February 20, 2009 / 1:54 PM / 10 years ago

British reality TV star is dying in the spotlight

LONDON (Reuters) - Jade Goody, a young British woman who won fame on a reality television show, is playing out her final days in the glare of a celebrity-obsessed nation before she dies of cancer.

Jade Goody, the former British reality show contestant, speaks to the media upon her arrival at the international airport in Mumbai August 15, 2008. REUTERS/Punit Paranjpe

Foul-mouthed, little educated and forthright in her views, Goody was unknown when she appeared on the program Big Brother in 2002 but her antics and outbursts quickly made her a fixture in tabloid newspapers and celebrity magazines.

She sold her autobiography, marketed a perfume and has been in the public eye ever since, even though her popularity sank when she made racist comments about a Bollywood actress when they appeared in a celebrity version of Big Brother in 2007.

Now 27, she is living out her last days on television and in newspapers, watched by a nation fixated by celebrities. And questions are being asked about her dignity and modern British culture.

Late last year she announced on television she had cervical cancer and last week she said she was terminally ill. She is now bald after undergoing chemotherapy.

On Sunday, with just months to live, she plans to marry her boyfriend, a former convict, in a televised ceremony. Britain’s justice minister intervened on Friday to extend his bail conditions so that they can spend their wedding night together.

She has sold the rights to a television channel, for a sum which British media put at 700,000 pounds ($1 million). Some media say magazines are paying $15,000 for each picture of her.

“I think the whole country will be worried and anxious about her health,” Prime Minister Gordon Brown said of Goody.

Commentators, politicians and ordinary people are caught between disgust and admiration.

“Would I condemn individuals like Jade for her celebrity career? No I can’t,” said the Reverend David Wilkinson of St John’s College at Durham University.

“She is a bright woman who has taken the opportunities our culture has given her. I think it says something about Western culture, where the stress is on the individual. A culture that lives its hopes and fears through the medium of television.”


Goody has come a long way since Big Brother, in which a group of people live together in a house, isolated from the outside world and continually watched by television cameras.

Adrian Monck, head of journalism at City University London, said Goody’s personal tragedy was “intellectually and culturally fascinating, and compelling emotionally.”

“She has been created by reality TV and I suppose the model of her celebrity is fairly modern in how it has come about,” said Monck. “But it is old-fashioned too in the way it is played out in the tabloids, feeding off the TV.”

High-brow newspapers praise her honesty on screen and her determination to provide for her two children — she says she sold her story to the media to give them a better life.

Newspaper reports say her personal tragedy has led to an increase in young women being screened for cervical cancer.

“The truth is that reality television, which gave us the worst of her, is now giving us the best,” columnist Liz Hunt wrote in the conservative Daily Telegraph.

Matthew Norman wrote in the Independent: “In her final days, she has gone a long way to exploding the repellent stereotype of the feckless, feral, self-obsessed underclass with which she was once made synonymous.”

Max Clifford, her publicist, told Reuters she is “a product of our time.”

“Her openness is very much appealing to a lot of people in the tabloids, and an awful lot of people in Britain,” he said.

But Durham University’s Wilkinson has some concerns.

“Would I like to see (Western) culture move on? Yes, I would,” he said.

Editing by Luke Baker and Timothy Heritage

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