Using your celebrity status for Good(y)

Life never ceases to surprise me.

I never thought I’d write a blog defending Jade Goody, but four months ago I did exactly that. And today I feel compelled to do it a second time.

Having been diagnosed with cervical cancer, doctors had given the (in)famous serial reality TV star a 40% chance of survival. After the discovery that the cancer had spread to her liver, bowel and groin, doctors have now withdrawn that prognosis and said they will focus on efforts to prolong her life.

Now, I have previously described Goody as an exceptionable person, an assessment I stand by. But nonetheless, and I am in no way regressing to a state of mawkishness here, this latest news is very sad. In particular, the way some people have questioned her seeking to make money from her plight – in the time-honoured tradition of Z-list celebs – by selling her story to the tabloids is kind of missing the point. It’s a bit like tutting at someone’s decision to get uproariously drunk in the event of an impending nuclear attack: it’s all about the context, not the individual act.

Yet again, Caitlin Moran sums it up beautifully in her Celebrity Watch column in today’s Times:

Why should she retreat from public view? Why shouldn’t she keep giving interviews? After all, when the Times columnist John Diamond – Nigella Lawson’s first husband – had cancer diagnosed, he did not retreat from public view; he wrote a weekly column, for which he was paid, in which he discussed his illness and, eventually, approaching death. It was deemed an informative, courageous act.

Goody’s career, her main source of income, is as a reality TV personality. If she chooses to continue working – which is to say, continue being paid to reveal her life to the public – isn’t the difference essentially that she is a working-class woman, talking to the mass media, whereas Diamond was middle class, and writing for a broadsheet?

Quite aside from the fact that people’s reaction to news of their own terminal illness is different, is it so unfathomable that Goody would wish to earn as much as she could, and as quickly as possible, to give her children security?

Exactly. As a parent, if I had a terminal illness and had the opportunity to generate a large volume of cash to give my son a more secure future, would I do so? Of course I would. Wouldn’t you?

Yes, we all remember the “Shilpa Poppadum” comment which sparked the Celebrity Big Brother race row. Yes, it was a terribly distasteful thing to say, knowingly, on national TV. Yes, I – like many others – despised her for doing so.

But let’s put it into context. As Boris Becker once famously said after losing a match: “Nobody died.” As a member of an ethnic minority, I’ve been called worse in my time. Prince Harry referred to an Army colleague as “Paki”, and the fuss over that has died down pretty quickly. Nobody demanded Prince Phillip’s allowance to be curtailed in the wake of his “slitty eyes” comment made on a visit to China. And, most recently, has Carol Thatcher’s use of the word “golliwog” in the green room at the One Show (in reference to French tennis star Jo-Wilfried Tsonga) – a comment she refused to apologise for and resulted in her sacking from the programme – caused more than the merest ripple in a teacup? (Indeed, it has been referred to by more than one commentator as being an over-reaction by the BBC.)

What’s the difference? Well, on the one hand, you have the third in line to the throne, the husband of the current monarch, and the daughter of Britain’s only female Prime Minister. And on the other you have a chav of below-average intelligence from a deprived background, who in most people’s eyes has done nothing to earn her money or celebrity status. Unlike the aforementioned three, of course.

Double standards, people?

Don’t get me wrong. I totally subscribe to the view that Jade Goody had far outlived her allotted 15 minutes of fame long before the Celebrity Big Brother scandal. I too am bemused at the seven-figure earnings she has gained from Big Brother, the likes of OK! magazine and Living TV creating reality shows around the launch of her new perfume or her hunt for a PA. But, given the nature of her chosen ‘career’, I have no problem with her doing whatever she does to provide financial security for her family, because it’s clearly not all about prolonging the fame thing any more.

And if the tabloid coverage of Jade’s cancer story does something to raise awareness of – and potentially funding for – this most terrible of diseases, then maybe her celebrity status may be put to good use after all.

Now why is that such a bad thing?