Jade Goody and the Art of Dying

“Dying is an art,” wrote Sylvia Plath, in her poem Lady Lazarus, and the very public final weeks of Jade Goody are reinforcing Plath’s point remarkably well. Jade Goody has moved on from the unthinking, mouthy persona that brought her to national attention with a sudden aplomb, becoming, in her need to make a better life for the two children she will be leaving behind in the wake of her terminal cervical cancer, an iconic figure whose death will mark the end of an era of celebrity in Britain.

Jade Goody

Jade Goody

There are notes of disgust registering around the country that she’s intending to let a film crew follow her through her final weeks as well as to her wedding, assuming it happens before she is too ill to cope. There shouldn’t be; this is a woman dying as she lived. She is, in many ways, like Mickey Rourke’s character in The Wrestler, in that all she knows is a life in front of the camera and all she can do to ensure the future for her children is to make as much money as quickly as possible for them in the only way she knows how; on television and in the press.

It’s telling that she has made it clear that she wants to ensure that her children are educated; this is the woman who came from difficult, uneducated beginnings to make a career in the celebrity industry, a woman who created a new life for herself on Big Brother and took on the personality the tabloids created for her, only to watch them turn on her with more vigour when she rose above the cheap insults that were initially levelled at her. She’s not the brightest of women but, tellingly, she knows it. And it’s her attempts to make amends for her mistakes that have endeared her to the British public. She is finally taking control of her life in the spotlight in a way that she wasn’t able to do when she first found herself in the arms of fame.

She is a most human celebrity and it is to be hoped, for the sake of her children, that she will be remembered for her late transmogrification into a role model; according to The Guardian, the swift and vicious spread of her cervical cancer – and her brutal, well-publicised honesty about it – is responsible for a massive upsurge of requests for smear tests. This alone drives home what people think about her. She is ‘one of us’, albeit ‘one of us’ who has become an industry in her own right. She is fallible but not above trying to make amends for her failings, even if that means doing so in excruciating detail in the public eye.

“There is a charge//For the eyeing of my scars, there is a charge/For the hearing of my heart…” wrote Sylvia Plath, again in Lady Lazarus. And: “The peanut-crunching crowd/Shoves in to see//Them unwrap me hand and foot/The big strip tease.” Jade Goody has run with this idea and made a positive of it; where Plath was contemplating her attempts at suicide, the ‘big strip tease’ of Goody’s final weeks is solely about taking care of the future for her children and may well see her reborn in the public’s collective memory as someone who rose above the pain and despair and did some good.

Goody is not succumbing to Gwili Andre’s lonely and miserable mode of death, alone in her flat consumed by the fires taking root in her piles of cuttings. She has not allowed fame to make her bitter. She is taking what remains of her life and transforming it, seemingly aware that she, like so many celebrities before her, from Marilyn Monroe to Princess Diana, will be frozen in the moment by her early death. Of course she’d prefer to live to see her children grow old rather than die in front of the cameras, but what she’s doing is right for her and what she thinks is right for her children.

If it disturbs you, do not watch or read the reports, but do not try to prevent Jade Goody from choosing the manner of her death; she has finally proved that she deserves more than that.

22 Responses to “Jade Goody and the Art of Dying”

  • Philippa Farina:

    I agree with you Mark. Celebrity and the Media have replaced the church and their saints. We need the focus and shared emotions. I’m happy to have Saint Jade if it means a good lessson is broadcast to the congregation and “miraculously” saves some young lives.

  • Does it matter:

    Sorry but the arguement ‘switch-off’ and ignore it if it disturbs you is nonsense.

    Does that apply to other areas we may find disturbing such as famine, just switch the TV off, it will go away?

    If only ill-educated and poor Karen Matthews had been presented as doing what she did for her beautiful kids, the media would have been fully supportive and paid her handsomely for her story. Or possibly not.

  • Does it matter:

    Can I point out the tearful photo accompanying this blog is not of someone having just been told they have cancer.

    It was 5-6 hours earlier when she cried because she could not understand what was being said and told contestants she missed her children.

    Another tearful photo in the diary room was actually taken 24 hours before when she was unable recall the name of a contestant to nominate.

    Unlike the UK Big Boss does not have a live feed, just a highlights. Because of time zones, it meant the UK press had stills (with the station logo)from the highlights show something like 24 hours before it was broadcast.

    I point this out to demonstrate what the media will knowingly do to bolster an image they wish to present, even moving time.

  • Elin:

    Does it matter when the photo was taken? Is it really out of context? Does she look different when she’s crying for fear of death or crying because she’s uncomfortable in the environment she’s in?

    It’s sad that this is the only comment you had to this article.

  • Does it matter:

    Elin, it is even sadder you have not made one comment about the article.

    You will see a comment on the article at 6:46pm.

    The point about the photo was to demonstrate how two unconnected elements can be pulled together to create an image that may be good or bad.

    Is it the public turning her into a saint or a media riddled with guilt over their treatment and comments about her?

    As for this article it states she ‘rose above the cheap insults that were initially levelled at her’* another interpretation could be she didn’t give a f*ck.

    There is a track record of her bullying others from her schooldays, during her first appearance on Big Brother, assaulting the father of her children, a tirade of abuse aimed at another celeb on ‘Back To Reality’, leading to the well publicised events on Celebrity Big Brother.

    The above and more happened when the media image I was presented with was of someone ‘dippy’ doing no harm.

    When the victims stepped forward to state their case they were dismissed as ‘milking’ the situation and told to ‘get over it’, not much sympathy there.

    Whereas the bully has continually been financially rewarded by the same media that is outraged by anti-social behaviour.

    This week a glossy celeb magazine gave 7 pages to someone convicted of viciously assault, I assume to present him in a good light despite him being on another assault charge.

    My arguement is about the media and those employed to sell us an image that conflicts with the reality.

  • Does it matter:

    Just glanced at Mark’s biog and working with Graham Norton.

    When Jade was on Big Brother in 2002 I complained to the Graham Norton TV production team about the comments made by him about her.

    The following is from an article in The Guardian about Karen Matthews…it demonstrates how intelligent people can convince us to ignore certain events for the sake of the image they wish to portray.

    ‘Channel 4 Dispatches made a documentary in her house during the weeks of the hunt. Those same observers who so roundly condemned the Haringey case workers were completely suckered by her lies.

    And you could begin to argue that they were led astray for some of the same reasons: an ideological refusal to judge anyone in challenging circumstances, or to trust instinct; a determination to give a mother the benefit of any and all doubt.

    By this latter argument, just because Matthews had, by the age of 30, seven children by five fathers without any notion that she might support them through her own efforts, did not mean that her fitness as a mother could be questioned in any way at all.

    When family members – her parents and her sister – alleged that there was violence and abuse in her home and that they had feared for the safety of her children this, too, was apparently to be respectfully ignored.’

  • Mary:

    I think what’s pertinent is that Jade wants to tell her story using media that she’s comfortable and familiar with – both when being lauded and pilloried – and that’s TV, the tabloids and the glossies.
    There is a distasteful element of snobbery going on. How many people complained when Nigella Lawson’s now deceased husband, John Diamond, chronicled his demise from cancer over four years in his column in The Times?
    I feel that public reaction to Jade would be very different if she were writing a book or keeping a blog of her experiences.
    Plus, she’s never couched her current efforts as anything other than a desire to make as much money as possible right here and now, for the future of her boys, with maybe a desire to help other women avoid her current situation, thrown in.
    Positioning Jade as ‘an iconic figure whose death will mark the end of an era of celebrity in Britain,’ does over-egg the situation. But yes, she does deserve respect to die how she chooses. And if anyone dislikes her choice, there are plenty of options to switch off or turn the page.

  • Does it matter:

    I can assure you there is not a ‘distasteful element of snobbery going on’, read the comments under articles on The Sun and Mail websites.

    I doubt many of those contributing comments know who John Diamond was and are only aware of Nigella’s kitchen jugs.

    When she lost her hair she asked the cameras to leave so she could be alone…the door was left ajar so filming could continue, she made a choice and the producer ignored it.

    As I’ve pointed out this agruement ‘there are plenty of options to switch off or turn the page’ is ridicules in a multi-platform interactive era.

    People may not like the actions of a politician, sre they supposed to ‘turn the page’ and not comment?

    As Jade said herself on Celebrity Big Brother “Don’t worry, anything can be justified. My agent John (Noel Management) and publicist Catherine (Lister) will deal with it.

  • Jenny P:

    You can’t help but feel sorry for that shit-thick, millionnaire racist and her teenager-battering husband.

  • Lisa C:

    Do you know what really upsets me is the fact of how shallow some people really are. Take a look around eerywhere in the world we deal with cancer, everyday that poor girl has to open a magazine or a paper and find some of the most horrid things ever. The purpose of her doin this is so that everyone sees that just cos your on tv and are a household name doesnt mean your exempt from the same problems joe blog deals with eeryday does it matter how she was on this show or that show no because all that matters is that this poor girl is dying no getting away from it and no hiding it i dont care what anyone says i will follow her story till the end and further on because i have the up most respect for that girl to do all of this for her children, look how many times u have seen an A list celeb with no make up or bad hair day …not very often because its just not seen.I am a mother of 8 children and i can sympathize with her knowing that 1 day i too could leave my kids behind prematurely.Let the girl alone to live what she has left of her life imagine if it was ur loved one someone was blasting and imagine how that would make you feel doesnt everyone deserve that little but of respect i mean she made mistakes yes she has her views we all do but surely to god ur attention and bitterness could be turned to those who really have done wrong like i dont know ooo erm binladen or a murderer or rapist or paedophile the list is endless everyone makes mistakes and everyone pays i think jade is paying enough dont you ??. God bless you jade and your children. XX

  • Lisa C:

    P.S Mary your one of the people that makes me realise the world ISNT full of mindless busybodies who arent happy unless they are airing their views about people they dont like to the point of hurting them …… wasnt jade once like that and wasnt that the reason people disliked her to begin with because of her viewing her opinions…oh no the only difference is those who do do it dont do it on air they do it on silly little message boards. Thanks mary and all those who realise that theres a person behind her hard shell.

  • Hugo:

    I don’t think any of her history matters. What is important is the effect it will have on raising awareness about cancer. Regardless of how or for what reason it is done, if the effect is to get people to stand up and notice, then that is good enough for me.
    I can’t help but feel however that it could have been a lot more effective, and targeted towards increasing public knowledge

    Cancer should not be used as a money making device.

  • emma:

    A absolute legend… who will live on in all our hearts! xxx

  • fillymum:

    I am appalled by the negative responses of some contributors to the many forums cataloging Jade’s progress.

    The bottom line here is that this young woman IS in the position to cash in on something I am sure she would never have wanted to cash in on. This is not about Jade. It is about her kids and her fierce battle to make sure they have a secure and happy future without her there to provide for them. I applaud her for it.

    As a cancer victim myself who has a small support website for ladies with breast cancer, I can honestly say that the most upsetting thing for me to witness is the loss of a young life that with the correct treatment could have been saved. We have lost three of our members in the last year the youngest just 30 years old and the eldest only 50 years old.

    Instead of vilifying Jade why not put your energies and your voices into fighting for a better health service where cancers can not be overlooked and treatment does not depend on where you live. We have the disgraceful situation on the site of one 35 year old flying to Germany every month for treatment that is refused her in the area she lives in. She pays 4.000 pounds a time for that, money that has to be raised by donations, functions etc. So I repeat, leave Jade alone and get yourselves a worthy cause to fight.

  • Jenny:

    I wonder how many of those who leave negative spiteful comments about Miss Jade Goody have their own children and would not be trying to secure their futures if they did. I have never had any time for ‘celebrity culture’ nor for Miss Goody until now. From my position as a mother to three small boys I fully understand and agree with what she is doing. Certainly she would never have wished things this way and the thought of leaving her boys can only be the worst imaginable torture. I wish her pain-free and at some kind of peace as I do for all those suffering in this cruel and unjust world.

  • Linda X:

    In spite of what others may think I believe Jade has made a very important contribution to society. She has proven that people who are vilified and labelled ‘stupid’ can rise above their detractors and earn a living from their gifts…What are her gifts? A cracking sense of humour, the love a woman has for her children, the ability to make the most of a bad situation, the ability to laugh at herself, the ability to publicly admit when she is wrong, the ability to forgive her mother, the ability to keep going when she is in pain so she can earn enough money so her sons will never want for anything and she has raised public awareness about cervical cancer and thus helped saved many lives. Above all she has taught us that life and death are more important than small minds who judge others because they are not like them. Mere pop and film stars pale in comparison…I never thought I would say this but thank God for BB, because it has brought to our attention one of life’s masters!
    Long live Jade! And all she stands for!

  • Amy:

    I feel very sorry for here she has gone throw a lot!
    She is a good star and when she dies I will miss here!

  • i am sorry you dont dont how much i have been upset about this jade you the best person ever and your boys are gawjuzz,My mum read Your book in todays now she is hunting around for you new book my mum is shooket about what has happened she did excpect anything like this :(
    Jade everyone loves you and your boys will be fine you family and friends will look after them they will be fantatic..please keep looking down on me you give me joy i losed my nan though cancer and i never met her :| please keep looking down on me :) you will be truthly missed by everyone :)
    Loveyou joanna annett
    p.s= sanders draper school said wee all miss you ! x
    from 1600 students and 60 teachers x

  • JOANNE THORPE:

    Jade my thoughts are with you you husband and boys x x x

  • my thoughts are so sorry i will allways miss u and love u i will never forget u

  • MY HEART IS BUBLING WITH A GREAT CONFIDENCE, DECLARING IT TO ETERNITY THAT JADE GOODY WILL NOT DIE AS A RESULT OF THAT CANCER, SHE WILL LIVE AND COMPLETE HER LIFE SPAN ON EARTH AS LONG AS JESUS LIVES TO CONFIRM HIS WORD IN THE BOOK OF ISIAH CHAPTER 53:5, READ “AND BY HIS STRIPES, WE ARE HEALED.”

    I AM HERE TO DISAPPOINT THE IMAGINATION OF EVERY NATION ABOUT THE DOCTORS’ REPORTS ON HER PRESENT SITUATION.

    I LIVE TO RECONFIRM IT TO ETERNITY THAT SHE WILL NOT DIE BUT LIVE TO DECLARE THE GOODNESS OF GOD IN THIS GENERATION.
    AGAIN, I WILL SURELY HAVE A HANDSHAKE WITH HER IN A GOOD CONDTION.
    REACH ME ON MY Email: geniusamah@yahoo.co.uk

  • Ad:

    I won’t miss her, she only became a celebrity because of how stupid and vulgar she is. She is uneducated, racist, selfish, mouthy and ugly. She embodies alot of the things which are wrong with the world and that makes her a fortune!.

    The best thing she has done is scared women into getting checked for cancer and just how long will that continue for? people will forget about her.

    I’m actually amazed at how many people think she is some sort of princess and getting cancer suddenly makes her the best person who ever lived.

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