How The Death of British Reality TV Star, Jade Goody Ushered The Voyeuristic Era of “Dying While Famous”
I first heard about Jade Goody some months before she died. It was late winter of 2009, PerezHilton was still the authority on celebrity news and during one of my daily check ins, I stumbled upon the headline about the Big Brother India cast mate who had just gotten the worst call of her life.
The medical tests she had undergone weeks before her departure to India for her appearance on Celebrity Big Brother, confirmed what she feared. She had cervical cancer, and the only thing to do was to head back to her home in Upshire, Essex to commence treatment.
Another new obsession that boosted my method of engagement was YouTube. Back in 2009, the video-sharing website was only about four years old, and there was a strong indication that greater things were on the horizon. It was remarkable to have access to content that would ordinarily be a challenge to track down.
From the moment I watched the scene depicting Jade Goody, a former dental nurse turned Reality TV star, entering the room to receive the call that blew her world to bits, and then saw her housemates rush to console her after absorbing the shock of her devastating announcement — I formally began Living With Jade Goody.
The twenty-seven-year-old mother of two young boys endured a turbulent childhood, thanks to her absentee West Indian father’s criminal past, that included drug addiction, and an unstable mother, Jackie Budden, who was barely competent enough to raise her daughter alone.
Needless to say — life in Bermondsey, London, wasn’t ideal for the energetic youngster, who displayed a penchant for entertaining when she made an uncredited appearance in a TV movie titled London’s Burning — at the age of five.
It was only a matter of time before Jade would end up capitalizing on the lucrative outlet of reality TV, which was starting to gain steam in the mid-2000’s. Her launching pad was the Big Brother series, and her almost six years on the globally viable franchise began in 2002, and abruptly ended in 2008 — when she received her cancer diagnosis along with millions of viewers.
Her hustler mentality helped to expand the portfolio of options that gave her plenty of exposure, as she was cast in a plethora of shows that ran the gamut. From Celebrity Wife Swap, which she appeared in with the father of her boys, Jeff Brazier, to her own vehicles that showcased a stint as the hapless owner of a newly-opened beauty salon, while the other focused on single motherhood, and the challenge of keeping up with her younger hot-headed boy friend.
It was clear that Jade Goody was determined to keep her rising celebrity status — activated.
But, as we all know, living life in the public eye does come with the requirement of a thick skin, as you’re subject to mood swings of the judging public, who never miss the opportunity to celebrate your downfall.
Jade was relentlessly mocked by Brits snobs, who were disgusted by her vulgarity and demonstrated stupidity.
The tabloids spared no expense when it came to shaming her for lack of basic knowledge, and this stemmed from one of her infamous appearances on Big Brother 3, where she assumed that the university city of Cambridge was in London. When she found out that it was actually in East Anglia — she gave it her own spin of “East Angula” and concluded it was located outside of Britain.
She was presumptuously the epitome of what used to make reality TV stars — cringe-worthily unappealing as opposed to the currently more flexible climate.
And if there’s one thing the British can’t tolerate; it’s the vision of an airhead who is blissfully shameless in her pursuits, and somehow benefits from what they consider abhorrent behavior, simply because she’s on television.
Jade was the girl who let it all hang out.
She was basically up for anything, and her wild antics presented her as uncouth and disastrously out of control, as she spent most of her time on Big Brother maximizing her unrestrained tendencies that delivered clips of her drunken state, which always led to some form of exhibitionism.
There was also the refreshingly vibrant side of Jade Goody, that I discovered as I skimmed through episodes of some of her greatest hits on YouTube.
As a high-spirited twenty-something from the “wrong side of the tracks”, she may have been a source of irritation for the high-brow Brits, but to those of us who were dazzled by her colorful personality and charismatically self-deprecating disposition — the young woman who enjoyed being famous was right where she was supposed to be.
Once my interest in her peaked — I had a lot to catch up on and the process proved to be eye-opening fun. It was also remarkably seamless, considering that she was based overseas, and none of her shows were filmed in the U.S.
The experience of rapidly familiarizing myself with a random reality TV star, whose past life was colliding with an uncertain future, proved to be a fruitful endeavor based on the endless material at my disposal. There was no way to stop myself from indulging and inevitably offering a personal investment into something that was catapulting into an eventful saga.
It wasn’t long after her mandated trip back home from the set of Celebrity Big Brother India — that Jade was hit with the brutal truth about her poor prognosis. Further testing had revealed that the cancer had spread, which brought her chances of survival down to 50%.
I had been privy to earlier episodes of what ended up being her final series, Living with Jade — where she had shared harrowing tales of woe about health scares, that included non-stop bleeding sessions and dizzy spells. Her multiple trips to the emergency room over the years, didn’t yield anything tangible as her symptoms were repeatedly dismissed as non-threatening.
Between the years of 2002–2006, the boisterous TV personality had been in and out of hospitals, after the results of a pap smear in 2002 revealed pre-cancerous cells. Despite the discovery, doctors still couldn’t pinpoint what was causing her to faint four times in a row, and negative results from the ovarian and bowel cancer tests in 2004 and 2006 — respectively — made her case even more mysterious.
It wasn’t until it was confirmed that she had “advanced and life-threatening” cervical cancer” in early 2009, that it became crystal clear that the signs had been there all along, and unfortunately for the terminally ill star, her diagnosis came way too late.
As the word spread about Jade’s dismal fate, her public persona began to gain traction, particularly after she made the risky decision to proceed with the daunting task of documenting her dying days on her now re-focused docuseries — Jade’s Progress.
Her willingness to invite viewers into the unfiltered world of aggressive cancer treatments, that included co-parenting her boys with her once-estranged mother, and balancing her love life with bad boy Jack Tweed — garnered mixed reactions from supporters and naysayers.
The cynical crowd couldn’t get over the wiles of a fame-hungry and pathetic figure, who was trying to cash in on her misfortune in the worst possible way. But those who had her back, were driven by empathy for a celebrity who was battling real life issues that were both terrifying and genuinely inspirational.
Jade’s reasons for the blatant transparency was motivated by raising funds to secure the financial security of her sons, as well as using her massive platform to raise awareness about the disease that was going to kill her.
It was hard to resist the populating episodes in the queue of her Youtube channel or the frequent updates on popular websites, that were closely monitoring her rapid deterioration. Despite the grim outlook, Jade was determined to fight hard for the sake of her kids, and she did so with gusto, and the zeal for living life to the fullest, as she made time for family trips to favorite spots, while dealing with grueling side effects of chemotherapy and radiation.
And it was all captured on film, which in many ways humanized her plight and made her even more palatable to an increasing audience both at home and abroad, who were just as helplessly smitten as I was. Jade’s infectiously grandiose presentation seemed to magically overtake the dark hovering clouds on the horizon. It was mesmerizing to take in her uncannily temperate decorum as she valiantly fought a war that she had already lost.
We were embodying a period that was suddenly transfixed by the thrilling rewards that can be gained from the dramatics of reality TV, which is heavily dependent on the memorable antics of ordinary people who become extraordinary in the blink of an eye.
Jade Goody was just a normal mother of two, making a living as a dental nurse in a small London town, until she got sucked into the additive vortex of reality TV, at a time when the genre was dominating the landscape of entertainment — for better or worse.
And of all the ventures she submitted to, that took her into competitive mode against housemates, as well as the hilariously illustrations of her poor entrepreneurial skills, it ended up being the role of “dying while famous” — the one nobody ever wants played out publicly — that validated her as a global phenomenon.
The voyeuristic era of gawking at the tragedies that befall famous people was absolutely initiated by fans like me, who were helping to propel Jade’s popularity with our relentless commitment to tracking her every move — as we waited with bated breath for the positive outcome that we already knew was highly unlikely.
By mid-February of 2009 — the ratings for Jade’s Progress— were off the charts, and that was attributed to the earth-shattering news delivered by Jade’s trusted friend and publicist Max Clifford — who formally announced that she had merely weeks to live.
The shock was overwhelming, which was a testament to the resilience of a youthful and fun-loving ball of fire, who managed to trick us into believing that she could cheat death, despite evidence to the contrary.
Once it was established that no divine intervention was going to sweep in and save the day in an unexpected cliffhanger — Jade Goody quickly shifted gears by embracing the heartbreaking reality of her impending death with the enviable response of making the very best of the fleeting days she had left.
Her first order of business was to summon the assistance and love of family and close friends, who she had commissioned to stage the celebrity wedding of the year after she enthusiastically accepted the proposal from Jack Tweedy.
As her health began to decline by the day, time was of the essence, and so the planning had to be precise and swift. This birthed the offshoot — Jade: Bride to Be — which served as the behind-the-scenes capsule of the days and hours leading up to the happiest day of her painfully short life.
As gossip sites and news channels continued the constant coverage of Jade Goody’s dying days, it wasn’t just ordinary folks like me that got entangled in the web of ceremonious fascination. Notables like the late Michael Jackson, and the late Amy Winehouse sent their best wishes, as well as former colleagues in the the realm that she had perfected.
Even the man who revolutionized the talk show arena with his tabloid infused staple — Jerry Springer — was asked to chime in on the whether or not it was proper for cameras to pursue a young woman who was essentially dying before our very eyes.
“We can get into the moral and ethical discussion about it… and the right to privacy, but that’s a losing battle.” “She’s the one that has the right to the privacy. So she should determine that.”
Springer hit the nail on the head with the summation of Jade’s right to choose how she wanted to spend the precious time she had left. And in all honesty it wasn’t difficult to understand why it was vital to take advantage of the amazingly generous gestures that greeted her at every turn.
Her upcoming wedding was going to be a star-studded affair, with a bedazzled guest list that she would never have been able to amass if not for the fact that she was now the toast of London — an unbelievable feat that was made possible by a death sentence.
Retail brands were vying for attention, as we watched her accept or deny services from the best of the best. The moments when she winced with pain, pouring in and out of wedding dresses — were stark reminders of how very sick she was — which made the joy of her scoring a dream gown that was donated by Harrods’ former owner Mohamed Fayed — that more poignant.
She was able to treat her bridal party to free teeth cleaning services, while also making sure that her mother and two little boys were all set for the big day. No stone was left unturned, and we all had front row seats to the giddiness and the gut-wrenching interludes — that revealed Jade’s depleting energy, bouts of depression, and increasing reliance on a pain regulator that she was forced to wear.
Her televised wedding was a triumphant success, complete with emotional highlights that began with the procession that she had to gather all her energy for, followed by the touching wedding vows that led to the long-awaited pronouncement of husband and wife.
Later on there was a festive reception in honor of the couple that started off like a lighthearted farewell— as guests were treated to a compilation of clips that featured endearing moments that the bride shared with those who loved her most — before relaxing into the standard fare of music and dancing that culminated with a grand performance by her favorite girls group — Sugarbabes.
And as the visibly exhausted and flustered newlywed snuggled next to her husband and beloved boys, as they watched the night sky light up with fireworks — you could see the gratification of her wearied spirit.
Jade Goody’s grand finale was the victory of being bequeathed with the level of adulation she had always hoped for — but it sadly came at too high a price.
The wedding planning and ceremony had taken a lot out of an already weakened template, and so it was decided that filming would appropriately come to an end. The producer of Living With Jade — Kate Jackson had grown quite close to her subject — and was eager to grant her friend’s last wish to gracefully bow out of the circus surrounding her targeted mortality.
The weeks after were regulated to YouTube videos that confirmed the dreary updates from tabloids, that painted the picture of how dangerously close Jade was to making her exit. The paparazzi were even more ravenous as they camped outside her home and stalked her every move. As always, the high-priced photos were worth the intrusion for both parties.
Dying while famous was giving Jade Goody no peace, as the exploitation phase grew into a full blown viral affair that would be quite recognizable in these current times of shared content — that contain graphic images of the dying and the dead.
The last video clip of Jade, showed her leaving the hospital for the very last time. Her husband was by her side, as she was loaded into the ambulance, and it was unbearable to observe the fragile figure under the bright red blanket. The profound vibrancy was replaced with a sickly haze, and her sluggish reflexes signaled the end was near.
The paparazzi followed the ambulance all the way to its final destination, and the photos revealed every detail of the setup, as Jade’s last appearance in public was the brutal reality that she would never be seen alive again.
Jade Goody passed away in her sleep on March 22, 2009, at her home in Upshire, with her mother and husband at her side. She was only twenty-seven-years-old.
In wicked irony, the ultra-famous TV personality died on Mother’s Day, but her two sons were not permitted anywhere near their ailing mother in her final days. It was agreed that their father would take them on holiday to Australia — to protect them from the frenzied activities of the media.
Her funeral was held at her hometown of Bermondsey, and it was quite the spectacle, as the streets were lined with thousands of mourners who were determined to pay their respects to the woman they hardly knew in life, but loved in death.
The media’s obsession with the reality TV star who was “dying while famous” garnered enough attention to reel in the interest of political figures and A-list celebs.
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, made the effort to pay his respects by publicly declaring Jade Goody — “a courageous woman both in life and death, and the whole country has admired her determination to provide a bright future for her children.”
Victoria and David Beckham and Simon Cowell were among several celebrities who sent their condolences with bouquet of flowers. And the attendees were also an impressive group of high-ranking citizens, who were dutifully following the rulebook of honoring one of their own — even if they weren’t initially sold on her viability back when she was easy bait for collective ridiculing.
And that’s the legacy attached to Jade Goody, almost a decade after her Cinderella moment took an ill-fated turn, once her battle for the limelight evolved into a life and death situation, that benefited everyone — except the superstar with everything to live for, who was dying against her will.
There’s also the “Jade Goody Effect” that took hold in England, after her death.
Thanks to the selflessness that motivated her to publicly testify about the medical issues that remained untreated, until it was far too late to save her. Evidently, young British women were actually paying attention to Jade’s life-altering messaging — and this led to “nearly half a million more women than usual turning up for a smear test.”
Sadly, it has been reported that in recent years, the “Effect” is losing it’s grip as data from the National Health Service (NHS) show declining numbers, that echo a twenty-year low when it comes to the requests for smear tests for women between the ages of twenty-four and forty-nine.
There’s also the solidification of the worship of celebritydom that has now filtered into the platforms of indulgence, that were set up to dehumanize those who are blinded by the falsehood of their hearted existence.
Jade Goody’s documented final days wouldn’t be feted with the same reception that she manifested back in 2009, and that’s because of the roster of distractions in our midst, that make it impossible for us to situate our emotions — accordingly.
But the climate of shameless promotion that entertains the antics of engagers who will do or say anything for the “likes,” “shares,” and “hearts,” is very much a thing — as well as the art of “cancellations” that would’ve most likely riddled Jade’s profile in her early days of fame.
Since her death, there have been other famous people who’ve documented their final days, but the fanfare never matches the height of Jade Goody’s fame when the world came calling — just when her time was up.
In this case, fame didn’t kill her. She demolished it.