‘The Queen of Big Brother’, ‘The Princess of Bermondsey’, two of the many monikers bestowed upon former Big Brother contestant and reality TV star, Jade Goody. A polarising character, who was demonized by the very machine that helped create her.
Now, ten years after her death from cervical cancer at the age of twenty-seven, Channel 4, have commissioned a series in her remembrance entitled, ‘Jade: The Reality Star Who Changed Britain’.
Like many, I was already a fan of the ‘Big Brother’ franchise when Jade stepped onto our screens and into our living rooms in 2002. The show, was in essence, our generation’s ‘Water-cooler’ moment.
Each day we would dissect and joke about the antics of the participants, in our measly ‘Bridge the gap’ jobs post college. We were the target demographic, similar in age and just starting out in our own lives. We joked about it but we also wanted in.
The first episode, of which there are three instalments in the series, affords us in the opening minutes, a glimpse at the audition tapes of would be participants of the show, including Jade’s.
There is an overwhelming air of innocence and enthusiasm within them. Devoid of copious filters or slick editing which would undoubtedly lend themselves to a 2019 offering, it highlighted a group of young adults who were hoping for a break, a chance and an opportunity to give them a financial stepping stone greater than that of being stuck in those ‘Bridge the gap’ jobs that we were currently inhabiting. It was a last hurrah before having to join the ranks of adulthood. Yet, for Jade Goody, it was so much more.
Goody did not have an easy life. She was exposed to addiction, abuse and poverty from an early age by both parents; her father eventually dying from an overdose in 2006. She had nothing to lose and everything to gain by applying for the show. In a way, Big Brother provided her with the first proper home she would ever have known at the time.
Paul Edgar Jones, Creative Director for Big Brother, and one of the more redeeming individuals interviewed for the series, says that on meeting Jade, he said the following to her, “It’s either going to be the best thing that happens to you or the worst thing that happens to you”.
Which, is a somewhat prophetic summary of what would unfold in the ensuing years.
The series makes for uncomfortable, but thought-provoking viewing. There are plenty of seat- squirming moments; not only from the participants of the programme but also for the viewer.
Particularly, when seeing the past footage of the many TV personalities, media etc who enabled such a harmful narrative surrounding Goody at the time yet, still rode the coat-tails of her success. She was a vulnerable individual who took a starry-eyed chance like the rest of the contestants. So, where does the accountability lie when it all started to crumble? With the producers? With us, the viewing public who continued to consume the content? Or with Jade herself? In my opinion, I believed we all played a part in her fall from grace where those who recognised same were powerless to stop it and those who had the power, refused to in lieu of financial and personal profit.
Despite coming fourth in the show in 2002, it is often commented that Goody was indeed the break-out star. As Davina McCall states, ‘She may have come fourth but she was the real winner’. In the ensuing years, she accumulated a vast personal wealth by sheer tenacity, hard work and capitalising on her opportunities, had a family and was in a new relationship by the time she agreed to enter the ‘Big Brother’ house for the second time as a contestant in the celebrity edition. She had weathered public ridicule and re-branded herself as a successful business woman and entrepreneur. Having the confidence and knowledge of being in the house prior, it stands to reason that the thinking would have been to view it now as a business deal; a simple transaction to keep the momentum of being in the public eye on track.
Added to this, Jade was to enter the house with not only her current boyfriend but also her mum. In hindsight, it now appears heinously staged to ensure that the show could distort certain situations to ensure maximum viewing numbers. Which, to a certain degree, I believe she would have been aware of, as she was far from the ‘dumb and ditzy’ image implied. Yet, she trusted them…the show, the producers. It was a ‘home’ she was familiar with and one which yielded a degree of security. It became apparent in the early stages that this would not be the case.
Several celebrities departed the show either immediately of their own accord or swiftly thereafter.
The entire mood felt decidedly ‘Off’. The first to be evicted from the show was none other than Jades’ own mother, who was advised of same when called to the Diary Room as her daughter watched on a screen in the living quarters. Denied permission to speak to anyone, she was ushered from the room without any contact with fellow housemates. A visibly distressed Jade, addressed the Diary room camera stating, ‘I will never forgive you for this’.
The catalyst for Goody’s downfall can be pinpointed to the incident concerning another contestant, Shilpa Shetty, who was a much-revered Bollywood actress and businesswoman. Whilst other parties were involved in the use of racially insensitive language, the reference by Jade in calling Shetty, ‘Shilpa Poppadum’, caused a National outrage which saw Goody’s effigy being burned in India, a discussion in the House of Parliament and a resurgence of the vitriolic press which she had strived so hard to overcome. Goody prior to leaving the house, apologized to Shetty, which she re-iterated to multiple press outlets upon leaving the show and Shetty (the eventual winner of the Celebrity edition of Big Brother) stated she forgave Jade for the incident.
A reporter featured in the documentary, on being presented with video footage of Goody’s apology to a tabloid publication says, “She even apologised for things she didn’t actually say. But because they told her she said them, she apologised”.
Davina McCall perhaps said it best when she stated, ‘I saw an innocent who slightly put their foot in it’.
Jade was a mere twenty years of age when she entered the house for the first time. In seven short years, she would succumb to cervical cancer, a mere month after her marriage to Jack Tweed. Her mother has said of the show that, “She needed someone to care for her in there because she never had it out here”.
Towards the end of her life, Jade used her platform to spread awareness about the signs and symptoms of cervical cancer. After her diagnosis, she fought the disease for seven months still striving to educate on same. Following her death, the NHS reported a 12% increase in the number of women availing of cervical screenings which officials termed, ‘The Jade Goody effect’. I doubt many who scorned and ridiculed her will leave such a legacy.