She won't get a state funeral, but in other respects, the March 22 death of Jade Goody, 27, proved that the British reality-TV star had come closer than any of her compatriots--certainly closer than any royal--to filling the gap in public life left by Princess Diana. The street outside Goody's house swiftly disappeared under a snowfall of bouquets and soft toys, the Prime Minister and the leader of the opposition issued solemn statements, and newspapers published commemorative editions. Goody's image could shift newsprint like no other celebrity since Diana.
There were eerie parallels in their narrative arcs: miserable childhoods; the unprepared plunge into the media glare; success and scandals; and premature death. Socially poles apart, the onetime dental nurse born to poverty and the onetime nursery-school assistant born to nobility were the most prominent avatars of a wide strand of English celebrity culture, defiantly anti-intellectual and unashamedly emotional. "I suppose [Goody] was a kind of Princess Di from the wrong side of the tracks," mused comedian Stephen Fry on Twitter.
That's quite a jump from her first rambunctious appearance, in 2002, as a housemate on the reality-TV show Big Brother. Goody endeared and appalled with her ignorance--she wondered who "Heinzstein" might be and thought Saddam Hussein was a boxer. Her return to the Big Brother house in 2007 nearly finished her career after she clashed with Bollywood actress Shilpa Shetty amid accusations of racism.
Goody was working to redeem her reputation by appearing with Shetty on the show's Indian version when she received the diagnosis of the cervical cancer that was to kill her. She met her fate with her own kind of grace, hawking interviews and pictures of her near deathbed wedding both to build a legacy for her sons and to boost cancer awareness. In the end, all publicity was Goody publicity.