With the reality television boom still going strong and showing little signs of winding down, it stands to reason that there would be a few people who would make a significant living from the genre. While in America our reality stars outside of American Idol or The Hills usually have had some measure of notoriety fame previously, our friends in the UK have a couple of stars who came into their fame out of nowhere by appearing on one of the numerous reality shows (quite frankly about 90% of US reality shows are based on British predecessors). The prime example of this is Jade Goody, a former dental nurse from east London whose appearance on the 2002 UK edition of Big Brother put her in the public eye. She didn’t win, but she made a name for herself mostly by her cheerful ignorance of geography and … well, just about everything else.
Long after her castmates drifted back into obscurity, Jade’s willingness to make an ass out of herself in public brought her a measure of fame and wealth. She appeared on any “celebrity”-themed reality show that would have her, starred in a couple of her own shows, opened up a salon, had her own perfume amusingly called “Shhh …”, had two kids with another reality show denizen, and took up with a guy who was best known for beating the shit out of a teenager. Then there was her convict father, her biker/lesbian/crippled mum and her crappy childhood, helpfully chronicled in her autobiography. She almost lost everything in 2007, when she appeared on the celebrity version of Big Brother and got caught making racist remarks about an Indian actress. Goodbye, perfume, goodbye, paperback version of her autobiography, goodbye, sweet stupid Jade with the wide-lipped grin and the beautiful eyes. She probably would have dropped off the face of the earth had she not gone to India last year to be in that country’s version of Big Brother (ironically along with the actress whom she’d insulted). It was there that she was told that she had cervical cancer, already in an advanced stage. She returned to England and had a radical hysterectomy, but the cancer had spread to her bowel, liver and groin.
Jade Goody is twenty-seven years old. In all likelihood she will not live to see her twenty-eighth birthday in June, and in the months since the announcement she has transformed from a Cockney reality show whore into a genuine worldwide phemomena, the dying young mother selling the last of herself to support her two small sons. Some condemn her, but more applaud her. Last month it was announced that she was terminal, so she hurried up and sold the rights to her wedding pictures to the glossy tabloid OK!, supposedly for a seven-figure sum. While negotiating this she sold bits of interviews to other media outlets. “I’ve lived in front of the cameras,” she said in one. “And maybe I’ll die in front of them. And I know some people don’t like what I’m doing but at this point I really don’t care what other people think. Now, it’s about what I want.” To top it off, her new husband was given leave to break the curfew imposed by his recent jail sentence for assault … by none other than the Prime Minister, proof of Jade’s final ascendence into semi-respectability.
Being a closet Anglophile and devotee of the semi-tony trash paper known as the Daily Mail I knew of Jade since she was pretty much in the paper every day doing or saying something idiotic. I always thought that she looked like Angelina Jolie’s wayward little sister who’d taken one too many blows to the face. Although she always came off as dumb it may have been just ignorance, ignorance that has lessened a bit in her last days. A recent column in the Mail noted that after her death an outside company will oversee the trust fund she is setting up for her sons. Not her mother, not her husband, not the father of her sons. That’s telling. She had herself and her boys baptized over the weekend, and it’s been stated that will be her final public appearance. There was some gossip that she was going to allow herself to be filmed at the end–and I couldn’t help noticing that she has always been very well made-up in the supposedly dashed-off photos that appear daily in the tabloids–but even someone who craved the spotlight as much as Jade did will draw the line.
Even if it would be the ultimate reality.