I distinctly remember the moment when the news notification came through about Caroline’s death last year. I felt a deep sense of sadness for Caroline, her family and everyone that knew and loved her and an equal sense of anger, for her, that this was how her life had ended. I know that so many people felt the same, despite having never met Caroline.
In the months before her death, Caroline had been regularly featured on the front pages of newspapers, as the court case around an altercation with her partner loomed. She looked like a shell of her former self in every photo, and it was plain to see for anyone who continued to berate and harass her in the mainstream media or online, that she was suffering.
This continued and accelerated pressure on a woman in the public eye who is clearly struggling with their mental health and negative media attention is not new. The recent documentary Framing Britney Spears only serves to remind us of the callous nature of some news outlets and photographers, pressing their lens against Britney’s car as she tried to get away from them. That was in 2007, and it pains me to say that in 2020 and 2021 (think Meghan Markle), very little has changed.
Thankfully, Channel 4 has created a documentary to share memories of Caroline and the reality of her life, told by those who knew and loved her the most. This programme is for them, to redress the balance and to paint a more complete picture of their Caroline – not the caricature the mainstream press and social media perpetuated.
Filmed just a year after Caroline died by suicide, the grief of those who talk about her is omnipresent. Her Mum Christine, and twin sister, Jody recall what their Carrie was like as a child. Colleagues and friends Natalie Pinkham and Anna Blue speak about their friendship with her as they worked their way up in broadcast together. Friends Jamie Bradley and Chantelle McCullen share how the news reporting around her arrest devasated her and Olly Murs, Dermot O’Leary and Dee Koppang O’Leary reflect on her professional brilliance as well as the negative and damaging relationship she had with social media.
A woman who was famous and recognised wherever she went, who laughed loudly and loved her work, family and friends – and who had also struggled with her mental health
There are so many more contributors, all of whom share memories of a woman who was famous and recognised wherever she went, who laughed loudly and loved her work, family and friends – and who had also struggled with her mental health from a young age and was continually hurt by the negative media coverage she recieved.
The uncredited contribution members of the media make in the documentary, through the footage depicting her career, is ever present. A jostling throng of photographers scream her name as she leaves a plea hearing at court surrounded by four police officers so she can simply walk across the pavement to her car. The repeated snapshots of her trying to sidestep inappropriate intrusive questions on the red carpet, and yet another photographer harassing her as she tries to walk into a hotel, hood up and covering her face. His response? To take a low shot of her and berate her, “Why are you being like this Caroline?”
While this press attention later in her career played a major role in her deep sense of unhappiness, Mum Christine and Jody share the Caroline, their Carrie, most people didn’t know. Someone who had struggled with her moods since childhood and found it hard to deal with hearbreak as a result of romantic relationships.
Caroline’s Mum and twin share that she had previously attempted suicide earlier in her life and had cut herself when she was in pain. “She sometimes got into a place where she needed help,” Jody explains. “Usually it was possible to help her, but sometimes it wasn’t, you just couldn’t get in.”
The saddest part of the documentary is when they discuss how she withdrew at these times, and guarded the mental health struggles she experienced so fiercely, frightened people would think ill of her if they knew.
Keeping her mental health challenges a secret was so important to Caroline, that her Mum believes that there’s still a long way to go in removing the stigma around suffering. “Even when she’d taken the pills as a young person, she didn’t want anyone to know. She didn’t want anyone to know that she got down. I know that they say everyone is talking about it now, but I think a lot of people that suffer with depression don’t talk about it, they don’t. You’re either ashamed of it, or you’re frightened that they’ll think something negative about you.”
As Caroline’s career exploded, so did the popularity and phenomenon of online trolling and her friends, family and colleagues reveal how this affected her deeply, acknowledging that she had an almost obsessional relationship with social media. Olly Murs notes that the abuse she experienced around the time they both presented X Factor was severe and so much more hateful towards her than him. Screenshots of tweets as proof are breathtaking in their viciousness.
A reminder of her amazing laugh, her humour, personality,the reason so many people loved her and why she shot to fame in the way she did.
Amongst all of the discussion about the dark times Caroline experienced leading up to her death, her family also share footage of Caroline happily performing with her sister at home as a child. There’s outtakes from her broadcast career and a reminder of her amazing laugh, her humour, personality, the reason so many people loved her and why she shot to fame in the way she did.
This documentary shows Caroline as the whole person she was, and that’s something to be grateful for. Her sister Jody, sums it all up perfectly.
“Even though Carrie struggled emotionally, she wasn’t a weak person. Her emotional struggles were just a little part of who she was. She was actually someone who lived a great life, that was really full of joy. That’s what’s so greatly missed about her.”
Watch Caroline Flack: Her Life and Death at 9pm on Wednesday 17 March on Channel 4.
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