CAROLINE Flack's heartbroken mum, Christine, has spoken movingly about her daughter’s fragile mental health, urging: “Don’t let others suffer like my Carrie”.
Brave Chris has passionately defended the star in the wake of her tragic suicide, explaining she was diagnosed with bipolar weeks before her death.
She also reveals Caroline was dropped by a children’s cancer charity just 24 hours before killing herself – and how the move caused her already fragile mental wellbeing to plummet.
Christine will be presenting a special award honouring the Love Island presenter at The Sun's Who Cares Wins, celebrating the NHS, next month.
She says: “It’s so important to me that Carrie is not tainted by those last few months of her life. It's tragic. I hate the memory of my daughter to be a negative one because she wasn't negative.
“She always saw the positive in something. She was so fun, so kind, so funny, so loving; she always tried to be a good role model for young women especially – I want her to be remembered for these things.
“Carrie suffered for a long while, but never showed it because her outgoing personality covered everything. Mainly she was happy, and funny, and brilliant. She just had these terrific down times – and not many people saw those down times.
“That was the thing; she hid it. The last doctor she saw thought she may have had bipolar. And that’s what I always thought. It was just constant highs, all of a sudden, then the lows.
"Usually something would happen, but it would always eventually pass. I've slept so many times in her bed until the thing that was upsetting her passed. But she didn't even have her own doctor. She'd go to a doctor so that nobody read her files, you know; she was so ashamed of people thinking she had mental health problems.
“She was just known as this happy-go-lucky girl; she was petrified of people seeing her dark side, and thinking she was 'mental'. The thing that really upset her was the phrase, ‘you’re mental’. Saying that to someone who’s got mental health is the worst thing in the world you can say. It’s weaponised."
A special eponymous award has been created in Carrie's honour at the awards on September 14th to acknowledge mental health sufferers – and help end the stigma around it.
Caroline, who tragically took her own life on February 15th last year, was sacked by Love Island bosses in the wake of a drunken row with her boyfriend, Lewis Burton.
The popular presenter – who had previously spoken about her mental health anguish – was axed, before a proposed court case had even begun. She was replaced by Laura Whitmore.
In her first national newspaper interview, the loving mum of four – mother to Lizzie, 51, Paul, 50, and Jodie, 41, also criticised hypocritical ITV2 bosses for axing Caroline following her row with tennis player, Lewis, despite encouraging couples to row on the hit show.
While Caroline valued “loyalty and friendship” above everything, she believes execs did not show any such thing to the broadcaster. She says: "Love island is all about making couples fight; it's not about bringing them into love.
"It's making them fight and argue, and they set them up for that. And yet they sacked Carrie straight away [after her row with Lewis]. I haven’t watched Love Island since she died. Carrie loved that show, she loved the crew, she loved the contestants.
She was just known as this happy-go-lucky girl; she was petrified of people seeing her dark side, and thinking she was 'mental'.
“I watched Love Island because Carrie was in it. Now, it’s horrible when the advert comes up and the girl that's taken her place is all in almost the same dress, in almost the same pose.
"I think ITV2 could have done it a little differently. They could have done it out of respect. It's all very well putting these films on saying, 'Oh, we love Carrie blah blah blah. But you know, just have a little bit of respect."
The former X Factor host took her own life within 24 hours of finding out the Crown Prosecution Service intended to pursue the case. She was just 40 years old.
Much has been written about the CPS wanting a "celebrity witch-hunt", and defiant Chris refuses to give up in her battle against the organisation, hoping for a public apology to posthumously exonerate her daughter.
She also hopes that by speaking out today, the police are given more training to "deal with" people with mental health issues.
"They knew she tried to commit suicide, and they locked her up for 24 hours. They wouldn't let her sister in to visit; Jo stayed outside for eight hours, all through the night.
"They wouldn't let her see Carrie. It was so badly handled. And I think she just lost faith. Someone else, without mental health problems, might well have survived this – but not Carrie, not with hers. She was so very fragile.”
On the night of Caroline's arrest, pictures later emerged of blood in her bedroom – which, it was assumed, belonged to Lewis, 29. It was, in fact, Caroline's – the result of her self-harming that night, another side effect of her illness, and something Chris wants to be made clear.
Chris, 71, who gave up working for her local paper, the Eastern Daily Press, has also spoken out against the toxic scourge of cancel culture.
'Her work meant everything to her'
Explaining how being dropped by a children’s cancer charity, who we have chosen not to name, devastated the being-hearted star Chris adds: “Carrie used to do a lot for the charity, which she loved doing.
"And then I think on the last day before she died, they wrote to us and said they didn't want her to be involved anymore. "
That's how bad it had got. And that really hurt her. What she used to have to get over things was her work. So when that was all taken away from her, it was awful. Whether she was innocent or guilty, it was all taken away straight away. There was no backing. There was nothing.
“Her work meant everything to her. She was worried she didn’t have any work, that she’d lose her home because she had a big mortgage. Everything just seemed to slip away."
Following Caroline's arrest last year, she quickly started to 'trend' across social media, and dominated the front pages for the next few weeks. Banned from speaking out, her already fragile mental health plummeted – "she was desperate to be heard, to have a voice, to say the truth, to speak to you, Clemmie" – and became a virtual recluse. She also began to get relentlessly trolled.
“The last thing that anybody ever said about her was that she was an abuser," Christine says.
"And she wasn’t really horrible about anybody. I used to sit and watch the telly and say, ‘Oh I don’t like her’, and she’d say ‘Mum, you don’t even know her! You can’t say that!’ And I don’t do that anymore. She got it constantly – I mean, she got lovely things as well, but some horrible things about her appearance, her work, everything.
“They were so negative. I used to read some of them and they weren't even clever. It was just like, oh, ‘she looks pregnant’ – and that’s just awful for someone that would have actually loved a baby. Carrie wanted to be liked. She wanted to be loved. And she wanted to set a positive image.
Carrie wanted to be liked. She wanted to be loved.
"I don't think you ever heard her swear on telly. She just didn’t want to be like that. The idea of #bekind [the hashtag phrase started in the wake of Caroline's death] is amazing in theory but I don't know if anyone has learned anything by it. The world didn't get nice, even after Covid. Unfortunately there's a lot of jumping on the bandwagon."
Caroline was "addicted" to her phone, and reading her social media commentary.
She adds: "I have about 20 phones and tablets here at home, because I’d take them off her, try and stop her looking at these nasty comments, but she’d just go out the next day and buy herself a new one."
While Christine says the attention around Caroline, who got her big break on Bo Selecta in 2002, was "awful", she believes someone without severe depression or anxiety would have survived the episode.
As the parent of a child with a serious, and unrelenting, mental health condition, Christine has had many first hand experiences with the National Health Service.
“These awards are just a great way of saying ‘thank you’ to the NHS," she says. Every day they save lives, and when I lost Carrie, they couldn't have been nicer. The doctors, the nurses, they talk to you, they help you through.
"That the award is in Carrie’s name is wonderful, and it’s something positive to take forward: the fact she brought the subject of mental health so much to the fore. It’s just sad that it’s taken her to commit suicide for it finally to be taken seriously.
“I've got so much to be thankful to the NHS for every time Carrie did need help, they were there. It’s such a hard life; rewarding, but it's still a hard life. And I think these awards, whoever wins them, are for everybody."
'This award is in Carrie's name'
Speaking from her home in Norwich, devastated Chris breaks down three times during our chat.
Each time, she bravely picks herself up, smiles, and tries to continue.
Unquestionably, it is the hardest interview I have ever conducted. Everywhere in the house are reminders of her charismatic, witty, hugely popular daughter.
From Waffle, the grey, squishy-eared cat she took in after Caroline's death, to the famous Strictly Come Dancing glitterball – which the star won in 2014 – sitting proudly on a bookshelf, there is no getting away from the grief.
It is one of the reasons Christine is in the process of selling-up the family home.
Pictures of the beautiful, forever smiling presenter are dotted around the sitting room and hallway, and Christine keeps a candle lit all times in honour of her talented but fallible child.
In one corner of the room, there is also a huge, crammed box of letters from Caroline's fans, which Christine remains too raw to read.
What Christine, and Caroline's siblings Jodie and Paul, are going through – with both public and private reminders of their loss everywhere – is unimaginable.
On the surface, Caroline was the life and soul of any party, any room she entered. Her infectious cackle carried for miles, and she seemingly had it all. Glamorous, hugely successful, and financially secure, she was the envy of women (and men) everywhere. But, as Christine explains, Caroline was hiding a "dark" side – one she desperately shielded from the outside world… and most of her friends.
She first tried to kill herself as a teenager, and was hospitalised after surviving the attempt.
Worrying episodes continued to blight her twenties and thirties, and she endured secret stints in rehab, including the famous Priory centre.
Christine also explains how Caroline suffered terribly with pre-menstrual tension – and believes more should be done to help women who experience extreme symptoms. She explains: “She’d get those really, really dark moments.
And she got one when she was at college, and that's when you sort of take things seriously when that happens.
"But she survived that attempt, and I can remember saying to her, you know, you survived for a reason, but then when she was really down again, many years later, she said to me, 'You said I’d survived for a reason – but what is it?'.
"She couldn’t see the reason; it was that darkness again. She went to rehab twice, and had previously been hospitalised. But it was always when she had her period – she went in a completely different mind frame.
She’d get those really, really dark moments.
“She suffered really badly with PMT and I still don't think that's taken as seriously as it should be. That just changed her.
"I could tell even when she was on the telly; I could look at her and think you're not right today. And it's so flippantly said, especially by men: ‘Oh, is it your time of month?’ I don't think she wanted to die. She loved her life. She loved her career, she had amazing friends who adored her.
"If she ever got ill, she was really panicky. It was just a way out. If she'd waited just three minutes more, then who knows. I suppose the signs were there, but as a parent, instead of saying: 'no', you do what they want to make them happy.
WHO CARES WINS AWARDS
THE Who Cares Wins Awards is The Sun’s annual tribute to the health heroes who work so hard to keep us safe.
The ceremony, sponsored by the National Lottery, will be hosted by Davina McCall and air on Channel 4.
We will honour nominees across 13 different categories — and are proud to honour Christine’s much missed daughter with the Caroline Flack Mental Health Hero award, which recognises individuals who have made a significant contribution to mental health.
"I always had my phone by my side and, you know, she'd text or call at two, three, in the morning, and you'd always answer it. Sometimes it would be to tell me something really good, or another time it' would be ‘Mum, I just can't do this month. I just can't do it.’
"So I'd get in the car, I'd be halfway there sometimes, and then she'd ring and and say: ‘Oh it’s all right now.’ So I’d turn around again and go home. But I suppose that's being a parent. Here, she shrugs, and wipes away a tear. But all of this…it's just… wrong," she sighs.
"It's the wrong order of things, isn't it? A parent should never go before her child.
She wasn't tragic; she had a wonderful life and I am so immensely proud of her.
“I want to say as well, I'm lucky in a way, because I've been able to have a voice. And I just think this happens every day to mums and dads who don’t get this platform.
"This award is in Carrie's name and I'm really proud of that, because around her life at the end, things were so negative, but she was a really positive person.
“She wasn't tragic; she had a wonderful life and I am so immensely proud of her."
Contact the Samaritans
If you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this article, contact The Samaritans on 116 123.
They are available for free at anytime.
Or email https://www.samaritans.org/
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