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Caroline Flack: the conversation we should be having about the Love Island presenter’s death

If there’s anything we must learn from the Love Island presenter’s death, it’s this: we absolutely must be kinder. 

Updated on 18 Feb 2020: In the wake of Caroline Flack’s death, ITV2’s Love Island was pulled from TV schedules over the weekend.

However, the dating show returned last night with an emotional tribute to its former host.

As the show opened with aerial shots of the sea, Flack’s friend (and the show’s narrator) Iain Stirling said: “We are absolutely devastated by the tragic news that Caroline, a much-loved member of our Love Island family, has passed away.

“Caroline and me were together from the very start of Love Island and her passion, warmth and infectious enthusiasm were a crucial part of what made the show connect with millions of viewers.”

Stirling continued: “Like many of you, right now we’re all just trying to come to terms with what’s happened. My only hope is that we can all try to be kinder, always show love and listen to one another.

“Caroline, I want to thank you for all the fun times we had making our favourite show. You were a true friend to me. 

“I’m going to miss you, Caz.”

The tribute has been praised on Twitter, with one viewer writing: “Iain’s tribute to Caroline Flack on Love Island this evening really sent shivers down my spine on tonight’s episode, such beautiful words.”

However, there’s no denying that Stirling’s emotionally-charged call for kindness has sparked a much wider conversation.

As reported on 16 Feb 2020: The news of Flack’s death sent shockwaves rippling across the UK on 15 Feb 2020.

After initial headlines were published on news sites, social media outlets steadily began to fill with messages of condolence. 

“Today my friend slow motion walked into heaven. I will miss her always,” wrote Love Island narrator Stirling.

“Just the worst news. Poor soul,” tweeted Dermot O’Leary. “Sending love to hers, and yours. Hold them tight tonight, people.”

Broadcaster Kirsty Gallacher called Flack her “little sister”, saying they shared “20 years of friendship” after growing up together in the spotlight. 

“My heart is broken,” she added.

And Laura Whitmore shared a film of herself and Flack dancing together, captioning it simply: “See you on the dance floor.”

However, as more and more details of Flack’s passing became available, the mood shifted from shocked grief to anger.

“We can confirm that our Caroline passed away [on] the 15th of February,” read the Flack family’s statement, shortly after their lawyer confirmed that the presenter had died by suicide.

“We would ask that the press respect the privacy of the family at this difficult time and we would ask they make no attempt to contact us and/or photograph us.”

Laura Whitmore and Caroline Flack attend the Vanity Fair EE Rising Star Party ahead of the 2019 EE BAFTAs at The Baptist, L'Oscar Hotel on January 31, 2019
Caroline Flack and Laura Whitmore attend the Vanity Fair EE Rising Star Party ahead of the 2019 EE BAFTAs.

As many will undoubtedly already be aware, Flack was recently charged with assaulting her boyfriend after police were called to her home in December.

She pleaded not guilty in court later the same month and was released on bail on the condition she did not contact her partner. However, her solicitor made an application to have these bail conditions lifted, arguing that they remained a couple and wanted to spend the holidays together. Her partner, likewise, insisted that he was not a victim but a “witness”.

Flack then stepped down as the presenter of ITV’s Love Island.

It was shortly after this that media outlets began to publish a steady stream of articles about the star, focusing on deeply personal details about her life. About her past relationships, about her exes, about any past misdemeanours that they could lay their hands on.

Is it any wonder, then, that so many have taken to blaming the press in the wake of Flack’s suicide?

“We all know the types of people that do the kind of hounding that leads to someone feeling the way she must’ve,” tweeted Danny Wallace.

“They’re doing it to Meghan, they’re doing it to Jameela, they’ll give you crocodile tears tomorrow and be doing it again by Friday.”

Maya Jama echoed this sentiment, writing: “[This is] so so devastating. Can’t believe I’m writing RIP Caroline Flack, she was an amazing woman and always someone I looked up to in our line of work. She gave me advice on how to handle trolls & papers writing bullshit multiple times and I can’t even imagine how she would have felt.”

Jameela Jamil, meanwhile, wrote: “It was only a matter of time before the media and a prolonged social media dogpile, hers lasted for MONTHS, pushed someone completely over the edge. 

“Rest In Peace Caroline Flack. This is fucking horrendous.”

Labour MP Kate Osamor, who appeared in the press herself for a threatening confrontation with journalists who went to her home after her son was convicted of serious drug offences, wrote: “The trolling and abuse she suffered at the hands of the media was relentless. Being kind is so underrated. RIP Caroline Flack.”

Mikey Graham, insisting the press had blood on their hands, tweeted: “Just heard the devastating news about the passing of Caroline Flack. What amazes me is that while the world is trying to highlight and help mental illness the press editors make money from destroying these sensitive souls. Hope you reflect on your deeds now.”

Gina Martin tweeted: “We have normalised a culture of hate commenting on everyone.

“People should be held accountable for their actions, but no one should ever be subjected to millions of people they don’t know attacking them 24hrs a day. No human can compute or handle that. This is just so so sad.”

Daisy Cooper MP, who worked for the campaign group Hacked Off before being elected in December, said there must be more self-regulation before content is published online.

As reported by The Guardian, the Lib Dem politician said: “The hounding of Caroline Flack shows that parts of the British media continue to wreak havoc on people’s lives.

“In Britain we have trial by courts and not trial by media for a reason. Regardless of what took place she should not have been hounded to death by tabloid newspapers desperate for clickbait.

“The government must stop dragging its feet in introducing independent self-regulation of online and offline publishers.”

And Matt Haig said: “Let’s not mention names. We all know the bullies. The influencer-trolls. Their names aren’t important. What is important is that the whole strand of TV and social media that thrives off humiliation needs to change. We need to unfollow them and switch them off and inhale kindness.

“Aspiring journalists, if you are ever given a choice of publication to work for, don’t work for one that regularly doorsteps people at their own house. During the worst time of that person’s life. [They are] vultures, feeding off pain.”

Elsewhere, speaking to Sky News, Francis Ridley of Money Talent Management said: “We are devastated at the loss of our client and friend Caroline Flack, an immensely talented young woman who was at the top of her game professionally and loved by television viewers across the country.

“In recent months Caroline had been under huge pressure because of an ongoing case and potential trial which has been well reported. The Crown Prosecution Service pursued this when they knew not only how very vulnerable Caroline was but also that the alleged victim did not support the prosecution and had disputed the CPS version of events.

“The CPS should look at themselves today and how they pursued a show trial that was not only without merit but not in the public interest. And ultimately resulted in significant distress to Caroline.

“Our thoughts are with Caroline’s family at this time.”

The question I have is this: what can we do going forward to foster a kinder and more open environment? One which enables people to be vulnerable and share their feelings, however complex, with the world?

Well, to echo the words of Whitmore, who paid emotional tribute to Flack during her BBC Radio 5 Live show on 16 Feb, “only you are responsible for how you treat others and what you put out in the world.”

“Caroline loved to love,” she said. “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.”

Watch Laura Whitmore’s tribute to Caroline Flack below:

If the shocking news of Flack’s death should teach us just one thing, it’s that there are no scapegoats in suicide: only sorrow, and a newfound silence where someone once stood in the world. Please, let’s not fill that void with yet more messages of hate and anger. 

Instead, let’s use it to ask a very simple question: “are you OK?”

It’s just three little words, but it’s a start. And, according to Jo Loughran, director of Time to Change, the mental health anti-stigma movement led by Mind and Rethink Mental Illness, it’s the prompt many of those suffering in silence may need.

“You don’t have to be an expert to help someone who’s struggling,” a tweet from the Samaritans reads. “Simply listening can help someone work through how they’re feeling and even save their life.”

Remember: it’s incredibly difficult to see a mental health issue, especially as we can so often hide them from others and from ourselves. Simply asking someone outright if they’re OK may be the reminder they need that someone cares. Listening to what they have to say can help someone work through what’s on their mind. And this, in turn, might just halt that cycle before it goes on too long. 

Because, as the Samaritans notes: “When people feel listened to, it can save a life.”

Please be aware that this article was originally published on 16 Feb, but has been updated throughout where relevant to ensure all information is up-to-date and correct.

In the UK alone, some 34 million people are suffering from mental health issues – and many find it difficult to speak up about what they’re going through.

While you can never really generalise how struggling to cope can make you feel or act, the Samaritans have compiled a list of symptoms.

These include:

• Lacking energy or feeling tired

• Feeling restless and agitated

• Feeling tearful

• Not wanting to talk to or be with people

• Not wanting to do things you usually enjoy

• Using alcohol or drugs to cope with feelings

• Finding it hard to cope with everyday things

If you think that these sound like you or someone you know, the charity has urged that you get in touch with them now.

Samaritans adds: “You don’t have to feel suicidal to get in touch. Only 1 person in 5 who calls Samaritans actually says that they feel suicidal.”

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 jo@samaritans.org.

Images: Getty