Janet Street-Porter: Kylie and the cancer trap

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The Independent Online

Kylie Minogue had no choice but to tell the truth about her breast cancer because a concert tour had to be cancelled and she could no longer top the bill at Glastonbury.

Kylie Minogue had no choice but to tell the truth about her breast cancer because a concert tour had to be cancelled and she could no longer top the bill at Glastonbury. Now she has had her operation, she faces a new kind of problem. Unlike Katie Price with her ludicrous self-promotion, Kylie is a particularly private person when it comes to blathering to the press about her health, and she must have realised that the big C word would mean that she'd have to carry the beacon of Diana, Princess of Wales, suffering for ever more. Cancer makes the sufferer angry, but most women can at least retreat into the protective environment of family and friends, cry when they want to and know that they won't be the focus of attention when they go shopping wearing a wig or looking bloated from radiotherapy or drugs. Kylie, for all the tidal wave of tabloid emotion engendered by the news, doesn't have that option. From now on, press photographers will be working out how to capture her in hospital; they will be stalking her every move down the road to convalescence, charting every minuscule moment on the way to recovery. Life for her from now on is going to be a series of comparisons by pundits she's never met, as new post-operative Kylie is relentlessly chronicled and picked over.

Kylie's cancer filled up pages and pages in newspapers around the world last week, with harpies offering support and medical writers producing plenty of graphs and charts of the disease's incidence by age, location, social class, whatever. The icing on the cake was when the revolting Lynton Crosby, so-called mastermind behind the Tory election flop, gave an interview in The Spectator in which he claimed that the party could learn from his fellow Australian's misfortune. One headline actually read "let's learn from brave Kylie", and he went on to say: "She's not a quitter and she never whinges. She's a good operator who works bloody hard ... even with this cancer thing she is still being positive." We are told that just as Kylie remodelled herself musically and revamped her image to kick start her career, so the Tories have to reinvent themselves in order to achieve success next time around. Of course the first thing the Tories have done before Mr Crosby has even hopped on the plane home this weekend is completely disregard those fighting Aussie words, and appoint an entirely male 1922 Committee, which will be playing a key role in drawing up the new rules to find the next party leader. Not exactly the Kylie spirit in action, lads!

More importantly, Cancer Kylie is now going to become the receptacle for masses more of this twaddle. Mr Crosby has not actually spoken to the singer, but he feels he knows her so intimately he can put positive thoughts into her brain. He can speak on behalf of the queen of pop because she is a well-loved brand endlessly placed in front of us. Exactly as in the case of the Princess of Wales, people actually assume that Kylie is a quasi-member of their family - she's been around so long, on our television screens and on Top of the Pops, always looking so cheery and never sulky that she's become the perfect non-threatening plucky friend we never had.

But our "love" for Kylie is not that simple: we buy tickets to see her perform; we download her music; we admire her physique and salute her fashion sense, but deep down we think we are entitled to a little bit more of her than she wants to give us. The news of her illness set phones buzzing and texts whirring through space - just as when Diana (and Linda McCartney) died. People felt emotional and upset, as if a disaster was happening to a close friend. But Kylie is the Queen of Celebrity World, so that with popular acclaim on a huge scale comes plenty of drawbacks, one of which is that you have sold your soul to the media, an existence marked out by "exclusives" and "photo opportunities", endless media bashes when you have a new single or an expensive tour to promote.

The result is that when you hit a rough patch, the same journalists are going to use you to sell as many newspapers and magazines as possible, exactly as if you had recorded a gorgeously catchy new tune. On the day Kylie was told she had cancer, she was photographed secretly on a beach in Melbourne with her boyfriend and the pictures were run around the world - that's how much privacy we feel she's entitled to. The woman must be wishing there was a hospital in outer space, where she could look like shit over the coming weeks.

In the week that Kylie was told she had breast cancer, thousands of other anonymous women in Britain were told the same piece of bad news. Most will not have the financial resources to get immediate treatment - many will have to undergo an agonising wait for surgery that takes an enormous toll on them physically and mentally. Many will have to worry about how they can still support their families while they go through all the stages of surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy and gradual recovery. They will spend hours and days on public transport going to and from hospitals, feeling queasy and weak. The only luxury item they will have is anonymity. So can we please spend a few minutes today thinking of those women, and take our gaze away from one particular millionairess whom we wish well, but who should be allowed to recover in private. There are many exciting steps forward in the treatment for cancer, but if you have been diagnosed with it, all you want is to live.

Ugly beast

My heart skipped a beat with the incredibly good news that the London Eye might be forced to close. The landlords, the South Bank Centre, seek to increase the rent from £65,000 a year to £2.5m, which the operators can't afford. The attraction makes about £40m annually but all the profits go to service its £85m debt to British Airways, which helped to finance the Eye in the first place. I always thought that the Eye was a temporary structure, a bit of fun for the millennium celebrations. The fact that something that is no more than a glorified fairground ferris wheel ends up costing £85m is obscene in the first place. It's neither elegant nor futuristic, as out of date as that other embarrassing millennium anomaly, the Dome.

Those architectural style gurus John Humphrys, Kate Hoey and Tom Conti are bleating about the loss to London. Why not run another competition for a real attraction for the South Bank, something that is world class, not redolent of Blackpool pleasure beach? We need the 21st-century equivalent of the Eiffel Tower, not a series of slow-moving ugly pods.

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