Caroline Flack was the victim of a narcissistic culture of which she was the much-loved poster girl: KATIE HIND on the wave of hypocrisy and finger-pointing triggered by the star’s tragic death
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When the news broke of Caroline Flack’s death, there wasn’t just a feeling that the showbusiness world had tragically lost a star.
To many, it seemed that they had lost a friend. Even though most of those in grief had never met her, they felt they knew her intimately.
A friend of mine texted me to say: ‘I feel like it’s my mate that has gone.’
Peculiar as this may sound, it is not surprising. Flack’s life epitomised that very modern phenomenon: people living their lives as an open book, charting on social media almost their every thought and emotion.
Barely a day went by when the 40-year-old former Love Island presenter didn’t put into the public domain a photo or comment on her Instagram (2.7 million followers) and Twitter (1.9 million) feeds. A trip to Barcelona. Goofing around in New York. Promoting her favourite fashion stylist.
The stark truth is Caroline Flack (pictured) found herself lost in showbiz’s ravenous and narcissistic world and didn’t know how to get out
Indeed, during just one week last October, she uploaded posts of herself drinking pink champagne; saying it was ‘time for another adventure’; highlighting a magazine article about herself; commenting about her love of dogs; promoting her latest Channel 4 show; recounting a night out; and setting out her thoughts on Mental Health Day.
To her millions of followers, all this sharing made Flack part of their lives. It was as if she was an extended member of people’s families.
How hauntingly painful, then, that those Instagram and Twitter sites are still there. Frozen in time, with her last post the day before she took her own life, showing pictures of herself with her beloved bulldog Ruby looking happy and healthy on Valentine’s Day.
Should those sites now be taken down? Or should they remain for ever in cyberspace as epitaphs for a life whose highs and lows were all recorded online?
For many women, Flack was their guilty pleasure, the girl you wanted a night out with. Men found her captivating and sexy – they wanted to date her. In the mould of the Kardashians, here was a celebrity to whom the public had intimate access.
But, of course, there was a very dark side to this. It is no surprise that it was said last week that ‘to spend time on Twitter is to feel you’ve stumbled by mistake into a psychiatric ward’. By opening up her life so freely, Flack exposed herself to trolls. The ignorant. The cruel. The downright twisted. Until recently, she nobly tolerated this unwarranted nastiness.
How soul-wrenchingly awful that Caroline Flack became the victim of a culture for which she was the much-loved poster girl
When it came to dealing with the press, as a showbusiness journalist I have rarely seen a star be so generous. Equally, I have rarely seen a celebrity who understood the fame game as she did.
I don’t think it is unkind or inaccurate to say that Caroline enjoyed the limelight. Or at least she gave the impression that she did. As the presenter of Love Island, she knew the privilege of the job but also its pitfalls. Tragically, it was that negative side that may have been a factor in her death.
Along with many others in the press, last Saturday night I was accused on social media of ‘murdering’ her. I was told I had ‘blood on my hands’. I was said to have ‘hounded’ her by writing stories about her over the years. I found this extremely hurtful.
An online petition has since been set up demanding ‘new and stricter laws around safeguarding celebrities and people in the public eye’. So far it has been signed by more than 603,000 people.
I believe this is misguided. You see, she loved journalists and newspapers. Above all, she loved being written about in them.
While most celebrities are wary at showbiz parties, festivals or gigs, Caroline – or Flacky, as we knew her – would be in our gang, gossiping, confiding in us and having a jolly good time in our company.
She liked us as much as we liked her. She was a staple in the VIP area at the V Festival in Chelmsford every summer. She would lead the party, holding court until the small hours, entertaining journalists with her wit and loud, infectious laugh.
Likewise, I fondly remember Caroline leading the charge in a box at the O2 for a concert, where apart from her PR, every other guest was a journalist. We treated her like one of our own. She treated us as her mates.
I first met her in 2007 at an event at the Grosvenor House Hotel in London where she was with former Blue Peter presenter Konnie Huq.
Coincidentally, Cilla Black was there, the woman whose former status as Britain’s most popular matchmaker Caroline later brilliantly assumed. It was the night before my driving test. Caroline was kind. Helping to calm my nerves, she advised me not to overdo the champagne – telling me as we jumped into our taxis to make sure I let her know if I passed. (Yes, I restricted myself to two glasses and passed.)
In her own distressingly prophetic words, Caroline had been going through ‘some sort of emotional breakdown for a very long time’
I didn’t get to know Caroline as well as some of my fellow showbiz reporters did. I don’t think I was fun enough for her! Some texted her regularly. But I knew her enough to know that she was someone that, if you looked after her, she would look after you back.
But woe betide you if you didn’t.
In 2014, I wrote a story that she was to be relieved of her role in the Xtra Factor (the ITV2 spin-off of Simon Cowell’s The X Factor). Unsurprisingly, she wasn’t very happy about my story, although it was true. Neither did she like a follow-up comment piece in which I said I didn’t enjoy her presenting style on the show.
My punishment was typical Caroline. She stuck her middle finger up at me from the other side of the room at the Groucho Club in Soho. Of course we made up shortly after.
In the frenzied blame-game following her death, as well as the press being accused, social media, her ITV bosses, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and her friends are also ‘in the frame’.
True, the press gave huge coverage to her court case. It was undeniably news that the woman presenter of a show – watched by 5.9 million – about impossibly attractive young men and women swapping partners until they meet the love of their life, had been accused of beating up her own boyfriend in bed with a lamp.
In an unwise diatribe, one of Flack’s ex-boyfriends, Andrew Brady, has blamed her management company and publicists, saying: ‘You knew she was desperate. And you PR w****** who did nothing to protect her. You knew she needed help and you did f*** all.’
As The Mail on Sunday commented last week, Caroline Flack was a troubled romantic who never did find true happiness
As for the role of the CPS, I find it hard to swallow the suggestion that it should have dropped the charges against her. I know how hard Caroline and her team tried to make this happen. They even went as far as to write to the Attorney General.
Domestic violence is a big problem. For years, far too many women and men have experienced victimisation by an intimate partner. Far too many still suffer in silence.
It is quite right, therefore, that the proposed new domestic violence Bill is seen as a ‘once-in- a-generation’ opportunity to reform the law to help victims.
In the meantime, courts must ensure the guilty are held to account – whether or not they are famous.
Halting a high-profile case would have sent the wrong message that our judicial system does not care about domestic violence.
How many vulnerable people may then have been put off reporting what was happening to them?
That said, it breaks my heart to think of how petrified Caroline was knowing that police body-cam footage of her at her most vulnerable might have been shown in open court.
That shame, we tragically now know, was too much for her to cope with.
In her own distressingly prophetic words, Caroline had been going through ‘some sort of emotional breakdown for a very long time’.
She covered it up well. Many of us do. On the outside, she had the most glamorous of lives, invitations to the best parties, many friends and a reported £4 million Love Island contract.
The stark reality, though, is that she owned a very modest flat, having just moved from another, pokey one-bedroom flat in North London.
As a showbusiness writer for 15 years, I’ve witnessed many a celebrity ride the storm of the fame game. But I really do wonder why anyone would ever want to be a star
As The Mail on Sunday commented last week, Caroline Flack was a troubled romantic who never did find true happiness.
Most poignantly, that was one of the reasons viewers loved her so much as host of Love Island – she was the matchmaker unable to find a match for herself.
Yet doesn’t this TV series, with its images of easy, no-strings-attached sex in the sun – and sexual activity in full view of watching millions at home – also play a disturbing role in this very 2020 tragedy?
How symbolic that Jack Fincham, the £50,000 winner of the 2018 series, is no longer with his Love Island date, Dani Dyer.
He has since left another lover, having fathered a daughter with her, and is busy keeping up his red-top tabloid notoriety as the ‘legendary Love Island swordsman’ by reportedly dating TV chef Paul Hollywood’s ex, Summer Monteys-Fullam, 24.
Flack apart, three people associated with Love Island have killed themselves – two contestants and later a boyfriend of one of them, who had found her body.
No wonder ITV presenter Eamonn Holmes said just hours after Flack’s death that there have ‘to be repercussions for Love Island now, surely?’ But there haven’t so far. Despite last Sunday night’s episode being shelved following Flack’s death the day before, the tawdry goose that lays the golden advertising egg was back on our screens on Monday.
Was that really the most sensitive decision by ITV bosses? Particularly in the wake of the controversies of Ant McPartlin’s drink-drive scandal and the axeing of The Jeremy Kyle Show following a guest’s suspected suicide days after he failed a lie detector test on air.
As a showbusiness writer for 15 years, I’ve witnessed many a celebrity ride the storm of the fame game. But I really do wonder why anyone would ever want to be a star. It takes a certain kind of person to chase dreams of being famous. And, perhaps, often they are the kind of people who are vulnerable, in search of something that they’re never going to find.
In the frenzied blame-game following her death, as well as the press being accused, social media, her ITV bosses, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and her friends are also ‘in the frame’
The stark truth is Caroline Flack found herself lost in showbiz’s ravenous and narcissistic world and didn’t know how to get out.
On Wednesday, her devastated mother poignantly shared with the world the true thoughts that her daughter expressed but didn’t get to communicate. They were feelings she wanted to post on Instagram two weeks before she killed herself but which were vetoed by her management.
She had written: ‘I’ve lost my job. My home. My ability to speak. And the truth has been taken out of my hands and used as entertainment.’
How soul-wrenchingly awful that Caroline Flack became the victim of a culture for which she was the much-loved poster girl.
To contact the Samaritans, call 116 123 or visit www.samaritans.org
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