Why are we so obsessed with celebrity? They fill our TV screens and newsfeeds, they’re followed eagerly by millions on Twitter and Facebook, they can make or break a product with an endorsement. Part of our obsession is our hunger for glamour, for that special celebrity magic that seems to transform the everyday world and make it a more exciting and interesting place.
But our obsession has a darker side. Celebrities fly near the sun, high above us. That’s why the fall of a celebrity attracts so much attention. “They’re not so special after all!” an ugly part of us crows. And their troubles make us more satisfied with our own often-less-than-perfect lot. But there’s another kind of interest in the fall of a celebrity: the publicity that inevitably occurs when someone famous passes way.
They might not have been in the headlines for years or even decades, but the passing of a big name is guaranteed to attract the interest of millions of people. But this isn’t a dark interest, I would suggest. There isn’t an element of gloating or voyeurism, because people are often genuinely sorry to see the celebrity go. Whether it’s a legend of popular music like David Bowie or a reality TV star like Jade Goody, the mourning is often sincere and the tributes heart-felt.
In a way, this is a strange thing. Take Jade Goody, the ordinary woman from Essex who shot to fame by appearing on the reality TV show Big Brother in 2002. She mocked while she was on the programme and afterwards. Sometimes the media seemed to be leading a genuine hate-campaign against her. And yes, hers was a strange kind of celebrity – a new kind, you might say. She wasn’t famous because of any special skill or talent. She wasn’t good-looking, she couldn’t run fast or write chart-topping music. She didn’t invent anything or solve any important problems.
No, you could say that she became famous partly because people thought she didn’t deserve to be. She was there to laugh at and mock because she was ordinary and not very well-educated. But when it was revealed that she had terminal cancer when she was still in her twenties, the attitude of the media and pubic changed. This ordinary woman became a heroine, because she revealed that she wasn’t so ordinary after all. It is very difficult to face death at 27, when you might reasonably expect to live for forty or fifty years more.
But Jade met that fate with calm and dignity. She didn’t want to leave, she didn’t want to say goodbye to her family and friends, but she didn’t sink into self-pity or strike out in anger and jealousy at those who were healthy and looking forward to many more years of life. Instead, she set an example of courage that many people who thought they were superior to her might find hard to imitate. “Diamond geezer” is a term used in southern England for a man who’s thought of as a worthy of respect and honour. Jade proved to be a Diamond Girl.