HOW THE JADE-SHILPA ROW CHANGED BRITAIN
by AMIT ROY
BROADCASTER Channel 4’s three-part documentary, Jade: The Reality Star Who Changed Britain, has reminded many viewers of the racist abuse that was heaped on Shilpa Shetty when the Bollywood actress appeared in the fifth series of Celebrity Big Brother in 2007.
Others are discovering for the first time how events took a tragic turn when Jade Goody made up with Shilpa after their public bust-up on the Channel 4 reality TV show, went to India the following year to appear on its Indian counterpart, Bigg Boss, and was told live on television by a doctor from London that she had been diagnosed with cervical cancer.
Jade died shortly afterwards on February 22, 2009, aged only 27, leaving behind two sons, Bobby and Freddie, now aged 16 and 14.
Many people have found the documentary uncomfortable viewing, especially as it includes footage of a distraught Jade learning she has cancer live on air.
“Reality TV has got a lot to answer for,” was a common sentiment among the public.
A number made appeals on Jade’s behalf: “Let the poor lassie rest in peace — her poor kids don’t need to hear vile remarks about their dead mother.”
One viewer said: “The Shilpa bullying is so uncomfortable to watch again. I remember it so clearly when it was first broadcast and it somehow seems 100x worse in 2019.”
Although the Channel 4 documentary has focused on Jade, it could also have told Shilpa’s story. For Asian viewers throughout the UK, Celebrity Big Brother became compulsive viewing after she entered the sealed off studio with the other housemates on January 3, 2007. She was 31 at the time and must have calculated the publicity would do her no harm as her Bollywood career was probably past its peak. She was also enticed by a fat fee from Channel 4, reported at the time to be £300,000.
She described herself as “one of the most well-known film actors in Indian cinema”, modestly adding, “They have simply touted me as the Indian Angelina Jolie.”
The programme’s aim was simple: to throw together disparate characters, observe them round the clock with a multitude of cameras and wait for them to squabble — which they did in spectacular fashion.
Jade, who was Shilpa’s tormentor in chief, ganged up with two other equally foul-mouthed young women, Danielle Lloyd and Jo O’Meara, and subjected the Bollywood actress to a torrent of racist abuse.
At one point, Jade screamed at Shilpa: “You may be a princess where you come from, but here you are a housemate like everyone else. You are so far up your own a*** you can smell your own s***. You are f***ing ridiculous.”
Use of four letters swear words by the gang of three was commonplace. “Shilpa Poppadom” was one of Jade’s more polite expressions. Shilpa’s Indian accent was mimicked.
Meanwhile, the sniggering Danielle called Shilpa a “dog”, ridiculed her culinary skills, suggested Indians were thin because their food made them ill and told the actress to “***k off home”.
Shilpa won countless fans by retaining her dignity and responding to Jade’s outbursts by telling her: “Do you know what? Your claim to fame is this.”
More than 400 individual complaints, a record, were registered with Ofcom. The show caused an uproar in India, disrupted UK-Indian diplomatic relations and overshadowed a visit to India by Gordon Brown, then chancellor of the exchequer. He later apologised on behalf of the nation by meeting Shilpa, as did prime minister Tony Blair and the Queen, while the actress’s cause was championed in parliament by the Labour MP Keith Vaz.
Jade was ejected from the show. Once, after appearing on an episode of Big Brother in 2002, she had become a role model for similar working-class women. Now, she was dropped by all her sponsors as she became “the most hated woman in Britain”. Her mother was later to suggest that the stress of rejection might have aggravated her cancer.
She lived and died — literally — by reality television. She allowed TV to record her final days and earned redemption by urging other women to have the smear tests which she herself had been too busy to take.
“Chicken curry rules,” remarked Shilpa, as she emerged the winner on January 28, 2007.
She took on Max Clifford for a while as her publicity agent and sold her story to the tabloids. She also denied having an affair with British Indian businessman Raj Kundra and threatened to sue the latter’s wife, Kavita, for claiming she had broken up their marriage. The smitten Kundra dumped his wife and young child and married Shilpa in November 2009. They now have a son and are settled in Mumbai.
It has been suggested that the only positive outcome of the documentary might be a greater awareness among women to go in for smear tests.
Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust said screening rates are now lower than ever and advised viewers to get checked.
The charity’s head of communications, Kate Sanger, said the documentary was “a reminder about the impact cervical cancer can have”.
Most recently, Boris Johnson’s estranged wife, Marina Wheeler, revealed she had battled cervical cancer and also urged women to go in for timely smear tests.