Monday, March 30

Celebrity in the UK

Jade Goody was a UK celebrity that mystified Garry and I when we first arrived in London. She was everywhere; gracing magazine covers, hosting reality television programs and the catalyst for endless national debate. We later learnt that, in 2002, she’d been a finalist in Big Brother, a UK reality television show. This television apperance subsequently triggered a uniquely enduring brush with fame. In time she came to symbolize the UK’s obsession with celebrity, no matter how vapid its source. It seems appropriate to blog on a phenomenon so uniquely British.

Last week Jade Cerisa Lorraine Goody died from cervical cancer, aged 28. She left behind a family of two young boys. As with so much of her adult life, Jade’s death became the fodder of magazines, television and political debate throughout the week. She’d planned it this way. Her cancer diagnosis was given while appearing in an Indian version of Big Brother last August. She then allowed a film crew to follow her into hospital, gave heartfelt interviews and sold exclusive rights to her recent wedding.

Jade’s motive for this final burst of publicity was never in doubt. She wanted to build a healthy trust fund for her children and raise cervical cancer awareness. She succeeded on both fronts. Her final weeks of publicity reported secured a £1 million windfall, while latest stats show a 30% rise in the number of women taking smear tests following her diagnosis.

Jade was unashamedly, sometimes surprisingly, ignorant. However, while she may not have possessed any hard-won talent, she did demonstrate a vulnerably and openness all too rare in modern society. Her troubled upbringing also spoke to those seeking inspiration and opportunity against the odds. In the days since her death more than one commentator has described her as Lady Diana from the wrong side of the tracks.

Jade was born in South London in 1981. Her father was a heroin addict and her mother, Jackiey, lost the use of an arm in a motorcycle accident when Jade was five. Her mother later became a crack addict. By the time she appeared on Big Brother she’d been evicted from a council flat and was facing prison for an unpaid tax bill. Her time in the house caused a national storm. Harsh tabloid headlines railed against her, before eventually turning in her favour. Five year on and her fortune was an estimated £4-million.

Her celebrity continues, even in death. Tonight, the first of a two-part television tribute was broadcast with more coverage on the way as funeral plans are finalized. Jade Goody is unique phenomenon, but her rise as a celebrity isn't. The UK's obession with fame goes on.

I've illustrated this post with the cover of OK magazine. It's one of the UK's more popular weekly celebrity news magazines, with a weekly circulation of 500,000. Media reports claim it sold an additional 1.3 million copies in the UK the week it published exclusive images of Jade Goody's wedding. It also publishes USA and Australian editions. The Australian edition was launched as a monthly publication in August 2004, before moving to a weekly edition in October 2006. This publication's success is mirrored again and again by similar titles like Hello and Tatler, and a dozen other clones gracing the local newstand every week.

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