid test, I think, when you look back at somebody’s life is whether you can say “I wish I’d been more like him”. For all of us here, I think, in some way, this is true of Gareth.


Timothy O’Malley read Ecclesiastes 3: 1-13

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:

a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
a time to rend, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.

What gain has the worker from his toil?

10 I have seen the business that God has given to the sons of men to be busy with. 11 He has made everything beautiful in its time; also he has put eternity into man’s mind, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. 12 I know that there is nothing better for them than to be happy and enjoy themselves as long as they live; 13 also that it is God’s gift to man that every one should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil.

Janet Pope read Storm on the Island by Seamus Heaney

We are prepared: we build our houses squat,
Sink walls in rock and roof them with good slate.
This wizened earth has never troubled us
With hay, so, as you see, there are no stacks
Or stooks that can be lost. Nor are there trees
Which might prove company when it blows full
Blast: you know what i mean — leaves and branches
Can raise a tragic chorus in a gale
So that you listen to the thing you fear
Forgetting that it pummels your house too.
But there are no trees, no natural shelter.
You might think that the sea is company,
Exploding comfortably down on the cliffs,
But no: when it begins, the flung spray hits
The very windows, spits like a tame cat
Turned savage. We just sit tight while wind dives
And strafes invisibly. Space is a salvo,
We are bombarded by the empty air.
Strange, it is a huge nothing that we fear.


The choir & organist of St Bride’s performed the following anthems and songs:

Prelude No 1 in C major BWV 846 – Johann Sebastian Bach
Ave verum corpus – Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Carrickfergus – Traditional Irish
Warm love – Van Morrison arr. Robert Jones
Ag Críost an Síol – Seán Ó Riada, sung by Maria Hoban
Flow, my tears – John Dowland; Words: Peter Oswald
Only love can break your heart – Neil Young arr. Matthew Morley
Always look on the bright side of life – Eric Idle


Make me a channel of your peace
Guide me, O thou great Redeemer


congregation sitting for service


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