March 27th, 2009
When my Mum first got cancer I must’ve been around the age Jade’s eldest son is now. Too young, in fact, to properly comprehend what was happening, only old enough to sense the tingling presence of fear, the averted looks, the stifled, thin lipped sympathy and muddled, neighbourly compassion. My Mum, Thank God, did not die and whilst her cancer returned several times; each time more frightening for me as my innocence waned to be replaced with dread, she lives still, so I can but imagine the sad confusion of the two bereaved boys.
I knew their Mother, Jade Goody, not especially well, but Jade’s defining characteristic was her easy warmth that ingenuously enveloped folk, so perhaps like many people I felt more engaged by her than normal and feel more saddened by her death than I ought. I dislike the fetishisation of grief that accompanied the death of Jade’s forebear, The Princess of Wales, it makes me uncomfortable as I query its sincerity. Sentimentality is often called the unearned emotion and intrusive carnivals of public mourning unsettle me. In the case of Jade Goody however it is understandable to feel morose, she was a young mum from an awful background who got a break and shrewdly capitalised on it.
For a time we shared management and we met when she came to see several shows of mine at the Edinburgh festival about five years ago. We all hung out, me my Mum, Jade, some people from the agency and a few of my mates. She was a right laugh, she joined in with everyone and created a garrulous giddy vibe in bars and cars that elevated the perfunctory time between shows into something which retrospectively seems more special now than it did then. Most of all though I was impressed with how she formed an immediate and genuinely sweet bond with my Mother, chuckling and chatting with the effortless intimacy that strong yet tender women frequently conjure and which has umbrellad me from anxiety throughout my life. She also came on a few of my dopey TV shows in later years where she filled the room with her ebullience and wicked laugh connecting with the audience in a way that most skilled showman can only dream of.
One of the charges often levelled at Jade was that she was just a normal girl with no trade or practiced skills. Well people didn’t care and our heroes are not prescribed to us, we have the right to choose them and the people chose Jade. Fame has long been bequeathed by virtue of wealth and birth and this was the first generation where it was democratically distributed by that most lowbrow of modern phenomena – Reality Television. She was a person who, I think due to her class always had the propensity to irk people. When Big Brother 3 made her famous she was vilified in the paper and bullied in the house but through her spirit she won people back round and became a kind of Primark Princess with perfumes and fitness videos and endless media coverage – because people were interested in her. They remain interested. One of my best friends, a woman in her mid twenties is genuinely heartbroken at the death of Jade, herself a Mother from a working Class background she obviously connects with this sad narrative in a way that she doesn’t seem to with J-Lo or Jennifer Aniston or Posh Spice most likely because of Jade’s authenticity and accessibility.
I was working on a Celebrity Big Brother spin off show when Jade returned to the house and through unschooled social clumsiness blundered into a whooped up race row. As I said at the time, the incident where Shilpa Shetti was poorly treated by a group of young women was not an example of the sickening scourge of racism but simply a daft lack of education. Jade was a tough girl but utterly lacking in the malice upon which true prejudice depends. The slick of spilled newspaper ink and the cathode conveyed H-bomb that followed this innocuous event was the real crime. Jade was made the focus of a debilitating wave of righteous loathing and condemnation, a gleefully indignant storm of trumped up wrath that served the cause of racial harmony not one iota; but that was never it’s intention. The intention was sacrifice. Well now Jade Goody is no more. Claimed by cancer, a disease often brought on by extreme stress. When my mother was sick someone unkindly informed me that her illness was my fault, induced by my bad behaviour and for a long time I believed it.
I’m glad that Jade’s death has been handled with saccharine mittens by the papers, she lived and died in the glare of their interest and doubtless benefited from it hugely at times. I recall her tearstained face pegged across some rag as she endlessly sought to be forgiven by the media her misconstrued conduct had so incensed and it made me a little angry. She wanted to be accepted, loved, redeemed, and now through her early death, she is. I hope some of the lessons of this modern Fairy Tale are learned, that the people who aspired to be like Jade observe the price she paid. I hope her sons are ok and that on some imperceptible level contrition is felt by the media that gave Jade Goody everything.
And I mean everything.