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Some people know me as OrangeBlossomer because that's me on Twitter. This blog is a random collection of daily musings about life and stuff I love, such as journalism, dog (sadly my dog died in 2010 so probably no more), women, love and lack of love, boobs (only seldom but it does get me extra online traffic), taichi (I practise) and spirituality (should practise more). I have a day job as a jetsetting publishing foreign rights manager but I am also an NCTJ-qualified journalist and a writer/columnist at heart. Writing is my opium.

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Privacy: from Jade’s BB house to your house on Google

Falling stars
It has been a bizarre few last days with two celebrity deaths in only one week, sending the media into a frenzy. First the Richardson-Redgrave actress daughter, Natasha Richardson, dies tragically after a skiing accident which didn’t even produce a drop of blood or broken bones. At least not on the surface.

Natasha was only two years older than me – which makes her death even more shocking. You could be at the pinnacle of your happiness – or the pinnacle of a ski slope – but when the fall comes, it comes. Life is funny. I mean life is serious, but destiny plays tricks on us no one can possibly predict. The message is clear: live each day as if it were your last.

Reality TV queen

Then Jade.

The public demise of the very public life of the former reality TV star Jade Goodie, whose existence has come to our permanent attention since her appearance in the Celebrity Big Brother show in 2002.

I absolutely loathe Big Brother and have only ever watched snippets of it when I was flicking through channels. To incarcerate, albeit willingly, a group of random people in a house for a few weeks and follow them round the clock with a camera for the public’s viewing eyes is just too sickening for my taste. I don’t understand the fascination with it, but more people around me than they care to admit, not only watch the programme regularly but are also addicted to it.

I only know OF Jade because any glossy magazine I picked up at the waiting room of doctors’, dentists’ or hairdressers’ would have her on the cover or the latest gossip article about her life, not to mention the tabloids, who ought to thank her for helping them sell papers at a time when sales figures are plummeting in the print media.

I first started paying attention to the name Jade Goody when there was a big hoo-ha about her having made an allegedly racist comment to her BB housemate and Bollywood queen Shilpa Shetty. I remember reading about Jade having a nervous breakdown because the media was ruthless about persecuting her and shredding her to pieces. In the words of the wise Stephen Fry in a recent tweet: “Jade lived life under a magnifying glass. Magnifying glasses magnify (obviously) but they distort and they burn.”

Humble origins
It wasn’t until yesterday, reading The Metro on a bus, that I discovered what a rough childhood Jade had had. Father a heroin addict who died of an overdose and used to keep weapons stashed under his daughter’s cot. Daughter looking after mother and mother’s drug needs after separation from father until mother’s accident in which she loses the use of an arm, forcing Jade to become her round-the-clock carer. It is a lot for any child to handle. Knowing all that, can you blame her for seeking fame, or money, or both, the way she did, allowing the media to keep her private life in the spotlight even after she left the BB house and, who knows, also giving it licence to shorten it in some ways. Even
her funeral is now public domain.

I am not blaming the press for Jade’s death or disease. The cancer was probably there from the beginning and she should have had her smear tests regularly before it got out of control. But I can’t help but view the pursuit of celebrity status through Big Brother as another way of selling your soul to the devil. It is so tempting, such a gold mine trap, leading to ever more lucrative marketing deals. Look at Jade: “exclusive” interviews, countless fitness videos, two books and two perfumes in the space of a few years. Then OK! magazine follows an exclusive coverage of her wedding with
an exclusive obituary issue – or a “loving tribute” as they called it – while she is still alive. Where will it go next? Exclusive photos of Jade lying in her coffin?!

The anti-hero
Apparently hundreds of thousands of supporters are flocking to her
Facebook online tribute pages, but some are also leaving abusive messages, which the administrators are busy deleting. It is understandable that a public figure like Jade should be equally loved and admired as she was hated and despised. She was not exactly the archetypal celebrity beauty, nor particularly good at geography (she famously thought Cambridge was in “East Angular” and asked if that was abroad), and the comments she allegedly made or didn’t make about India on Big Brother, indicate she may not have been that cultivated in her manners. And yet, finding out about her traumatic origins, watching a video of her wedding speech in which she thanks the male nurse who looked after her in her moments of intense pain, I was touched by the beauty of her soul showing through her pale skin.

She may have been gullible and naïve; you may not even have liked her or wanted her as your friend. But Jade Goody was no different from any of us – she was just an ordinary human following a most basic instinct: to survive as best she could.

A kind of Di
We crucified the woman for her greed, but we chose to ignore she had a deprived childhood and she was a mother to two young sons, to whom she wished to give the type of education her family could never have afforded for her. How can any of us judge her for the dignity-for-cash deal she struck when she agreed to being photographed in hospital looking her worst, getting married bald and with false eyelashes because she had lost her own, then snapped dying, and now dead and being buried, all for the sake of granting a future denied to her for her own children. Are privacy and dignity such a high price for a mother to pay, when one is about to die leaving small children to be cared for?

Any schadenfreude people felt about her plight is inhuman and unjustified. Just because she was Britain’s first reality TV star, it does not mean her suffering was not real but a soap opera put on camera for our entertainment. By any standards, 27 years is too short a life.

If fame was what Jade craved for, she got more than she deserved. God knows how long the media will go on to portray her as cover story. We must remember how reports on the supposedly mysterious circumstances of Lady Di’s death boosts circulation figures every time Al Fayed mentions a conspiracy theory. I must agree with Stephen Fry when he calls Jade “a kind of Princess Di from the wrong side of the tracks.”

Google, the new BB?
This week the media is also awash with news on the public’s accusations of
Google for invasion of privacy through their Street View . It is the people who were photographed coming out of sex shops, being sick outside pubs or caught in a compromising position with a work colleague who are shouting the loudest. The majority is simply indignant that the photographs reveal the inside of their houses or their cars parked outside. Yet, we think nothing of logging onto Twitter to find out that Ashton Kutcher is lustfully watching wife Demi Moore iron his suit while wearing a bikini, and we log on to Facebook where it is revealed our colleague has a raging hangover because he/she had a rough night out. Next BBC Breaking News flashes on our screen to tell us a Labour MP was caught having a romp in the House of Commons.

We seem to alternate between enjoying being voyeurs and self-righteous critics of voyeurism. We are fascinated by details of other people’s diseases, sex lives and affairs and yet we do not want our house to appear in a photograph of our street. How contradictory is that?

Peeping tom
Social media, and I daresay the advent of Twitter in particular, has made it possible to “follow” what is going on every minute of every day of celebrities such as the popular twitterers
Stephen Fry and Jonathan Ross all the way to President Obama. Talk about six degrees of separation. Separation has long ceased to exist. And it certainly does not take six people any more in order to reach that elusive “stranger”. One search and one click later you are there – knowing what Barack had for breakfast, if only he decides to “tweet” about it.

It is freaky to think I can “follow” the American President or the Prime Minister of Britain or a TV celebrity anywhere in the world as if I were a cyber-stalker, and all of that lawfully and without shame. Following what other people are doing and thinking, sharing their holiday pictures in Twitterpic or in Flickr are now routine and perfectly normal. What do you mean privacy? And you don’t want your new couch to appear on Google just because you hadn’t twitted about it yet?

Moi moi moi...
The truth is we currently live in a “me-centred” society, and we are obsessed about publicising our private thoughts and lives as well as scrutinising those of others. Not everyone uses social networking sites for voyeuristic purposes of course, but when I was being trained as a journalist we were encouraged to make active use of Facebook and Twitter as a quick source of information and news. In other words: if the door is half open anyway, eavesdrop at will.

Many of those who are suing Google because they appear in Street View putting the rubbish out in a nightgown and their hair in curlers will not think twice about looking up on the Internet for more details about a celebrity’s life, or death. They may even have bought the Jade tribute issue of Ok!

We have become so auto-centric and callous that as long as what WE want to protect remains protected the rest does not seem to matter.

Every time I read about “publicist Max Clifford” having called Jade’s funeral a “Jade Goodie production” I cringe, and feel like wishing he were a woman with a cancer-ridden cervix. While poor Jade lies dead in a morgue, his coffers fatten up with each paper sold. Were Max to be caught by the tabloids on his way to a Nazi orgy party like his namesake in Formula One, he may not find the front cover story so entertaining.

The world goes on – without Natasha, without Jade. We will carry on scrutinising, googling, eavesdropping. Nothing changes overnight. In my heart I wish the two celebrities a long, deep sleep, away from the flash of the cameras and basking in the Light that embraces those lain to rest in peace.


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