In the wake of the Sun on Sunday’s front page splash: “Tulisa’s Cocaine Deal Shame” , the pop star and former X Factor judge may be regretting the line in her autobiography, Honest, in which she offers herself up as an “inspiration for broken Britain”. A squeaky clean role model she is not, but her story is certainly instructive. If this scandal is allowed to end her career, it will offer her fans a depressing lesson on the limits of social mobility.
Such stories don’t always spell PR disaster. Two years after a Mirror front page appeared to show model Kate Moss, snorting lines of white powder The Evening Standard reported that the model’s earnings had doubled. Last month, the well-connected It girl Cara Delevigne was photographed attempting to conceal a bag of mysterious white powder that fell out of her handbag. At time of writing, she has not lost any of her lucrative contracts. Will 24-year-old Tulisa be as lucky?
Unlikely. Though the Sun’s outrage might have you fooled, in fact drug use is a morally neutral subject in the British press. It’s the identity of those concerned that dictates the tone. When aristocratic models are involved, it’s glamorous; when powerful politicians are, it’s youthful folly, and when anyone else is, it’s a serious criminal offence. Working-class-girl-done-good Tulisa belongs to a group which the press takes particular relish in taking down a peg.
If you don’t follow celebrity news with the same dedication as Tulisa Contostavlos’s fan base does, you’d be forgiven for feeling that her fall from grace is only the deserved consequence of some very foolish behaviour. Maybe. But note, too, that this successful sting isn’t where her press vilification started. Rather, it’s the culmination of a stream of negative press focusing on her working-class background. In one spectacularly snobby recent article entitled “Queen of the chavs”, Tulisa is taken to task for wearing too much make up, enjoying £2.50 manicures and her “cheap bikini and even cheaper tattoos.”
They disapprove of her because she’s brash and unapologetic, but it’s for exactly that reason that Tulisa is worth having in the public eye. Not only is she one of the few successful and visible women from a working-class background, but she refuses to either submit to the required Pygmalion makeover or retreat into demure silence. The sex-tape scandal that threatened to derail her success on The X Factor a few years back was a wearily familiar attempt at slut-shaming. Her outspoken YouTube rebuke was a refreshing proof that young women don’t have to collude with that sexist nonsense.
The criminal justice system will decide whether Tulisa is guilty of any drug-related offence; but that outcome is immaterial to a press that already has her bang to rights over a much more heinous “crime”; not knowing her place and not apologising enough for rising above it.