Sunday, 22 March 2009

Celebreality claims first blood

Well, it's finally happened - Jade has died aged 27. Now don't get me wrong, I think it's tragic when anyone dies at such an early age, so I'm not trying to diminish what is a true tragedy for her family. But what about the rest of us? How should we be feeling?

There are those who speak of heroic Jade for managing to raise awareness of cancer. Now call me cynical, but I thought most people were already aware of cancer - given that one in three of us will be affected by it in our lifetime. Perhaps they're speaking about the fact that since Jade's diagnosis, cervical smears have seen a 20% increase. So just like what happened when Kylie Minogue and Anastasia were diagnosed with breast cancer. The simple fact is, public figures get sick like the rest of us, and in doing so remind us to get those worrying bumps and lumps checked out.

The issue I really wanted to talk about is something I touched upon here when I discussed the other knock-on effect of Jade's illness. Never before has terminal illness been put to such lucrative ends. And let's not forget that, unlike Jane Tomlinson who raised £1.5 million for cancer charities, the similar amount of money Jade raised was for her kids' education. I don't know, maybe public school fees have shot up under New Labour, but that sounds like an awful lot of money. Still, she was a mum doing what she thought was best for her kids, so I certainly wouldn't dream of knocking her for that.

In actual fact, the true focus of this story should be the press, and Jade's agent Max Clifford. Jade's final weeks were planned like a proper PR campaign, with urgent press releases issued daily to cover every twist and turn. The cancer spread to Jade's brain and the press were by her bed to take the picture. 'Jade rushed to hospice' screamed the headlines, then a few days later she was back at home feeling a little better. Then she was confronted in her room by a woman with a hammer. Then there was the Christening, and then she told the boys she was going to Heaven, and we were there for every moment of it. Because this wasn't a life, it was a live soap opera, for Jade and for everyone who picked up a paper or magazine to find out the latest. It's no wonder that EastEnders and Coronation Street see their ratings spike whenever a character (even an unpopular one) is about to die.

But who can blame us? This is an era of celebreality where famous people surrender their privacy (and often self-respect) in to sustain their celebrity status. Whether it's Jordan and Peter arguing about her bleaching her arsehole, or Lisa Scott-Lee launching a make-or-break bid to enter the top ten, these people actually invite us to peer behind the curtain of fame and have a good root around. The problem with all this consensual voyeurism is that it's neither celebrity or reality that we're witnessing. It's stage-managed desperation.

I can't help but wonder whether this is why Jade chose to die under such staggering scrutiny. Her entire adult life has been spent in the glare of TV cameras on 'reality' TV shows. The same cameras that turned a no-one from Bermondsey into a 'celebrity'. But these reality TV shows could only ever be an approximation of reality - at the end of the day, the cameras stop rolling and everyone goes home. Did Jade think that this was 'reality' that she could control? Redo her lines if she said the wrong thing, or reshoot the ending if it wasn't working?

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