Today’s Jade Goody story in the Sun is very touching. The PR trade needs to get over its aversion to Max Clifford and his brilliant manipulation of a story at once luminiously modern and as old as time. He’s on the side of the angels.
Two things stand out about Jade. She’s doing all she can to leave a legacy for her kids. She’s campaigning for improvements in screening of young women for cervical cancer. In the process, she’s roused a nation’s passions for her and her causes. And, with Max Clifford, she is using the modern media to tell an old story.
There’s certainly been drama in her life. And it’s been made public by Big Brother, which shines a compelling light on the minutiae of modern life. In The House, she became a part of our family – somebody we felt we knew. She went on to embody the nation’s ‘Chav’ side.
But her life in the spotlight has really been about her flight from Chavdom – or at least an aspiration that her children escape from it.
That’s the point about so-called Chavs. Theirs is a shout from the unreconstructed unrespectable working class, but it often disguises quite a strong desire to better oneself. Victoria Beckham as Posh Spice is a heroine to that world for a bunch of contradictory reasons.
So’s Jade. Sure, she appalled us with her playground bullying of Shilpa Shetty. But the outrage was much overblown. We never really considered her to be racist – any more than we really think Prince Harry is anything other than a loose-mouthed and inconsiderate twit.
She’s been wonderfully described by Julie Burchill in the Sun as being, “born to Dickensian deprivation — junkie dad who hid guns under her cot, abusive one-armed mum for whom she was the principal carer ever since childhood. She had very little education and has spent her life trying to make something of herself against all odds.”
It’s an extreme version of a common story. Millions of families hold very dear the mantra of giving kids “the start in life I never had”. They often get it wrong and way too many Brits think it’s about money rather than spelling. But Jade’s ahead here: she’s framing her ambition for her kids in educational terms. She wants them to rise above the ignorance that made her famous.
We should acknowledge that too many others with her start in life wallow “happily” without ambition in their own mess. They invest in failure, and Jade doesn’t.
And she can thank goodness she’s got Max Clifford in her corner. Talking of Clifford’s role in the Jade Goody affair, CIPR President Kevin Taylor has commented:
Of course I, and many others, would dispute that Clifford works in PR at all – he certainly doesn’t work in the same PR land that I inhabit. To my mind, Clifford is a publicist and that is very different.
Well, to my mind Max Clifford is the ultimate PR man’s PR. Sure, he seemingly inhabits the lower end of the market. But so what?
Edward Bernays in his 1952 classic book Public Relations loving describes our industry’s modern origins in the hands of circus promoters such as Phineas T Barnum. His favorourite saying was “there’s a sucker born every minute”. A fact he backed by promoting an old Negro “slave” by the name of Joice Heth. Her claim to fame – said Barnum – was to have nursed George Washington one hundred years before (making her around 160 years old). He also promoted Tom Thumb, the dwarf, and Jenny Lind “The Swedish Nightingale” and a Cardiff Giant. That was the Greatest Show on Earth back in 1871.
The show goes on today. We all play a part – so please cut the snobbery. After all, two of the more “respectable” leaders of the UK’s PR industry are themselves former tabloid editors – Tony Hall and David Yelland. We all fish in the same pond of life.