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British star of reality TV is dying in the spotlight

Terminally ill Jade Goody, of 'Big Brother' fame, is living out her

February 22, 2009|Avril Ormsby | Ormsby writes for Reuters.

LONDON — Jade Goody, a young British woman who won fame on an unscripted television show, is playing out her final days in the glare of a celebrity-obsessed nation before she dies of cancer.

Foul-mouthed, little educated and forthright in her views, Goody was unknown when she appeared on the "Big Brother" program in 2002, but her antics and outbursts quickly made her a fixture in tabloid newspapers and celebrity magazines.

She sold her autobiography, marketed a perfume and has been in the public eye ever since, even though her popularity sank after she made racist comments about a Bollywood actress when they appeared in a celebrity version of "Big Brother" in 2007.

Now 27, she is living out her last days on television and in newspapers, watched by a nation fixated on celebrities. And questions are being asked about her dignity and the state of modern British culture.

Late last year she announced on television that she had cervical cancer and this month said she was terminally ill.

On Sunday, with just months to live, she plans to marry her boyfriend, a former convict, in a televised ceremony. Britain's justice minister intervened Friday to extend his bail conditions so they can spend their wedding night together.

She has sold the rights to a television channel, for a sum which British reports say is about $1 million. Some say magazines are paying $15,000 for each picture of her.

"I think the whole country will be worried and anxious about her health," Prime Minister Gordon Brown said of Goody.

Commentators, politicians and members of the public are caught between disgust and admiration.

"Would I condemn individuals like Jade for her celebrity career? No I can't," said the Rev. David Wilkinson of St. John's College at Durham University.

"She is a bright woman who has taken the opportunities our culture has given her. I think it says something about Western culture, where the stress is on the individual -- a culture that lives its hopes and fears through the medium of television."

Goody has come a long way since "Big Brother," in which a group of people live together in a house, isolated from the outside world and continuously watched by television cameras.

Adrian Monck, head of journalism at City University London, said Goody's personal tragedy was "intellectually and culturally fascinating, and compelling emotionally."

"She has been created by reality TV and I suppose the model of her celebrity is fairly modern in how it has come about," Monck said. "But it is old-fashioned, too, in the way it is played out in the tabloids, feeding off the TV."

High-brow newspapers praise her honesty on television and her determination to provide for her two children -- she says she sold her story to give them a better life.

Newspaper reports say her personal tragedy has led to an increase in the number of young women being screened for cervical cancer.

"The truth is that reality television, which gave us the worst of her, is now giving us the best," columnist Liz Hunt wrote in the conservative Daily Telegraph.

Matthew Norman wrote in the Independent, "In her final days, she has gone a long way to exploding the repellent stereotype of the feckless, feral, self-obsessed underclass with which she was once made synonymous."

Max Clifford, her publicist, told Reuters that she is "a product of our time."

"Her openness is very much appealing to a lot of people in the tabloids, and an awful lot of people in Britain," he said.

But Durham University's Wilkinson has some concerns.

"Would I like to see [Western] culture move on? Yes, I would," he said.

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