The shadow of Shilpa looms large over Jade as she returns to face the real world

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The Independent Online

"Well ... Wow ... What an extraordinary week it's been," said Davina McCall, introducing an episode of Big Brother that had been transformed from mere reality show into an impromptu referendum on public attitudes to racism.

The crowd had been banished from the Big Brother courtyard, for fear of a self-righteous lynching, and the proceeds of the phone voting lines had been pledged to charity, as Channel 4 struggled to distance itself from accusations that it was profiting from bullying.

Even McCall's presentation had taken on a notably defensive air. After a montage of news coverage of the row, she pointed out that everyone up to the Prime Minister himself had felt free to give their opinions on the programme: "But that's what democracy is all about ... and you know what? So is Big Brother. Now, that's power in the hands of the people, isn't it?"

Somehow, the sense that it was a time for urgent damage-control had penetrated into the house itself ­ as Big Brother's pointedly leading questions in the diary room alerted Jade to the possibility that not everybody would be as approving of her argumentative style as her factional foot-soldiers inside. Taking Shilpa Shetty into the garden, she confessed to her insults and, finally, apologised. The two women hugged briefly, exchanged guarded expressions of regret and grinned with what appeared to be genuine relief at the release of tension.

But, as Jade feared, it was too late and, when the results of the vote were finally announced, it was she who had to go. Channel 4 heaved an almost audible sigh of relief and Jade looked like a condemned woman whose last stay of execution had just been turned down. At the eleventh hour she had fully grasped what was about to hit her. "Before, I didn't have anything to lose", she'd sobbed earlier in the diary room, "I don't want to go through all that crap again ... I'll be going ... and I'll be going because people think I'm a racist bitch ... and I'm not."

Last night, we could add some more candidates ­ the ostentatious way in which the Big Brother producers tried to defuse the charges laid against them, belatedly putting on record the programme's intransigence when it came to racism. And the spectacle of a silly, thoughtless woman weeping with fear at the thought of what was about to hit her.

She can't have seen the front page of The Sun yesterday ­ "Evict the Face of Hate" ­ but she already knows from personal experience how bullying the tabloid press can become ­ even, surreally, when on the warpath against bullying. Danielle, sensing the way things were going, furtively abandoned the sinking ship ­ kneeling by Shilpa's bed to offer her own whispered apology for her behaviour, and blaming Jade for the way things had gone.

"This is a horrible game," said Jo O'Meara disconsolately, in the aftermath of the eviction. Jade Goody's interview ­ in front of an audience divided between cheers and boos ­ did nothing to reverse that verdict. She has learned that the money and the fame don't come for free. We have learned that if you put a drop of pond water under enough magnification you'll be able to see monsters. Which doesn't mean they're actually there.

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