Page last updated at 09:36 GMT, Thursday, 31 December 2009

In appreciation: Jade Goody

Jade signs her book

Remembering those who died in 2009

Hers was a modern fairytale of rags to riches - seizing on reality TV as a way out of life on a sink estate, says Lucie Cave, Jade Goody's official biographer.

Last month I stood staring at Jade Goody. She was mounted on a wall at the Brunswick Gallery in London and stood over two metres high. I was attending Heat magazine's photographic exhibition, Celebrity, where her portrait was given pride of place.

Her dimpled grin spread across her face, clutching a cone of chips in a satin-gloved hand, a tiara perched proudly on her peroxide blonde head.

The picture was taken in 2002, the year she burst into the national consciousness in Big Brother, and much of the nation fell in love with her.

It's hard to believe this woman, bursting with such life and hopefulness, is no longer with us.

Fans in Jade hoodies
Jade died on Mother's Day

When Jade asked me to ghost write the story of her life, I discovered she was more open, honest and candid than any celebrity I have ever met.

Most want things done on their terms or not at all. But rather than making me trek all the way to her place in Essex whenever we worked on her autobiography, Jade insisted on driving herself to my house, despite the fact that it took her a good two hours.

Of course, Jade being Jade, she was usually late - and I'd get the inevitable phone call telling me that the sat nav in her car had sent her "the wrong way". This happened often - she was once stopped by police for driving the wrong way down Oxford Street.

But no matter when she eventually arrived, Jade was always full of apologies and super polite. She wouldn't even accept a glass of water because she thought it was too much trouble. But heaven forbid if I offered her any food with ketchup, because tomato sauce gave her "the willies".

She would work with me for hours, in between making calls to her ex, Jeff Brazier, to check that their two little boys, Bobby and Freddie, hadn't forgotten to clean their teeth and had done their homework.

"They have written in pencil first, haven't they? They need to make sure they get their joined up writing right before they can do it in pen."


But a character like Jade was never going to be universally liked - her raw honesty, rough edges and inability to censor herself both charmed and repulsed people in equal measure. And the nature of her fame was the subject of debate from the moment the nation first clapped eyes on her. Something she was acutely aware of this herself. "I'm like Marmite," she once said. "You either love me or hate me."

Watching Shilpa Shetty in Celebrity Big Brother
It got nasty when Jade, Danielle Lloyd and Jo O'Meara met Shilpa Shetty

To her critics she represented all that was wrong about modern society - ignorant, with no talent, and prepared to sell any aspect of her life for a bit of cash.

Jade would shrug at this and argue that she was just making the most of opportunities that had come her way - she was brought up on a rough council estate in Bermondsey, she grew up having to care for her disabled mother with both parents on drugs - her dad finally dying from an overdose in a branch of Kentucky Fried Chicken.

Jade was the first to admit she wasn't the cleverest "sandwich in the biscuit tin", but while producers were willing to stick a camera in her face, and people could relate to her as a "girl done good", she would continue to do what the public seemed to want of her - to battle along in life, put on her best smile and try to deal with whatever calamities came her way.

Ultimately she managed to put a roof over her two sons' heads and ensure they had the sort of private education she never had.

This, to her, was her greatest achievement, and she saw herself of living proof that anyone could make something of themselves. She knew she had her faults, and was the first to admit to making mistakes, especially after the Celebrity Big Brother race row.

She emerged from the house in 2007 as the most vilified woman in Britain - one magazine even ran the front cover "we hate you Jade" - yet she was determined for people to understand her actions were not racially motivated.

Ironically, it was during her illness that Jade finally found the acceptance she craved - journalists and celebrities who had criticised her in the past openly admitted how affected they were by her bravery.

Last Christmas

Of course, she continued to spark controversy even after her death and for every tribute - Stephen Fry called her "a kind of Princess Di from the wrong side of the tracks" - there was a condemnation. Michael Parkinson called her "all that is paltry and wretched about Britain" only weeks after she'd passed away.

Jade and Jack kiss before their wedding
The end draws near

It's hard to believe this time last year the newspapers were awash with stories about Jade's battle with cancer - her hopeful face peering out at us from magazine covers as she tried to shield her two young boys from the fact that this could be their last Christmas with their mother.

She was the one person everyone was talking about and throughout her last few months became the brave champion of young women and the importance of cervical smears. Doctors nationwide reported an overwhelming increase in appointments for screenings as "the Jade Goody effect". She was omnipresent, heralded as a legend - and we were told her legacy would live on as someone whose plight served to save the lives of thousands of young women.

And it's surely no coincidence that with her death came the knell for the show that made her.

So how will she be remembered? There's no doubt Jade will remain the ultimate representative of the Big Brother phenomenon, the epitome of a modern day celebrity - famous for just being herself. But in her illness, Jade's fame transcended that of reality TV star.

Before her death, Jade married Jack Tweed - a wedding paid for by OK! magazine. Jade called me from her hospital bed and inviting me as a friend. I told her I would be honoured. Three days later I received a phone call from her agent telling me Jade was in pieces, but because I was a journalist from a rival publication, OK! had banned me from attending. They were convinced I would ruin their exclusive - despite my pleas to the owner of the Express Group that I would sign a confidentiality agreement, they wouldn't budge. I was not allowed to attend.

Although famous for her spontaneity and normality, in selling herself, Jade also sold the right to make important decisions on her own - and aspects of her life were stage-managed right up to the end.

Recalling at her picture hung majestically at that exhibition, it's incredibly fitting that she dressed up "all posh" like a princess.

And even more fitting that she's about to stuff her face full of chips. It's just a good job no-one gave her any of that nasty ketchup stuff.

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