The death of former Love Island UK TV personality, Caroline Flack, made headline news around the world.
“We can confirm that our Caroline passed away today, the 15th of February,” her family said in a statement, followed by a plea for press to “respect the privacy of the family at this difficult time”.
Celebrities from across the UK paid tribute to the star, who died by apparent suicide in her London apartment.
Harry Styles (who briefly dated Flack in 2011), wore a black ribbon on his Gucci suit at the 2020 BRIT Awards, while host Jack Whitehall paid tribute to the presenter, calling her a “kind and vibrant person with an infectious sense of fun” and who “will be sorely missed”.
But there was another sentiment that followed this tragic death. It was the sentiment that Flack was the victim of continuous trolling and extreme negative headlines made by the media.
A petition, which at the time of publication has over one million signatures, called for the British Government “to launch an inquiry into the British press and their practices following the maltreatment of those in the public eye”.
Russell Brand posted a lengthy essay to his Instagram and Twitter, condemning the “incessant poking, trolling judgment that chased her [Flack] to the grave” and Eoghan McDermott, who is known in Australia for voicing the local edition of Love Island, took aim at the “rabid tabloid mentality of pummelling someone when they’re down.”
“She got more negative headlines on front pages than some hardcore criminals would get recently. A blood sport. Absolutely devastating. RIP.”
As someone who works in media (and has worked for a tabloid), these tweets hit home. And hard.
Having interviewed him before, I reached out to McDermott to ask one question. “What can the media do differently to make a change?”
McDermott’s answer was simple.
“Unless the article is absolutely in the public interest, don’t write it,” he told me.
“Beyond that, I would ask if you would feel comfortable if that thing was written about somebody you cared about. I think that’s the really obvious metric.
“Even over yourself. I actually think it’s better to contextualise it in terms of someone you care about rather than yourself, like if it was being written about your sister or your friend or your mum or your brother or whatever; would you stand over it as a fair thing to put out to hundreds of thousands of people, if not millions of people?”
McDermott personally knew Flack.
He had screen-tested with her when singer Olly Murs had stepped down from hosting an X Factor UK spin-off show and then again when he auditioned to be the voice over for Love Island UK.
“We got along well,” he said. “She laughed a lot; she had a high energy vibe to her and she was very sweet. That’s why she was such a huge part of the show [Love Island]. She was almost just a fan who happened to present the show. She was just a great energy. A lot of laughs.”
Speaking of the devastating moment he heard the news, he recalled: “I just didn’t believe it. It just felt so incredulous that someone who, at the moment was going through such a tricky patch, who by and large had the world at her feet,” before adding that “it is really worth noting that it wasn’t that she was isolated”.
“A lot of people were looking out for her because they knew she was in a tricky spot. Like, actively looking out for her. But I guess just the weight of it all felt overwhelming,” he said. “I think the thing that makes it doubly tragic is she knew she had the support, but she just couldn’t face what was coming at her.
In December 2019, Flack stood down from Love Island UK after being charged with assault of her boyfriend, however, this move was never meant to be permanent.
Laura Whitmore — a very close friend of McDermott and the former presenter — slotted into the position for the winter series.
“Everybody at Love Island and ITV is shocked and saddened by this desperately sad news. Caroline was a much-loved member of the Love Island team,” a statement released by ITV read.
And McDermott agreed.
“From what I saw, and the statements they put out, they made it pretty clear she was welcome back on the next series,” he said.
“It seemed like, ‘let’s get the court case out of the way and Laura will step in, and then Caroline can resume duties in the summer. That seemed pretty clear to me.”
For much of Flack’s career, she was in and out of the spotlight with headlines detailing her personal life and her physical appearance.
“I think Caroline for a lot of her career was quite polarising,” he told me.
“Like the people who loved her, loved her. Absolutely loved her. But the people who hated her, they really hated her and let her know. I just think for someone who is benign in the best possible sense — she was an entertainment presenter; she wasn’t a politician. I just can’t fathom or never understood people who have made their disdain for harmless public figures known. No, it’s not a mentality I will ever understand.”
Being in the spotlight is something McDermott himself understands, having worked in London on a very popular radio show for four years, and was once himself on the “receiving end of a Twitter mob”, which he admitted was “terrifying”.
“I actually feel I have a really good sense of who I am and what I’m about, you know, I get it and I’m generally impervious to that kind of stuff. One time I was just on the wrong end of an exchange, and it’s really scary.”
And while this is something he’s never forgotten, it’s nothing to what Flack endured — and especially by some of the British press.
“Caroline was a real world example of a girl sitting at home, probably a multi-millionaire, doing the biggest shows in town, sitting at home crying because some dickhead in a newsroom said: “Let’s run a thing called ‘Caroline Flack Fat’,” he said.
“I don’t know when it fell so far, but it fell. Class or status or wealth is immaterial. When people come for you, that stuff won’t insulate you.”
In McDermott’s eyes, the press “only give a fuck about money”, and are only motivated by “clicks and outrage and commentary.”
“They’re not going to change tack because they’ve seen people post a few angry tweets,” he said. “I mean it’s economics, and they’re hardcore in that regard.”
Rather than focusing on the tabloids, McDermott has another idea and I’m in complete agreeance with him.
“I’d love everywhere… I’d love if there was in the Western world, a state-sponsored syllabus [with] modules on empathy, on online behaviours as a mandatory course at a syllabus level.”
He’s also been encouraging people to “delete tablet apps” and “re-energise their social media feeds” with positive news.
“Don’t scroll those websites, listen to a podcast,” he said. “Just seek more wholesome content.”
“I think ultimately, the market will decide and if enough people veer away from that kind of negative content, the content makers will take notice.”
As for the internet trolls, he was determined that they take the same approach as the media.
“You would say, ‘would you write that?’ or ‘would you care if someone had written it about someone you care about?’, ‘or someone you’d stand in front of a train for?’.
“If the answer is no… just go out and fucking read a book.”
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