Tribute To Jade Goody

I knew Jade Goody, not that well, but enough to call her up on a couple of occasions after she’d been on television and congratulate her on her performances. I meant it. Media work is not as easy as it is made to look! She donated money to the charity I founded, Act Against Bullying and I went to her 25th birthday party.

We met through a mutual friend Mark Fuller who brought her along to an AAB fundraising event at the Guards Polo Club in 2005. He’d been filming with her, there were other celebrities coming that day, would it be okay to bring Jade? It was bit contentious I suppose. Not that I’d watched it, but she had a ‘Big Brother’ reputation and was very much in the news at the time. AAB’s a children’s charity. My girls said ‘Jade Goody? She’s huge. Everyone knows her.’ By that of course they meant teenagers, and it seemed she was suddenly taking off as someone who had risen out of obscurity and repaired a previously tarnished image, turned her life around.

Attending an exclusive club like the Guards was such a fillip for her that the producer of her show wanted to film it. Kate Jackson of Granada called me beforehand for a chat. Apparently Jade had been both excited and nervous about attending, had read her invitation carefully, wanted to wear the right, smart, suitable dress—chosen it specially, put it in the Cleaners. This turned out to be a skimpy, mini, full frontal, plunging neckline type of dress, quite inappropriate really for the venue, very Jade. (See above) ‘Never a dull moment’ was how my mother would have put it. She turned up on time at the Club, brought both her babies with her, as they were at the time. We got along well; she was an easy laugh, as they say, and she ending up helping quite a bit with the event, contributing without fuss for several hours. Jack Kidd, the polo player, arrived in the middle of the auction and Jade bad for a set of lessons with him. I don’t think they ever happened, but it was all quite a spectacle. We had a very pleasant day, I remember.

I was embroiled once again in Jade’s life when the Celebrity Big Brother program aired in January 2007. I watched the program with trepidation. Initially, I was impressed with Jade’s growth in stature: when she ‘entered the House’ she seemed to have developed into her sought-after celebrity role. Jade was intent on bettering herself, and I respected her for that and the fact that she had seized her opportunities and developed a career from what was on offer. But Celebrity Big Brother was a poor management decision on someone’s part. Knowing what I do know about how it’s put together I am amazed anyone could emerge from a show like that with any dignity left in tact unless they were an android.

As I made public at the time, inexcusable as it was, the bullying behavior of Jade’s group of girls over Shilpa Shetty was an example of the group dynamics played out then ( and still today) in a hundred schools and canteens across the country, if not the globe. Her unrestrained temper was unpleasant to witness, yet nothing unknown to anyone who has run a city centre pub, worked for the police or been involved in anti-bullying as I have been for some years.

Women didn’t like it, not because they couldn’t identify with it, but because they could. To speak about women’s treatment of other women was taboo. No one wanted to know about it— which is one reason I set up the charity in the first place—but Jade, in her inimitable fashion—brought it slap bang to the attention of the nation, and me slap bang into trouble for having ever had any social links whatsoever. Within hours of her outbursts in the ‘House’ droves of angry people ether-picketed Act Against Bullying, forums were fuming with foul language of its own and the charity phone was running hot. Why had we even been associated with her?

Jade’s behavior was very difficult to defend. I did try, as I explained to her. I knew from meeting her that she was like any other young woman. She enjoyed attention, she wanted to be liked; on her own she was fine. Groups do funny things to people, girls in particular. Jade was no exception to that rule.

At the Guards she had listened politely when I gave a speech on ‘pointing the bone’ as an example of group bullying, isolation bullying and how the aborigines use this as tribal justice. When the bone is pointed at someone, they are cast out from the tribe. No one will have anything to do with them for fear that they too will be isolated. For many it is a sentence of death because the punishment of being shunned can drive them to suicide. Of course in todays society it can happen for a myriad of different reasons. Because of CBB this was now happening to Jade.

As I said on television, sure she was a girl gang leader, and a bully, but so were so many of the women who were gleefully judging her, in the press, chat rooms, and forums: They seemed to suddenly detest her, despise her love of the camera, resent the money she had made. Straight away, on every street and in every work canteen in Britain, every woman was playing the ‘victim’. Of course they would never pose for a camera, they would never accept huge publicity deals, or cavort topless on a beach. The insidiousness and disingenuousness of group tactics had turned and now claimed her as their next victim. Strangely enough, only those who truly understood victimization, real victims, tried to stick up for her.

For Jade, the bone had been pointed in her direction and the huge tribal publicity machine which she had utilized to build her profile swung into action to cut her to shreds. The headlines that followed were savage and ugly enough for anyone to withstand. I wondered when I heard about her illness whether they hadn’t played more than a small part in the cruel fate that befell her. Just like aboriginal justice, the stress of victimization had rendered her vulnerable and prone to illness. I hope not. However, to die of cancer, which is often brought on by stress, at her young age seems to be a cruel coincidence.

Always grateful for the positive contribution she made to my life, reminded of her warm personality, sense of fun and with much sadness at her death, I hope she rests peacefully. It would also please me to think of her looking down from Heaven and reading some good headlines. That would make her happy, and why shouldn’t it?

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About Louise Burfitt-Dons

Writer and social critic
This entry was posted in humanitarian, womens' issues. Bookmark the permalink.

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