What do 176,000 hits on an NHS web page, Elton John and a scruffy van outside Harrods have in common? Those of you paying any attention to the news at the moment will be screaming, ‘Oh, come ON! Jade Goody. OBVIOUSLY.’ And you’re right, of course.
She’s an odd mixture, our Jade. The ordinariness. The vulnerability. The preternatural talent for publicity. I know far more about her than I ever cared to. But now, suddenly, I care. Because women all over the country – young women – are finding out about cervical cancer and will be doing more to avoid it thanks to her.
The relevant web page used to get 2000 hits a day before Jade got the bad news in the Bollywood Big Brother house. That rate went up to 176,000 and has now settled down at two or three times what it used to be. Rates of young women going for smear tests have risen by 20% in one hospital.
The reasons we were originally fascinated by Jade were all negative. Then she reappeared on our screens and got a reputation for bullying and our fascination increased. Mine didn’t much, I have to say, but it was hard to avoid at least a vague idea of what she was up to when you’re as much of a fashion-and-celebrity junkie as me.
What little I knew, I didn’t like. But more than that, I didn’t care. Then this woman I didn’t like much or care about got a disease I’m not personally involved with (don’t know anyone with it or who’s died of it) and somehow I got suckered in. I actually DO care that she’s chosen to live out her last few months in public. I admire her for it. I know she seems to be addicted to TV cameras, and that she needs the money, but whatever her reasons, she’s doing something useful at a time when most people would just shut down.
I’ve known friends with other types of cancer and often wondered what exactly were the horrors they were going through. I was too polite to ask, and they didn’t want to say, but it was difficult feeling desperately sorry for them and their families without knowing exactly what it was they were fearful of and what I was feeling sorry for. The Jade warts-and-all approach is actually helpful.
So when I was walking past Harrods this lunchtime and spotted a crowd of paparazzi lurking by one of the side doors, and when it turned out they were waiting not for a person, but for a wedding dress in a covering, and when I surmised that the dress in question must be Mohammed Al Fayed’s contribution to Jade’s weekend wedding (about which I know so many unnecessary details, including the location at ‘one of Elton John’s mansions’), and as I watched the dress being hoiked into a grubby white van by someone in overalls, instead of feeling massively let down by the outrageous cult of celebrity that even sends photographers out for dress coverings for reality TV stars, I was touched.
Perhaps it’s partly because she has two young boys and so do I. Perhaps it’s because she’s got Max Clifford involved (smart move, Jade) and he’s a genius. Perhaps it’s because Sir Elton’s triple-A list glamour really does rub off on the minor bodies that reach his orbit. Perhaps it’s because I lost a distant friend with young children to breast cancer recently and it’s awful. Just devastating. No silver lining. But something has changed.
I am the girl who saw the cover of Jade Goody’s wedding dress going into a van today. And you read it here.