“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.
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.