Beyond the Redgrave

I am sadder about the death of Natasha Richardson than I intend to be about the death of Jade Goody. Is this wrong?

March 19, 2009
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Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone…
As far as I know, as I type this, Jade Goody is still alive, black-edged tribute copy of OK magazine notwithstanding. Natasha Richardson, however, is not, having succumbed to a head injury sustained in a skiing accident.

And I'm sad. Sad for the premature loss of a life, of a mother, a wife, a daughter. Of course, the death of Jade Goody will be a cause for glumness too, for the same reasons. But I will be less sad. Why?

Because Natasha Richardson was a talented actress, and Jade Goody wasn't? Why should that make things any sadder? And, to be honest, when I first heard of Richardson's accident, my immediate thought was how good she was as Lady Chatterley. Hang on - wasn't that her sister? And it was a while before I could actually pin down for certain one of her performances. (When I did, it was her role as Mary Shelley in Ken Russell's deeply flawed but hugely enjoyable Gothic, and I'm not sure that that's the one thing by which she'd have wanted to be remembered.)

So why am I sad? Maybe because she was one of the Redgraves, the Kennedy clan of acting, a multi-generational soap opera of brilliance, bisexuality and political extremism that offers as much vicarious enjoyment as any of their performances.

Which really means that Richardson's fame was as much a product of our celebrity culture as Jade Goody's. Richardson was the scion of a theatrical dynasty, dazzling and beautiful, married to a brooding, Celtic hunk; Goody was spawned from a dysfunctional relationship, which she replicated in her own life, thick, ugly, probably a bit racist. Each owed their fame to circumstance. One could well argue that Jade Goody's achievement was the greater, because she had more obstacles to overcome.

So maybe my reaction is tied up in my own class and educational background, that I regard winning a Tony as being more commendable than appearing on Celebrity Big Brother. In which case, I'm surely in a minority: Natasha Richardson won't have an edition of OK magazine devoted to her.

That said, I still feel sadder about Natasha than I will about Jade. Maybe it's just because I want to piss off Max Clifford.