Alex Massie

The Life and Times and Death of Jade Goody

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At some time in the future, historians will view the Jade Goody Affair with the same kind of bewilderment and revulsion that we reserve for the excesses of Victorian Britain. But of course Goody's celebrity - absurd and mawkish and repellent as it was - demonstrates how little human nature changes and reminds us that we're much closer to the past than we sometimes like to think. And that, of course, is just another way of observing that the sky is always falling.

To wit, here's the Telegraph's (lengthy) obituary, which also serves as a commentary on the marvellous monstrosity that is the British tabloid press:

The first time she was mentioned in the press, in May 2002, Jade Goody was described as a "pretty dental nurse, 20, from London". But 24 hours later, as she began her gobby, ignorant trajectory in the Big Brother house, The People went on the attack under the headline: "Why we must lob the gob". Before long it was open season. The Sun called her a hippo, then a baboon, before launching its campaign to "vote out the pig". The Sunday Mirror rejected porcine comparisons on the ground that it was "insulting – to pigs".

Inside the "BB" house, Jade Goody found herself in bed with her male housemate, PJ, who ran away, shrieking. Her drunken striptease in a drinking game rigged by the male contestants ("Me kebab is showing!") forced even Channel 4 to blank the screen. "Here she is: fat-rolled, Michelin girl Jade in all her preposterous lack of glory," thundered the Daily Mirror the next day. "Naked as the day Dr Frankenstein made her." Jade's then boyfriend chipped in: "She's a sex-crazed, lying, two-timing drunken tart, and I hope I never see her again."

Jade Goody's main function, as she put it herself, was to be an "escape goat". She was the modern equivalent of Barnum and Bailey's "bearded lady" – a pressure valve for the vindictive rage of the mob and their tribunes in the Red Tops. Polls suggested that she was more unpopular even than Saddam Hussein (a boxer, said Jade). Such was the public venom it was feared that things might get dangerously out of hand. Some people actually travelled across England to the BB house, where they waved placards and greeted her emergence, spilling out of a pink dress several sizes too small, with chants of "burn the pig". Channel 4 was even reported to be considering smuggling her out of the country for her own safety.

But, no sooner had she hit rock bottom then she bounced back up again. The tabloid campaign had developed into such an orgy of hate that it inspired a retaliation in her defence. Viewers, it seemed, warmed to her malapropisms, guilelessness and obvious vulnerability.

Told by their readers that they had gone too far, journalists began backpedalling furiously. The Mirror congratulated itself on "a brilliantly conceived clandestine campaign to drum up the sympathy vote for the divine Ms Jade Goody". Not to be outdone, the Sun sought to rehabilitate the "princess of Bermondsey". Both papers started the bidding for her "story" at £100,000 – a figure that quickly escalated.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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