For the last seven of her 27 years, Jade Goody has lived her life in public. She burst into British homes in 2002 as a crass loser on the U.K. version of the reality show Big Brother. Outspoken and uneducated (she complained of being “an escape goat”), Goody emerged a star. When she appeared on 2007’s Celebrity Big Brother, she turned her fame into infamy by lobbing a racist slur at a Bollywood star. And when she burst into tears after a mysterious phone call, that life-changing moment was also televised—on India’s Big Brother.
Now the world knows what Goody learned that day: she has cervical cancer. Her decision? Keep the cameras rolling for a series of TV documentaries. On film and in the press, she has shared every step, from her chemotherapy to the devastating news in February that the cancer has spread, making her prognosis terminal. “I’ve lived my whole adult life talking about my life,” Goody recently told the U.K.’s News of the World. “The only difference is that I’m talking about my death now.”
Her unprecedented choice has left Britons debating whether she’s a fool with no dignity or a savvy mom who is ensuring a future for her sons, Bobby, 5, and Freddy, 4, by selling pieces of her story to the media. The only piece Goody is determined to keep private is the moment of her actual death. “She was never going to be filmed dying,” says her rep and friend Max Clifford.
Brought up in poverty in South London, Jade was raised by her mother, Jackiey Budden (whom regular viewers know as a bisexual with a paralyzed arm), and Andrew Goody, who spent four years in prison for robbery and died of a heroin overdose in 2005. Jade’s colorful background made her perfect for reality TV. “She was unwittingly funny. Artless. She was a real flesh-and-blood person,” former Now magazine editor Jane Ennis has said.
After Big Brother the press tracked her affair with soccer player Jeff Brazier. They had two sons, then split. Goody came back with a bestselling memoir and a fragrance before the slur scandal, which caused stores to yank her perfume, her publisher to drop her and Goody to fall into depression.
Since the cancer announcement, public sympathy is largely back in her favor. Fans have lapped up stories of a nine-day engagement and Feb. 22 wedding to Jack Tweed, 21, a model who recently spent four months in jail for beating a teen with a golf club. The bride, bald, sported a smile with her sleeveless gown and a bandage covering the I.V. incision in her arm. Afterward Goody wrote in the diary she is being paid to keep for new! magazine, “The day was absolutely exhausting, but … it was the happiest day of my life—after the births of my boys, of course!”
Six days later Goody checked back into the hospital for probably the last time, and still the drama didn’t end. An intruder, who professed to want to pray for her, entered her room with a small gavel before being subdued. That same day, Michael Jackson called to offer his support.
Goody’s likely last public act was her March 7 christening at the chapel of the Royal Marsden hospital, a ceremony she shared with Bobby and Freddy—and OK! magazine. These days she is heavily sedated and mostly sleeps, and is preparing her sons. “I will be the brightest star in the sky for them,” she told OK! The small fortune she will leave to her boys “is for my sons’ future,” she has said. But her legacy is already apparent: British cancer charity Jo’s Trust credits an almost 100 percent rise in cervical cancer queries to Goody’s well-publicized fight. “It’s a no-holds-barred story,” says charity director Robert Music. “She has not shied away from anything.”