The UK awoke on Mother’s Day to the news that Jade Goody had died of cancer in the early hours of the morning, and the story marked the end of one of the most unusual chapters in modern media history.
Since her diagnosis on Indian Big Brother in August 2008, Jade’s battle with cancer, hopes for her sons, gradual conversion to faith and shell-shocked family were played out in public. Interviews, documentaries and column inches were accompanied with glossy images of the 27-year old mother-of-two; unflinching reminders of her illness.
As Stephen Fry tweeted today, Jade Goody was a ‘people’s princess’, from the wrong side of the tracks. She represented something to everyone – an icon to young women desperate to ‘be famous’, a real-life ‘rags to riches’ story which saw a girl from Bermondsey overcome all the disadvantages, or a life saver responsible for ‘the Jade Effect’ which saw hospitals carrying out 21% more smear tests since Jade’s diagnosis.
But this wasn’t just a phenomenon exclusive to red tops and women’s weeklies; this was a story adorning the pages of broadsheet and tabloid alike. It seemed that even those most derisive of the world of reality television that Jade inhabited, who had condemned her pursuit of fame and ‘poor’ education, felt compelled to talk about this remarkable chapter in popular culture – the first ‘reality life’ where a woman would live, and ultimately die, in front of the cameras.
Jade became a mirror for society, reflecting everything from our obsession with celebrity, failing education system and dislocated race relations – it’s not surprising everyone from The Sunday Times to the Sunday People have an opinion.
Her life can be tracked through the headlines she generated- her exit from the Big Brother House saw newspapers screaming ‘Burn the Pig’, her bullying of Shilpa Shetty resulted in ‘beauty vs bigot’ and finally ‘I’m gonna wed before I’m dead’, in the lead-up to her wedding to Jack Tweed. Today, you cannot turn on the radio, log on to a website or stand by a water-cooler without hearing about her final moments; the public can even see an A4 picture of her body bag.
Not since Princess Diana have we seen a public figure inspire such an outpouring of grief – over 50 bouquets of flowers had been left at her home in Essex and there are plans to televise her funeral. Jade’s legacy will endure and, whether we like it or not, she is a defining figure of our generation. Our thoughts are with Jade’s family.