Caroline Flack: Her Life and Death has left many viewers saddened with its sensitive analysis of the invasive paparazzi headlines that chipped away at the TV presenter’s spirit – particularly those tabloid stories published in the months leading up to her suicide on 15 February 2020.
“I have never had the kind of exposure or press intrusion that Caroline had. That’s ultimately what killed her, I believe,” Natalie Pinkham, a close friend of Flack’s, tells the filmmakers at one point.
“And I’m sure many others do, too.”
While Flack’s story is heartbreaking, it is sadly not unfamiliar; indeed, it is one of far too many stories about women who have been hounded by the paparazzi and on social media.
“I just didn’t want to be alive any more,” the Duchess of Sussex said simply.
“That was a clear, real, frightening and constant thought.”
“It was at the height of all that paparazzi madness, and in London where there was an epidemic of bad behaviour,” she recalled in a recent interview with The Daily Beast. “They knew where I would be every night.”
She added: “There’s a whole six weeks of that experience that I don’t remember… I was in so much shock over it all.
“It was incredibly aggressive.”
Paris Hilton has also reflected on the paparazzi intrusion she has endured throughout her career, revealing that at one point it was so bad that she had people climbing over her gates and looking through her trash.
“I remember one time I came home, and there was paparazzi out there and they were like, ‘By the way, some guy was looking through your trash, taking everything with him, and he’s been doing this a couple times,’” she said during a Hot Ones interview.
“It was just creepy that someone was doing that.”
Jameela Jamil has also spoken about the damaging impact of intense scrutiny, recalling how she was forced to deal with “false accusations” that she had made up her health problems and people “mocking my disability.”
“Just a year ago I was totally suicidal,” she said in a virtual appearance at The BodCon, a conference focused on body confidence. “This week is my birthday week. I was totally suicidal on my birthday last year because of how much people were just mocking my disability, or like, mocking my mental health and I was like, what an ugly world, I don’t want to be here anymore.”
She added: “Look at the way we treat women in the public eye… look at Britney Spears, look at Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, Amanda Bynes, like Anne Hathaway, Jennifer Lawrence, Greta Thunberg — we do this to every single prominent woman.
“When we don’t like a man we just don’t learn anything about him — we don’t learn his name. We don’t follow him on the internet, we just don’t care. When we don’t like a woman, we will investigate every single thing she’s ever said, ever done…scrutinise her obsessively. It’s really weird.”
Then, of course, there’s the Framing Britney Spears documentary, which underlined exactly how the unreality of tabloid journalism has become mainstream – particularly when it comes to young women in the public eye.
In the New York Times’ film, we learned that Spears, just like Flack, saw her own sex life dissected by TV pundits and in clickbait headlines. Through archival footage and interviews, we watched as her outfit choices are criticised, and her perceived conduct towards ex-boyfriend, Justin Timberlake was used to discredit her.
And in one particularly discomfiting clip of a 2003 interview, conducted by a puritanical Diane Sawyer, we were offered the chance to understand the impact all of this intrusion had on Spears. Because, as Sawyer hurled accusations at her and demanded to know what she did to break Timberlake’s heart, the musician broke down in tears and begged for the cameras to stop rolling.
We are, thanks to stories such as these, becoming increasingly aware of the toll that the tabloids and social media can have upon the mental health of those in the public eye.
But have we learned anything? Has anything really changed? Speaking ahead of the release of Caroline Flack: Her Life and Death, Caroline’s mother, Christine, has expressed her concern that we have not.
“I don’t know if [the press will] take away anything,” she said. “I hope they take away that before they print anything, they should at least find out if it’s true, that would be one thing. Just find out the truth behind it.
“It’s someone’s life, it’s someone’s child. It’s someone’s sister or brother. I don’t think they’ve learned yet.”
Christine added: “The same papers that wrote all the horrible things of Carrie after she died got in contact with me to say, ‘We’d love to do a lovely article about her.’ You think, ‘What? I don’t understand it.’ And you are frightened to say anything, I shouldn’t be saying what I’m saying now because there’ll be a backlash. But someone’s got to say something sometime and not be frightened about backlash because of what the paper will do to you.
“You have to keep on the good side of journalists. That can’t be right, can it? Should they follow you all over town? They followed me and two other 70-year-olds across London, the night after I cleaned up the blood in Carrie’s flat. That’s how bad they were.”
What can we do, then, to foster a kinder and more open environment? Well, to echo the words of Laura Whitmore, “only you are responsible for how you treat others and what you put out in the world.”
“Caroline loved to love,” she said in the weeks after her friend’s death. “That’s all she wanted. Which is why a show like Love Island was important to her, because the show is about finding love, friendship, having a laugh. The problem wasn’t the show. The show is loving and caring and safe and protected.
“The problem is, the outside world is not. Anyone who has ever compared one woman against another on Twitter, knocked someone because of their appearance, invaded someone else’s privacy, who have made mean, unnecessary comments on an online forum - they need to look at themselves,” she said.
“And to paparazzi and tabloids looking for a cheap sell, to trolls hiding behind a keyboard? Enough.”
Samaritans (116 123) operates a 24-hour service available every day of the year. If you prefer to write down how you’re feeling, or if you’re worried about being overheard on the phone, you can email Samaritans at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Caroline Flack: Her Life and Death is available to stream on All 4.
Images: Channel 4/Getty