Stephen Glover: This celebration of ordinariness by the media leaves me bemused

What goes around comes around: Sarah Sands is back at the Standard

This week I have to write about Jade Goody. You may not, gentle reader, be wholly sure who she is. I certainly am not. Despite being a prodigious daily consumer of newsprint, I have for the most part managed to avoid her, being only vaguely aware of her alleged stupidity, and the love-hate affair she has enjoyed with the “red-top” tabloids which, despite her ordinariness, or rather because of it, made her into a star.

Now that she is reportedly dying of cervical cancer, it is no longer possible to side-step her. Almost every day she stares out from the front page of The Sun or the Daily Mirror, and on Sundays from the News of the World or The People, with her large eyes and bald head, like a stunned child who has received an unexpected punishment. It seems creepy to want to read about her on the verge of death, and I can hardly understand those columnists who write about her with a sense of presumed intimacy, as they might about a friend.

There she is, though, and she has spread out from her natural home of the red tops and trash television into the mainstream news and the respectable “prints” such as The Guardian, which even devoted a reverential leader to her last week. Apart from a sense of distaste at being invited to sit at the deathbed of a stranger, I don’t have strong feelings about her one way or the other.

Nor do I blame her for making money out of her death by selling the rights to photographs of her wedding yesterday to OK! magazine for a reputed £700,000, as well as having a television deal with Living TV. If media organisations are prepared to pay her these large sums, why shouldn’t she take their money? Having had a pinched and unhappy childhood, she wants the best for her two sons so that they can go to private school and get the kind of education she didn’t.

Let’s not be hard on Jade Goody. It’s the reaction of millions of my fellow countrymen that surprises me. For we can’t pin all the blame on the media. The Sun and Daily Mirror claim 12 million readers a day between them, amounting to about a quarter of the adult population of this country. They would not carry pictures of the poor woman day after day if they were not reasonably certain that their readers wanted them. Many millions of people like reading about Jade.

Why? Before the last war papers like the Daily Mirror ran stories about the goings-on of the more glamorous members of aristocracy. As they faded from our national life, they were replaced by film stars and, more recently, by pop singers and sportsmen. Such people were often good-looking, and they all excelled in some way.

No one had thought, until Jade Goody came along, of making a star out of someone who was neither particularly good-looking nor remotely distinguished in any field. Some of her defenders in the media say that she is a nice woman – evidently basing this judgement on her behaviour on Channel 4’s Big Brother, which launched her career – but niceness was not previously considered a sufficient qualification for appearing every day in the newspapers. Jade is utterly ordinary.

And that seems to be why other ordinary people – if any human being can really be described as ordinary – like reading about her. She is a validation of ordinariness. There is no need to look up to Jade. Her “success” is a kind of reassurance, a proof that you don’t have to have any special qualities to reach that state of secular grace which we know as celebrity. Any of us can be famous. Any of us can appear on the front page of The Sun.

Eleven and a half years ago, aided and abetted by the tabloid press, half the nation went into convulsions over the death of Diana, Princess of Wales. Though she was beautiful and a member of the Royal Family, she was in other ways ordinary, and not obviously much brighter than Jade. She was appropriated by her mourners as the “People’s Princess”. Jade Goody has not stirred emotions to the same extent, and her death, if and when it comes, will hardly be the cause of national sorrowing, but she has, believe it or not, touched millions of hearts.

Gordon Brown, who probably knows even less about Jade than I do, feels obliged to pay obeisance to her, and Jack Straw, the Justice Secretary, hurriedly bends the curfew rules so that her fiancé, Jack Tweed, can be a full participant at the nuptials. Jade Goody is powerful – more powerful in her death than she ever was in her life – and statesmen have to bow to her.

I am happy to accept that she is not a monster, and I even rather admire her expert manipulation, or that of her advisers, of the media. But I hate this mass worship of the ordinary. And it seems to me that intelligent columnists who romanticise her life and invest her death with heroic significance are writing sentimental nonsense. What has already happened is bad enough, but I fear it may be only the beginning, and that it may all end with even the supposedly serious media forcing us to witness her death.

Sarah Sands’ appointment as deputy editor of the London Evening Standard will hearten those worried about the newspaper. In different circumstances Ms Sands, who is an old friend of mine, might have reasonably hoped to be its editor.

As Max Hastings’ tenure in that role ground towards its conclusion, Sarah Sands made little secret of her ambition to succeed him. In 2002, the prize went instead to Veronica Wadley who, it transpired, inherited a chalice which, if not actually poisoned, was not exactly wholesome. Sarah was eventually translated from the deputy editorship of The Daily Telegraph to the editorship of The Sunday Telegraph, where she was foolishly defenestrated after six months without having had the chance to prove herself. She became editor of Reader’s Digest last year.

A return to the Standard, where she served as features editor in the 1990s, hardly seemed possible until the Russian oligarch, Alexander Lebedev, bought it a few weeks ago, installing Geordie Greig as editor. Ms Sands certainly knows where all the levers and switches are, and has presumably been hired by Mr Greig to bring élan and mischief to the paper.

VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Life & Style
tech
Arts & Entertainment
Ricky Gervais at a screening of 'Muppets Most Wanted' in London last month
tvRicky Gervais on the return of 'Derek' – and why he still ignores his critics
Sport
Luis Suarez of Liverpool celebrates his goal
sport
Arts & Entertainment
James Franco and Chris O'Dowd in Of Mice and Men on Broadway
theatreReview: Of Mice and Men, Longacre Theatre
Life & Style
Infant child breast-feeding with eyes closed
healthTo stop mummy having any more babies, according to scientists
News
news
Arts & Entertainment
film
Life & Style
Going down: Google's ambition to build an elevator into space isn't likely to be fulfilled any time soon
techTechnology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit
Arts & Entertainment
Homer meets Lego Marge in the 25th anniversary episode of The Simpsons, set to air on 4 May
tv
Life & Style
From long to Jong: Guy Pewsey gets the North Korean leader's look
fashionThe Independent heads to an Ealing hairdressers to try out the North Korean dictator's trademark do
Extras
indybest10 best smartphones
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Online Advertising Account Executive , St Pauls , London

£26K-30k + Bonus, Private Medical Insurance, Company Pension: Charter Selectio...

Advertising Account Executive - Online, Central London

£25K-28k + Bonus, Private Medical Insurance, Company Pension: Charter Selectio...

NGO and Community Development in Cambodia

Unpaid: Kaya Responsible Travel: There are many small development projects in ...

Business, Marketing and Tourism Volunteer Projects

Unpaid: Kaya Responsible Travel: As part of an ongoing effort to support local...

Day In a Page

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

Mad Men returns for a final fling

The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit
Westminster is awash with tales of young men being sexually harassed - but it's far from being just a problem in politics

Is sexual harassment a fact of gay life?

Westminster is awash with tales of young men being sexually harassed - but it's far from being just a problem in politics
Moshi Monster creator Michael Acton Smith: The man behind a British success story

Moshi Monster creator Michael Acton Smith

Acton Smith launched a world of virtual creatures who took the real world by storm
Kim Jong-un's haircut: The Independent heads to Ealing to try out the dictator's do

Our journalist tries out Kim Jong-un's haircut

The North Korean embassy in London complained when M&M Hair Academy used Kim Jong-un's image in the window. Curious, Guy Pewsey heads to the hair salon and surrenders to the clippers
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A forgotten naval victory in which even Nature played a part

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A forgotten naval victory in which even Nature played a part
Vespa rides on with launch of Primavera: Iconic Italian scooter still revving up millions of sales

Vespa rides on with launch of the Primavera

The Vespa has been a style icon since the 1950s and the release this month of its latest model confirms it has lost little of its lustre
Record Store Day: Independent music shops can offer a tempting alternative to downloads

Record Store Day celebrates independent music shops

This Saturday sees a host of events around the country to champion the sellers of well-grooved wax
Taunton's policy of putting philosophy at heart of its curriculum is one of secrets of its success

Education: Secret of Taunton's success

Taunton School, in Somerset, is one of the country's leading independent schools, says Richard Garner
10 best smartphones

10 best smartphones

With a number of new smartphones on the market, we round up the best around, including some more established models
Mickey Arthur: Aussie tells ECB to stick with Ashley Giles

Mickey Arthur: Aussie tells ECB to stick with Ashley Giles

The former Australia coach on why England must keep to Plan A, about his shock at their collapse Down Under, why he sent players home from India and the agonies of losing his job
Homelessness: Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

Zubairi Sentongo swapped poverty in Uganda for homelessness in Britain. But a YMCA scheme connected him with a couple offering warmth and shelter
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park
The pain of IVF

The pain of IVF

As an Italian woman vows to keep the babies from someone else’s eggs, Julian Baggini ponders how the reality of childbirth is often messier than the natural ideal