Jade Goody: Nuf to Remember

JAMES HARRINGTON and AJAY PATEL assess Jade Goody’s legacy 3 months on.

Elegance and eloquence were not part of Jade Goody’s make up. Emerging from a deprived background, she shot to reality ‘stardom’ almost instantaneously, only to have her life cut tragically short by cancer at the age of 27. Three months after her death, we look back at the ‘highs’ and lows of her short span in the media eye and question what legacy she has really left behind.

A barely educated dental nurse from Essex, Jade was little known to anyone. She was left fatherless at a young age, and was responsible for looking after her drug-addict mother on a council estate. Trying to escape from her dead-end life, Jade exploded onto our screens in the third series of Channel 4’s reality show, Big Brother. It was her loud mouthed, rude and often ignorant outbursts which catapulted her into media attention as the dim-witted Essex girl that everyone loved to hate, with Sun launching its “Vote out the pig” campaign just days after the programme began. Her drunken behaviour, epitomised in her stripping naked and exposing the public to her chunky features, and her promiscuity within the House, provided endless entertainment for a public deriving pleasure from her misfortunes. The British public were blessed with ‘Jadisms’, including: “I had my first birthday when I was one” and “They were trying to use me as an escape goat”, doing little to dispel the Essex blonde girl stereotype.

Having left the public with a dubious impression of herself and half of Essex, following her exit from the programme in fourth place, Jade emerged herself in the world of the ‘Z’ list celebrity. This included the inevitable mix of newspaper interviews, and television appearances, before being launched back onto ‘mainstream’ television in the celebrity edition of Big Brother, aired in January 2007, which was to make her already reviled public personality the target of a wave of loathing and hatred. Her racist comments directed at Bollywood star, Shilpa Shetty, filled the reality television viewership with horror, and Jade was evicted from the house and made several public apologies for her behaviour.

So should we be remembering Jade as the foul-mouthed, promiscuous and racist personality that we saw on Big Brother, or as the cancer-suffering mother of two trying to do the best for her children? Perhaps her use of the media and public sympathy over the course of her health decline suggests a bit of both. As sad as anyone having cancer is, perhaps we as a nation did not need to be subjected to such a graphic view of the dying process, who in the end had never really left much more of a positive impression on society than any ‘average Joe’ in the nation. Her use, or perhaps closer to the truth, her publicist, Max Clifford’s use of the media not only reversed her image created by Big Brother, but turned her into the sympathetic focus of a nation who seemingly forgot the way in which she epitomised the decline of society. There is no doubt that she loved her sons, and the publicity gained from her death will be of great help in getting them a better education than she ever had.

Michael Parkinson lashed out in the aftermath of her death, proclaiming quite convincingly that “When we clear the media smoke screen from around her death, what we’re left with is a woman who came to represent all that’s paltry and wretched about Britain today.” Her death was unfortunately created into a media circus which perhaps demonstrates the nation’s unhealthy obsession with the lives of the ‘celebrity’ – can it get much worse than following the day to day decline of a young ‘Z’ list celebrity with cancer? Maybe Jade Goody’s input in life has not been all bad, and has certainly highlighted the deficiencies we as a nation suffer. She has highlighted dire conditions of disadvantaged living and lack of education, she has proved a nation’s obsession with reality television and its ‘stars’, and she has proven that the public is fickle in its ability to turn a figure of hatred into one of love and admiration.

Jade Goody will be remembered, and perhaps even for years to come. But as the sympathetic images of her dissipate over the next few months, her remembrance might not be as flawless as she, and her publicist, would have hoped.