Jade Goody is only 27 years old. It's a sobering thought as we glance at our newspapers and read that her cancer has spread and that now doctors are primarily concerned with prolonging her life rather curing her.
She hasn't even made it to her 30s. And yet she seems to have been part of the fabric of our media obsessed lives since the year dot.
An Everywoman Chav Princess, her ignorance was endearing in a mad way. ‘East Angular' was abroad. Portugal was in Spain. She thought she was being made “an escape goat”.
Indeed, following her success on Big Brother and despite her under-privileged background — both parents battled drug addiction — she became something of a positive role model. Own business. Own TV show. Own perfume even. If she was ‘hot' in media terms, she’d enough nous to keep the ball rolling, selling the minutest details of her private life in the new breed of glossy gossip magazines like Now and Closer. No other cover star could boost sales like Jade Goody. For all that people cringed at her no-holds-barred accounts of her boob job and her relationships, they found her an oddly compelling — and yes, likeable — young woman, too.
And for many she was weirdly inspirational — proof in the new culture of reality TV that you didn't need great beauty or talent to achieve fame, which, as we know, is now the be all and end all of existence for so many people.
How's that for getting off yer bum and making the best of things?
But then she became a pantomime villain after the racism row over her comments to Shilpa Shetty on Celebrity Big Brother. Look at the ugly chav with her ugly mum Jackie. No, this wasn't endearing, this was just awful.
Jade Goody is famous for being famous, nothing else. She is our creature, built up by us and, as you would expect, knocked down by us. The fact that Goody herself has been complicit in the process doesn't alter its voyeuristic nature.
But now this has become something different. This is not the public making someone ‘a star'. Or even indulging in sticking someone in the media stocks.
This is the prospect of two little boys being left without their mother. A mother without her daughter.
We are a hair's breadth from our very first reality TV death. Keep the cameras rolling shouts one headline, above a story claiming Jade has told them she wants to keep filming the documentary series about her for Living TV. She says she needs the money for her boys' future.
Hard to argue with that, we reason, and go back to gawping at the photos of bald Jade, devouring the details of her latest op and the new odds from medical experts — a year at best, three months at worst. Just a thought, but does Jade read these reports, too? And if so, what kind of impact must they be having?
You see, this is not ‘entertainment'. We’ve no right to be ‘kept up to speed' with the latest hope, the latest disappointment.
Of course, Jade still has her agent, Max Clifford, the best in the business. Kind and protective, he’ll look out for her, according to her wishes. But still ... this is remarkably uncomfortable stuff where the line between public and private is in danger of being erased for no good reason apart from our (rather shameful) desire to share in the tragedy and melodrama.
Goody and her advisors may, of course, have a different view. For a person who has lived in the columns of Heat, there may be a certain naturalness in sharing what may be the final act. It may be a way of securing her sons’ future. She says she wants to raise cancer awareness.
John Diamond and Ruth Picardie wrote about their terminal illnesses. Just because Jade is working class and may not express herself with the same literary eloquence doesn’t mean she shouldn't talk about her situation, too. Perhaps emotionally it may even help her.
But that doesn't excuse us, the greedy consumers of these stories. Isn't there more than just a little bit of living — and dying — vicariously through the misfortune of others, affording ourselves a little bit of unearned grief in a fashion not unlike having a sneaky bar of Galaxy while watching Desperate Housewives?
A 27-year-old woman is fighting for her life, for goodness sake. If she loses, she's not going to pop up in The Bill or Celebrity Location, Location, Location. This is not a career development. Goody's morals are clean. Ours are more dubious.