There are more than a few parallels between the story of Caroline Flack and Jade Goody. Both found fame in the world of Reality TV, both did unsavoury things in their life that drew criticism from the public, and both were catapulted into almost sainthood status within hours of their untimely deaths.
Jade Goody’s second appearance in the Big Brother Household saw her racially abuse Indian Actress Shilpa Shetty, Her comments were called ‘vile’ and ‘racist’ by the media and the incident gained international coverage, even prompting responses from both UK and Indian governments, and lead to the show's suspension during the 2008 season. Many agencies and corporations cancelled their contracts with the housemates accused of racism (Goody was not alone in her actions) , citing the allegations as the reason for the terminations. Also, many sponsors of the Big Brother series cancelled their sponsorship of the show. After the show, Goody stated that she understood her comments appeared as racist and apologised for any offence caused. Shetty later told the media that she forgave Goody. After conducting an investigation, Ofcom ruled that Channel 4 had breached the Broadcasting Code, and statutory sanctions were placed on the network. Goody was painted as the arch villain of the piece and was labelled by multiple outlets as "the most hated woman in Britain”.
In August 2008, Goody appeared on the Indian version of Big Brother, but cut short her time in the show, returning to the UK after learning that she had cervical cancer. Shortly after the diagnosis Goody married on-off partner Jack Tweed, another former Big Brother contestant, who had lived with Jade until his imprisonment for assault occasioning actual bodily harm on a 16-year-old boy. He served four months of an eighteen-month sentence before his release in January 2009. The couple married shortly afterwards. A wedding reportedly earning them £700,000 paid for by OK magazine, with a £3.5K dress from Harrods given by owner Mohamed Al Fayed. coverage by Sky news and others on the lead up to the wedding was huge, with crews outside her house, helicopters buzzing overhead and endless debate about her health and wellbeing to fill the airtime. Gone was the ‘most hated woman in Britain’ tag, the calling of Goody a ‘racist’ and the constant references to her weight, intelligence and private life, all replaced by a public and press that appeared to have now taken Goody to their hearts. She may have been a racist that caused an international incident, but she was ‘our’ racist. For those not subject to the whims of public opinion or media hype this all seemed bizarre. It didn’t appear that Jade Goody had done much to go from ‘most hated’ to ‘most loved ‘other than befall a terrible illness.
But it became even more perplexing when Jade’s untimely death appeared to catapult her to Sainthood almost instantly. The entire thing took on an almost surreal quality with the BBC covering her illness and demise excessively, which they later admitted to in a Newswatch interview and tributes following her death coming in from any number of unlikely places. Even British Prime Minister Gordon Brown paid tribute to her saying, "She was a courageous woman both in life and death and the whole country has admired her determination to provide a bright future for her children.” The funeral in Buckhurst Hill, Essex saw thousands of Mourners watch the coffin pass-by, many weeping in a way that seemed reminiscent of Princess Diana’s funeral some years earlier. Celebrities such as Michael Jackson, David and Victoria Beckham and Simon Cowell sent flowers.
Following her death Sky Living aired FIVE tributes to Goody, documenting her early life, fame and final months, from 2009 to 2012. The final episode of Big Brother on Channel 4 featured a 15-minute tribute, praising her as the ultimate Big Brother contestant. In April 2009 Digital Spy called Goody the "ultimate reality TV star", and plans were announced for Jade the Musical. That same month Michael Parkinson wrote that Goody had become media property "to be manipulated and exploited till the day she died", representing "all that is paltry and wretched about Britain". On 29 December 2009 The Independent reported that according to a tribute site, Goody was the most-mourned celebrity of 2009 and received more tributes than Patrick Swayze, Farrah Fawcett and Michael Jackson.
This was a stunning transformation from ‘most hated person in Britain’ and international Racist to beloved national heroine who received tributes from Prime Ministers and A-list celebrities. If you had been in a coma during this time and woke up afterwards to witness the outpouring of affection and sheer volume of interest that the media showed, you’d have had the devil’s own job trying to understand what changed. Max Clifford, her PR agent had re-imagined Goody and helped her present a new side to the public but nothing real explains the Zero to Hero journey other than the contraction of a terrible illness. There was no great epiphany, no great charity work, no great atonement for her previous sins.
We see a number os parallel’s with Caroline Flack’s tragic death this week with that of Jade Goody’s. Flack, a minor celebrity who was virtually unknown outside the reality TV world, appears to be being mourned by an entire nation. Both ITV and BBC have dedicated entire programs to her life, every breakfast talk-show has ghoulishly debated her death; ‘was it the media?, ‘was it the press?; ‘was it bullies on twitter?’ Whilst the remaining broadcasters wheeled out other minor celebrities to pay their tributes to now saintly Caroline. Her friends seeming to vie for position of ‘bestest friend forever’ on the airways and video-links of the UK. Waxwork clones were trotted out to say ‘something comforting’ through an explosion of big hair and plastic white teeth. The general consensus being that it was bullying on social media that drove Caroline Flack to take her own life, and so catapult her into Jade Goody like status.
Caroline Flack may have been a good tv presenter. And she probably was every bit as good a friend to those around her who say she was. It is self evident that she also was suffering with mental health issues and had something of a chaotic private life. But we now appear to have airbrushed out the domestic violence that was so severe a 999 call had to be made. So severe that the CPS decided to pursue the case despite the victim not wanting to press charges. Were it a male celebrity who had violently assaulted someone of the opposite sex, and then committed suicide before standing trial it is unlikely there would have been the same canonisation of that person. It is unlikely that there would have been anything like the outpouring of public grief we’ve witnessed for Caroline Flack.
The public are a fickle bunch when it comes to celebrities, but nothing quite wipes-clean the soul, and propels a person to sainthood, like a tragic and untimely death.
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