Caroline Flack’s twin Jody speaks out in harrowing documentary
Caroline Flack’s twin sister Jody — the chalk to her cheese — starts one of her stories about her darling, difficult sister with a shrug
Caroline Flack‘s twin sister Jody — the chalk to her cheese — starts one of her stories about her darling, difficult sister with a shrug.
‘There was a boy,’ she says. There was always a boy, it seems.
The one being referenced here was a traveller boy who captured the TV presenter’s heart when she was a teenager. She gave it willingly, and totally, and was simply unable to deal with the pain when things went wrong. And tragically, as a new documentary about Caroline’s life and death reveals, this would always be the case.
‘That was, I guess, the first time she got super, super, super upset,’ reveals Jody.
‘He was a bit older and it was dramatic and secret and so exciting. When it didn’t work out, she was heartbroken. She ran away. We didn’t know where she was.
‘And she’d gone to this house, was banging on his door. And she really, really, really, really struggled emotionally. She was very, very depressed. And then that pattern carried on for ever. She really, really did find heartbreak impossible.’
So much so that Jody knew that with each failed relationship, Caroline — or Carrie, as she called her — would stumble. Seriously stumble.
After each failed relationship, she would go to pieces. ‘She took a lot of tablets, drank a lot, ended up in A&E situations. She didn’t really think she could cope with that feeling.’
Jody shares these reflections as she sits at the kitchen table with mum Christine, the two of them exchanging memories and trying to form a complete picture from all the jigsaw parts of the girl — the woman — they loved so well.
Christine says that Caroline first ended up going to hospital after an overdose when she was studying drama in Cambridge.
A serious relationship ended, ‘and then we got a call that she’d taken some pills and she spent time in hospital, and then you could tell, you know, that her reaction wasn’t right. She didn’t handle heartbreak well.’
When Caroline Flack — presenter of Love Island, The X Factor and one of the most popular celebrities of the reality TV age — took her own life in February last year aged just 40, it seemed unfathomable.
Yes, she had been going through the darkest times, facing the collapse of her career and her personal life after a fight with her boyfriend which had led to assault charges and an impending trial, but suicide?
Jody shares these reflections as she sits at the kitchen table with mum Christine, the two of them exchanging memories and trying to form a complete picture from all the jigsaw parts of the girl — the woman — they loved so well. Jody is pictured above with Caroline in the 1990s
Now, a harrowing new Channel 4 documentary — one made with the full co-operation of her family and friends — reveals that those closest to her had long lived with the fear that she would one day do something this drastic.
Everything changed with that first overdose, says Christine: ‘We went to the doctors and they said, ‘No, we think it was a one-off’, you know, but there was always that fear after that. You always worried in case anything happened.’
Jody — who always had sensible boyfriends, we are told, and a less all-or-nothing approach to life in general — articulates how it was always a deep concern.
‘She was quite fascinated by the subject of suicide always, and I knew that about her. So, yes, it was a worry for a long time and something I think I tried to get my head around for a long time. I was prepared it could happen.’
And then it did. This is a film about celebrity, about social media and about mental health — and what can happen when they come together in the most catastrophic way. It’s also a film about family and friendship, and how utterly ill-equipped you can be to deal with it when someone close to you is bent on self-destruction.
There are parts of this documentary that are so painful they are near impossible to watch. The sight of Christine sorting through bags of old family photographs brings a lump to the throat, as does the footage of Waffle, Caroline’s treasured cat, who had to be brought back to her mum’s house when Caroline died.
When Caroline Flack — presenter of Love Island, The X Factor and one of the most popular celebrities of the reality TV age — took her own life in February last year aged just 40, it seemed unfathomable. Jody and Caroline (right) are pictured above at home with their mother, Christine, in the 1980s
The home footage the family shares, of the twin girls — inseparable in their youth, wearing matching outfits — is deeply affecting. Caroline was always the natural performer. Jody went along with the song-and-dance routines but never craved the limelight.
There is a particularly poignant part where Jody laughs at their rendition of Especially For You, the Kylie Minogue and Jason Donovan song they loved. ‘There was a pecking order. She was a bit bossy. She was Kylie. I was always the boy.’
There is a lot of this happy footage, of Caroline laughing, twirling, joking, showing ample evidence of the sheer force of personality that turned her into a household name.
Then there is the dark stuff. Another piece of footage stops you in your tracks. It’s a short piece, filmed by Caroline herself on what looks like a mobile phone. She’s tearful, and muffled up in a big coat and scarf. It was filmed just after she had emerged from discussions about her job (her world, really) on Love Island, when her world was in the process of tumbling down around her.
‘It’s three days after I’ve been arrested after having a fight with my boyfriend,’ she says, crying, the mascara smearing even more as she wipes her eyes. ‘Since then, I lost my job, the job I’ve worked all my life on.’
The pain is palpable. ‘I’ve never hurt anyone in my life. The only person I’ve ever hurt was myself.’
This is now a message from the grave. Caroline, it seems, had been planning to work with trusted TV colleagues on a documentary that told her side of the story of her downfall. One can only presume she planned for that film to come out when she had clawed her way back from the darkness. It never happened. She was found dead on February 15 last year.
She was facing trial for assaulting her boyfriend, Lewis Burton, a former tennis player and model, in December 2019. She had learned the previous day that the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) was continuing with the prosecution.
At the time, the media coverage of Caroline’s personal problems was blamed for much of her distress, and Caroline’s family also held the police to account. Christine said her daughter had faced a ‘show trial’. In a statement read to the court at the inquest into her death, she said: ‘I believe Caroline was seriously let down by the authorities and in particular the CPS for pursuing the case.’
She still clearly believes that today and there is anger particularly at one front-page picture, likening the blood-splattered bed where the fight had happened between Caroline and Lewis to something from a horror movie.
Her family, taking part in this film because they know that it was something Caroline would have wanted, talk now about how that blood (which Christine cleaned from the sheets) was actually Caroline’s. Yes, her family had long been aware that in times of stress she self-harmed and would deliberately cut herself.
‘It’s three days after I’ve been arrested after having a fight with my boyfriend,’ she says, crying, the mascara smearing even more as she wipes her eyes. ‘Since then, I lost my job, the job I’ve worked all my life on.’ The pain is palpable. ‘I’ve never hurt anyone in my life. The only person I’ve ever hurt was myself.’ This is now a message from the grave
Christine reveals that Caroline needed plastic surgery after the injuries she inflicted on herself that fateful night. Caroline never wanted anyone to know that she had this dark side, though (‘she was scared people would find out. She didn’t want people to know it,’ says her mum), and lived in terror that this part of her would make it into the public domain.
One of the most affecting parts of this film is watching Jody struggle with how much information to share. Her loyalty to her twin is everything.
Living with Caroline Flack — with her roller-coaster ups and downs — could be infuriating, though. That much is also clear.
Her mum tells of times where she received distressing phone calls from her daughter, and jumped in the car to drive to London, only to find Caroline calling back saying it was all fine.
Her friends, some of them openly weeping, have their own stories. They used to roll their eyes at the dramas in Caroline’s life, they say. The boyfriend dramas in particular. TV producer Anna Blue talks of how Caroline would lurch from one disastrous relationship to the next, and her friends would brace themselves for what was to come.
‘You’d get a text saying, ‘I’ve got a new man. You are going to love him,’ ‘ says Anna. ‘I had a few of those texts. You think, ‘Fingers crossed.’ ‘
Yet it never worked out and her loved ones lived with the constant fear of how Caroline would react when it ended.
She craved love and marriage and stability, and those who loved her wanted it for her — but it never happened.
‘She was jealous of everyone else’s emotional stability,’ says Anna. ‘She wanted that ability to settle down, get married, have children. But it wasn’t in her make-up.’
There is guilt, now, that friends rolled their eyes a little too much, and perhaps dismissed her as a drama queen. Anna says she could never understand why Caroline felt things —rejection, heartache — so deeply.
‘I thought she was a pain in the a***, but now I get it. At the time I’d think, ‘Oh come on, it’s not that bad.’ But it probably was that bad.’
That there were high-profile romances didn’t help. We learn that she was ‘really upset’ when her dates with Prince Harry became public fodder, feeling she was portrayed as a ‘slut’.
Friends in the industry such as Dermot O’Leary and Natalie Pinkham talk of her love-hate feelings about being in the public eye. She became ‘addicted to affirmation’, says Dermot, while his wife Dee (who was also a very good friend) says that she played ‘a cat-and-mouse game’ with fame. ‘She hated it but couldn’t do without it,’ Dermot adds.
Her obsession with social media was ultimately destructive and there are links made between her unease and the rise of Twitter. Her mum and former agent both say they would try to ‘wean her off social media’, often telling Caroline to ‘get off her phone, but she wouldn’t’. Couldn’t. She would scroll through the tweets, and when those messages were telling her that she was the most hateful person on telly, she took them to heart.
This social media hate peaked with The X Factor, when she and Olly Murs were promoted to be main presenters on the show, Dermot O’Leary having been sidelined. They were pilloried.
Several fellow celebrities will watch this film and want to sink into the floor. The X Factor debacle seems to have been a pivotal moment for her already fragile mental health.
Christine talks about Caroline’s utter devastation when she was the butt of jibes (quite expected, in this industry). Graham Norton had a pop on his show. So did Lorraine Kelly, quipping about who would get her job on Love Island when she was forced out, ending with a light-hearted ‘that’s showbiz’.
Caroline Flack is seen above in a school photo in the 1990s
With others it would have been water off a duck’s back. With Caroline, it was another devastating challenge to her self-worth. ‘It shouldn’t be showbusiness. It should not be showbusiness,’ says her mum, distraught.
What they wanted most of all was for Caroline not to have a life in showbiz, but since it was all she knew, this was never going to be possible. As Anna points out, ‘there was no plan B’.
Caroline did pick herself up again, as she always did, but the events of December 2019 — when her personal life and career became so messily entangled — changed everything.
By then in a relationship with Lewis, she found a message from another woman on his phone and confronted him. The rest we know. A fight developed, and he ended up with a cut on his head after she hit him with a lamp. In time evidence would show that it was a tiny cut, and Lewis himself later requested that the police not pursue a prosecution, but charges were brought and the CPS decided that Caroline should face a court. Her career was, if not over, then in serious jeopardy.
Her bail conditions prevented her from having contact with Lewis, which Jody says only added to her despair. ‘There was love there,’ she says, pitifully. From the moment Caroline knew she was going to face a trial, her family knew she would not be able to cope.
‘On that day she was in a very bad way. I mean I know her. It was going to be unbearable,’ says Jody. ‘It was going to trigger all of the things that she finds unbearable — not just one of those things but everything in her life that she finds difficult.’
From then on her friends and family were, effectively, on suicide watch, although perhaps even they would not have been quite aware of this. They were all aware, though, that Caroline was in a terrible place.
‘She’d had bad Press before, but there had always been a way out. She couldn’t see a way out,’ says Christine. Jody adds: ‘Usually, it was possible to help her, but sometimes it wasn’t. You couldn’t get it.’
She did enjoy a last Christmas Day with her family. She drove to Norfolk, and, says her mum, ‘she laughed and we had fun and I thought maybe we had turned the corner’. But on Boxing Day she drove home, ‘and you don’t know what was in her head’.
This film does not have all the answers, but her mum and sister run through all the what-ifs. What if she hadn’t met Lewis? What if the police hadn’t decided to prosecute? They are left with a sad reality, though. Others could have weathered the personal storms. Their Carrie could not.
The film ends with mother and sister visiting her memorial bench. The inscription is heartfelt and heartbreaking. ‘Our beautiful girl whose tiny feet made such a big imprint on the world,’ it reads.
Viewers, who will be so familiar with images of Caroline the tragic telly star, will be unable to forget the ones from this film, of a little girl so happy to be twirling in the limelight, and so ill-equipped to cope with the dream when it became real.
Caroline Flack: Her Life And Death will be on Channel 4 on March 17 at 9pm. For help, call Samaritans for free on 116 123 or visit samaritans.org.
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