When the news broke on the 15th of February that television presenter and actor Caroline Flack had died, most people were filled with an equal measure of shocked disbelief, and the tragic sense that this news should come as no shock at all.
After public speculation and scrutiny have marred a person’s life and reputation in the months prior to such news, reactions inevitably vary. Personally, I only knew about Caroline Flack from watching her win Strictly Come Dancing, as well as the frantic media coverage that had followed since her controversial arrest in December. It speaks volumes that even from this limited perspective, I was fully aware that prying tabloids, outspoken critics, and persistent online abuse had been ubiquitous (pervasive evidence of which is slowly, guiltily, deleting itself from the public eye in favour of helpline numbers).
It was the spotlight of reality television that brought Caroline onto our screens, that established her career and countless successes. It was the penetrating glare of social media that told us to despise her. This same social media then brought us the news that she had taken her own life. People, including myself, genuinely believed the news of her passing in those trending tags was the result of ‘cancel culture’ rearing its hideous head once again. The palpable horror at realising this was a real life cut short was horrific and sickening. And we’re the people that didn’t even know her.
This should not be the price of success.
Against such an ugly backdrop, there have been countless beautiful tributes made to Caroline Flack by her friends, colleagues, and those who didn’t know her personally. Laura Whitmore opened her BBC Radio 5 Live programme with a heartfelt speech saying her close friend ‘loved to love’. The opening tribute made by Iain Stirling on behalf of the Love Island team on Monday was poignant and touching – a reminder for us to ‘all try and be kinder, always show love, and listen to one another.’ Jack Whitehall also paid tribute at the BRIT Awards last night, saying ‘she was a kind and vibrant person with an infectious sense of fun.’
Over the past few days, #BeKind has pervaded the space that had harboured so much unkindness. In a bittersweet turn of events, all proceeds from the sales of a t-shirt bearing a quote shared by Caroline on Instagram: ‘In a world where you can be anything, be kind’, has raised £200,000 for the Samaritans, the vital charity who provide emotional support to those in distress.
It has made me question, in Orwellian terms, whether during times of universal cruelty, being kind becomes a revolutionary act. And how tragic it is to consider basic human decency, respect of privacy, and protection of the vulnerable, as radical action.
If this really is the case, we should all become rebels. From taking the time to check in on our friends and family, or anyone we know who may be struggling, right down to thinking about the sort of articles we click on, the tweets we post, the judgement we refrain from casting. Showing kindness truly costs nothing. If anything, it makes us all richer.
We do not know everything about all the lives that exist within the public sphere. Being a presenter of high profile television shows never made all private details of Caroline Flack’s life open to a freedom of information request. And it seems feeble to say we should try and learn lessons afterwards. Kindness in retrospect is never going to be a silver lining for an event as terrible as this – the point is not to find consolation in this way. Instead, it is that our duty is preventing history from repeating itself.
So be kind. Then be kinder.
Remember, Samaritans can be contacted in the UK and in Ireland on 116 123 or via their email addresses: firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
Feature image from @carolineflack on Instagram.