It is no understatement to say that Caroline Flack: Her Life And Death makes for incredibly difficult viewing. But the documentary teaches a valuable lesson about mental health in the process.
Channel 4’s revealing new documentary about Caroline Flack is comprised of old home movies, news footage, and heartbreaking clips filmed by Flack herself.
More important than all of this, though, is the fact that its story is built upon interviews with those closest to the TV personality – including her mother Christine, her twin sister Jody, and her closest friends, including Olly Murs and Natalie Pinkham.
As such, Caroline Flack: Her Life And Death feels far less invasive and salacious than the endless tabloid stories about the late star always did. Instead, it feels… well, it feels kinder. It shines a light on the woman behind the headlines, and it allows her friends and family the chance to open up about the mental health struggles she faced throughout her life and the events leading up to her suicide.
It was slow motion, just happening in front of our eyes.
“It got to the point that she was on the front page of the papers so often, it was like ‘oh, it’s just another day, Caroline’s on the front of the paper, she’s probably immune to it,’” says Pinkham at one point.
“But she never was. You don’t become immune to it, do you? [Her life was] just newspaper cannon fodder… and there was probably part of her that loved it and got a buzz from it, and there’s part of her that just chipped away at her soul. It was slow motion, just happening in front of our eyes.”
Throughout the film, just a handful of the many, many headlines surrounding Flack are highlighted and dissected by her loved ones. From the backlash over her and Murs replacing Dermot O’Leary on The X Factor, to the endless stories printed about her relationships with famous men, the tabloids are depicted presenting Flack’s life as a “soap opera.”
“The press were obsessed with her love life,” says Jody of her sister’s struggle. “They always were.”
Things reached breaking point, though, when Flack was charged with assaulting her boyfriend after police were called to her home in December 2019.
“Within 24 hours, the press had the story,” her mum says simply. “And everything started to go from bad to worse.”
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As the documentary recalls, Flack 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 was then forced to step down as the presenter of ITV’s Love Island – a decision which deeply upset her, as footage within the film makes abundantly clear.
“It’s three days after I’ve been arrested for having a fight with my boyfriend,” she tells her smartphone camera. “Since then I’ve lost my job. A job I’ve worked all my life for.”
“It was just a fight,” Flack adds, her voice cracking as she breaks down. “I’ve never hurt anyone in my life. The only person I ever hurt is myself.”
The press seized upon Flack’s apparent downfall, publishing 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.
“The echo chamber just got really bad and really angry,” close friend Jaime Bradley explains in the doc, wiping tears from her eyes.
“And she was so ashamed that that’s what people thought of her.”
Pinkham adds: “I have never had the kind of exposure or press intrusion that Caroline had. That’s ultimately what killed her, I believe. And I’m sure many others do, too.”
When people feel listened to, it can save a life.
As the documentary makes all too clear, Flack was perhaps most affected by a story in The Sun published on 1 January 2020 – which included graphic photos of bloodstained sheets taken in the aftermath of her argument with her partner, published under the headline ‘Flack’s Bedroom Bloodbath’.
“I think she realised that everything was going to be in the press, and that they’d find out that she had these dark moments, and she didn’t want people to know that,” says Christine.
Just weeks later, Flack took her own life. She was only 40 years old.
The documentary left many viewers moved, with many taking to Twitter to share their reactions and feelings after the credits rolled, and praising Flack’s friends and family for their openness and bravery.
Of course, it’s important to remember that there was far more to Flack’s life than her death.
“Even though Carrie struggled emotionally, she was not a weak person,” Jody reminds us.
“Her emotional struggles were just a little part of who she was, and she was actually someone who lived a really great life that was full of joy.”
There’s no doubt that Caroline Flack: Her Life and Death has further opened up the dialogue on suicide. Because, as the documentary has made all too clear, depression can impact anyone – and it’s all too easy for someone to hide their feelings. And not just from those around them, but from themselves, too.
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.”
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 [email protected]
Caroline Flack: Her Life and Death aired on Wednesday 17 March at 9pm on Channel 4. It is now available to stream via All 4.
Images: Channel 4
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