Look back in Ongar: Anger in her home town forces Jade Goody into hiding
Humiliated in the most complained-about TV programme of all time, the Essex girl who caused a diplomatic near-miss is contemplating her new-found notoriety in a secret location. Cole Moreton reports
Sunday 21 January 2007
The first stage of Jade Goody's attempt to rescue her career began today with a full, tearful confession to a tabloid paper. "I accept I made racist comments," she admits. "Shilpa was a victim of my bullying... I've always said that I don't have regrets, but I do now. I'm genuinely worried about how my life will be."
And the contrition, bordering on self-abasement, doesn't stop there. Over five pages of the News of the World, illustrated by close-up pictures of Ms Goody's tear-stained face, there is much more.
"I can understand why people hate me," Ms Goody says at one point. "They were my words and it's embarrassing .... Maybe I'm just really stupid and nasty at heart - but I really don't think I am." Ms Goody's confessional is accompanied by the news that she will be donating to charity not only the £50,000 fee from her newspaper interview, but also her £50,000 fee for appearing on Celebrity Big Brother. The News of the World, students of this saga's ugliness should note, is the sister paper of The Sun, which yesterday described Ms Goody as a "vile, pig-ignorant, racist bully".
So where does Ms Goody go from here? Not immediately to Ongar in Essex, perhaps, where her neighbours yesterday made it clear that she needn't rush home. Nor could she stay in her other natural element, the Big Brother house. Here, over the past week, her vicious and racist bullying of the Bollywood film star Shilpa Shetty had revolted television viewers. Nearly eight million people watched her eviction on Friday night, and Channel 4 said yesterday that 82 per cent of those who phoned in had voted to throw her out.
She certainly could not go to India, despite a bandwagon-jumping invitation from its tourist board. Her abuse towards Ms Shetty had caused an international row, sucking in the governments of India and Britain. Ministers from both countries said they were disgusted with her. Effigies were burnt.
So, yesterday, the 25-year-old former dental nurse reportedly went to a safe house far from the baying public. The Perfume Shop has cleared her best-selling scent, Shh ..., from its shelves. Carphone Warehouse has pulled out of its £3m sponsorship of Big Brother. Hertsmere Council has threatened to evict the show from the studios. Ofcom, the television regulator, has received 40,000 complaints about the show - more than any other in history.
One of those who voted to get her off his television screen may be quite familiar to Ms Goody. His name is Joshua and he is a waiter at the Vojan restaurant on the A414 near Ongar, where she has been for take-aways and meals. Like his colleagues, Joshua was amazed to see Ms Goody as the leader of a gang of Essex girls in the Big Brother house who insulted "Shilpa Poppadom" and Indian cooking. After all, one of the reasons Ms Goody once gave for dropping out of the London Marathon a few miles in was that she had eaten too many curries.
"Jade and her friends are venomous, poisonous people who shouldn't be in society," said Joshua. "I have been in England for 25 years but now, suddenly, I see what is in the minds of ordinary English people."
Jade Goody and Shilpa Shetty are both women known in their home countries by their first name. Their reasons for being famous are very different. Jade was unknown until she came fourth in Big Brother in 2002. Viewers laughed at her wondering if "east Angular" was abroad, but sympathised after she was ridiculed by housemates.
Since then she has earned around £2m. She cannot act or dance and has shown no ability to sing, but has made money from further TV, magazine cover stories and fitness videos.
Her book, My Autobiography, has grossed £1m. Its story is tabloid manna: she is the daughter of a lesbian from Bermondsey who lost an arm and allowed her five-year-old girl to roll joints. Her father, of Jamaican origin, was in Wandsworth prison when she first became well known. He died of a heroin overdose in 2005.
Shilpa Shetty has had a relatively privileged upbringing and life, starring in more than 40 films. The Body of Bollywood is known for raunchy dance routines. She speaks seven languages and is a karate black belt. She does not live in a shack, as Jade's mother suggested in her brief appearance in the BB house, but on the entire seventh floor of an apartment block in Andheri, an ultra-exclusive neighbourhood in Mumbai. Jade advised her to go and see some real life in the slums, but nobody can live in Mumbai and not see them. And Shilpa is loved in the slums. In India, Jade's eviction was seen as a victory. "Jade was a fool and now she is out for good," Ms Shetty's publicist said. "The voting proves good has prevailed over bad."
Ms Shetty's first appearance on a TV show last year was seen to be a sign of a career in decline in Bollywood, where TV is a no-no. But then she gets £50,000 a film in India, and has earned six times that by coming to the UK. And if she wins - and she is now favourite - she will be the first Bollywood star to cross over to a Western audience.
The tension between the two erupted on Wednesday during a row over an Oxo cube. Jade called Shilpa a "fucking fake". Jade's friends were delighted. "That was fucking fantastic," said Danielle Lloyd, who has since lost a modelling contract because of her behaviour in the house. "She should fuck off home." She lives in Essex, as does Jo O'Meara, a singer from Romford, who had refused to eat chicken cooked by Shilpa and said Indians got thin from undercooking food.
Back at the Vojan, Joshua, the 38-year-old waiter originally from Bangladesh, was firmly on the side of "the beautiful, intelligent princess superstar Shilpa". He took Thursday evening off work and watched until four in the morning. That was the night Jade took Shilpa out into the Big Brother garden and apologised, insisting she was not a racist. Shilpa, who had only heard a fraction of the insults, accepted the apology and they embraced.
The sympathy the Indian film star attracted from Britons of all racial backgrounds did not surprise Ashraf, 28: "People can see who is right and who is wrong." Jade "expressed herself in a loud, inappropriate way. But that's who Jade is. She's got a big mouth."
She sometimes fills it with curry from the Vojan, including a visit just before her surprise entry into Celebrity Big Brother. The mother of two young children lives with her boyfriend, Jack Tweed, 19, (who entered the BB house with her and is still in), on the edge of Ongar, in a gated community that has no gates: it has two big pillars where gates could be, but any attempt at exclusivity is ruined by the fact that she lives opposite the car park for Ongar leisure and youth centres. Jade is trying to sell up.
The house is not a celebrity mansion, but an ordinary new-build in a characterless development. But then if you ask the waiters at the Vojan, Jade Goody is not a celebrity. Rod Stewart lives not far away and sometimes brings his friends. On the walls are signed photographs of famous customers including Sir Paul McCartney. "Those are celebrities," Joshua called out from behind the bar. "Compared to them Jade is nothing."
Sharif, the head waiter, said Jade was "a very jolly and friendly person. I was surprised at her attitude on television. It must be that she was jealous. Shilpa is much prettier than her."
Ashraf, 28, served up Nepalese king prawns just as the vote was being counted. He was recording the show. "Jade comes from Bermondsey and that's a tough area," he said. "A lot of them are racists. I've been there, I know. They don't shout but you see the way they look at you and know they hate you."
Channel 4 was forced to bar the crowds that usually cheer and wave banners at housemates as they come out of the locked set at Elstree Studios in Hertfordshire. So, on Friday Jade crossed the threshold in silence, greeted only by a camera crew, the presenter Davina McCall, and a fierce wind.
On watching clips of her performance she said: "I'm not going to sit here and try and justify myself. I'm embarrassed and disgusted in myself."
She does have some support still in Ongar. Cheryl Fry, 24, a manager at the fish restaurant Smith's, said yesterday: "Jade is definitely not a racist. She is of mixed race herself and she recently hand-picked a personal assistant who is also mixed race. She didn't say these things intentionally, she just doesn't think before she speaks."
But down in the High Street the landlord of the Cock Tavern, Ian Goodman, thought he was speaking for most locals when he said Jade had made few friends in the town, and had done it no favours with her antics: "She represents the lowest form of life. And those are the people she appeals to."
Quite a few local families had her kind of upbringing on an inner London estate, he said. "But I object to the idea that just because you're a white, working-class East Ender you must be a racist. Don't forget, East Enders stood up to Moseley and the Blackshirts."
Today Jade must be plotting her return: a public apology, reconciliation with Shilpa when the show is over, perhaps that visit to India. With a cover story in Heat. She may even go back to Ongar and the Vojan. Joshua has called her venomous and poisonous, but says: "If she comes here we will be happy to serve her as a normal human being. She may have to watch out for trouble from the other customers though. I don't think many people like her now."
Additional reporting by Puja Awasthi and Ruth Elkins
WHAT THEY SAID
"They are crude young women having a go at another young woman in the most horrendous fashion. She is a beautiful young lady and they are slags."
Former Tory minister Edwina Currie
"Jade herself realises that her comments were 'disgusting'. The only people who don't understand racism appear to be Channel 4. Now that they have heard from the British public we need to hear from them."
Keith Vaz MP
"In a two-horse race, Jade was the equivalent of a three-legged rocking horse."
"I told [Jade] not to go on Big Brother. She has made a terrible decision and it looks like she has ruined a very lucrative career."
"What the programme is displaying with such clarity is the deep, ingrained racial attitude of millions of white Britons in all its hidden nastiness."
"Jade has never been racist. She is mixed-race herself and suffered racist abuse as a youngster."
Jade's mother, Jackiey Budden
"There's a great regulator called the off button, and I think we should use it."
David Cameron, Tory leader
Reaction from India
"We strongly feel that there should not be a trial by media. Shilpa had gone there to compete in a healthy way and after this matter she has got a lot of sympathy votes, which is not what she wants."
Shetty family spokesperson
"The racist remarks against actor Shilpa Shetty are repugnant and a justifiable cause for outrage... However, there is absolutely no reason for the Indian government to get involved or for the British government to be required to respond."
'The Times of India'
"Dear Jade Goody... may we invite you to experience the healing nature of India?"
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