People often store what is known as a ‘flashbulb memory’ after hearing saddening news. A vivid snapshot of where you are and what you were doing at that moment. Hearing about Caroline Flack’s death is etched into my memory down to the clothes I was wearing. A year on, I still remember uttering the words “surely not” as I saw her face alongside tributes from the same papers that vilified her just months before.
Caroline Flack: Her Life and Death brought that snapshot back into razor-sharp focus for those familiar with the TV presenter. Charlie Russell and Dov Freedman’s documentary − whether they meant it to be or not − goes beyond just a moving obituary. Instead, it becomes a potent expression of the unique wreckage left behind after a suicide. A family analysing every warning sign, painstakingly looking for reasons why.
The documentary searches for meaning in Caroline’s untimely death, in the same way individuals seek to understand events that are seemingly far too cruel to be true. It touches on the impacts that fame, social media, and a string of tumultuous relationships had on Caroline while resisting the temptation to place blame or simplify the intricacies of her pain. It steers clear of exploiting her legacy by turning it into a tale of morality. Instead, Caroline’s story speaks for itself, leaving you wanting to hold onto those you love a little tighter.
Much like Caroline’s life, this documentary is light and shadow. The home videos of her as a child are a predictable choice, but they undeniably help humanise her. The blunt juxtaposition of her lively childhood dance routines to the paleness of her face in recent paparazzi shots. A melancholic loss of innocence. “I’ve never hurt anyone in my life”, Caroline sobs in a self-filmed video. “The only person I’ve ever hurt is myself”.
Her video referenced the night police charged her with assaulting her boyfriend, Lewis Burton, in December 2019. This led to appalling treatment by the press, with headlines such as “Caroline Whack”, branding her as an abuser before she had stood trial. Pictures of crimson sheets from the night in question turn from chilling to heart-breaking with the realisation that the blood assumed to be her boyfriends was instead a result of Caroline’s self-harm. Whilst Twitter users and newspapers jumped to conclusions, she had received plastic surgery in secret to reconstruct her arm.
The fact that she felt it was harder to speak publicly about her mental health issues than it was to let the world condemn her as a violent partner-beater speaks volumes on the insidious shame still attached to self-injury. The bittersweet clarity of retrospect induces a suffocating frustration. If only the world’s instinct was to listen instead of pointing fingers, then maybe things could have been different.
“When I look back now, I get it. She was feeling things so much more deeply than I would have done in the same situation”Anna Bule
The sometimes-stoic composure of Caroline’s family and friends is admirable, but so is their willingness to let themselves shed tears. After all, when measuring time in grief-years, 365 days can often feel like mere minutes. This could never be enough time to process the unique devastation of losing someone to suicide. However, the willingness from her loved ones to re-open fresh wounds and help us see Caroline in all her vibrance and complexity is what takes this documentary beyond facts and into feeling.
“She really did find heartbreak impossible,” says Caroline’s twin Jody. She shows hesitance in divulging the secrets which her sister had concealed in fear of judgement. A pattern of overdoses that followed the breakdowns of Caroline’s relationships elicits the image of a woman who threw herself so fiercely and blindly into love that she ended up hurting herself in the process. A woman who felt so deeply that every knock and tumble felt like the world was ending. We learn from her mother Christine that since childhood, Caroline’s highs and lows caused her to experience life in full volume. An all or nothing lens where any rejection thrust upon her sensitive temperament added much fuel to the fire.
I am left with a sinking feeling that this honest picture of grief may not be enough to create change. I fear that not much has been learnt in the past year about the impact of condemning strangers online. We only need to turn our heads to Meghan Markle to see this. Questions of morality inevitably arise every time someone in the public eye is targeted, but rarely are answered. Caroline’s story, and legacy, is so deeply intertwined with the message she poignantly shared on Instagram months before her death. “In a world where you can be anything, be kind.”
Words by Eleni Evangelinos
If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts you can find help here.
Support The Indiependent
We’re trying to raise £200 a month to help cover our operational costs. This includes our ‘Writer of the Month’ awards, where we recognise the amazing work produced by our contributor team. If you’ve enjoyed reading our site, we’d really appreciate it if you could donate to The Indiependent. Whether you can give £1 or £10, you’d be making a huge difference to our small team.