The Flack factor
HOW THE FALLOUT OF A FLING WITH HARRY STYLES LEFT TV HOST CAROLINE FLACK IN THERAPY
Caroline Flack was on holiday in Ibiza when word finally arrived that after keeping her hanging on for most of this year, ITV bosses had decided she wouldn’t be part of the next series of The X Factor’s popular spin- off show The Xtra Factor. She promptly went out and got raging drunk.
She’s not the type to moan about how difficult things are. She prefers to say things are ‘challenging’. They certainly can be when you work for Simon Cowell, whether you’re a rags-to-riches talent show winner, a highly paid judge or a presenter. Caroline’s been the successful host of The Xtra Factor since 2011, and while the main show’s ratings plummeted during that time, her chemistry with co-host Olly Murs made sure The Xtra Factor’s went up.
But the world and his wife had been auditioning for the role as she stood by smiling. Now – even more cutting – her job has been given to one of her best friends, Radio 1 DJ Sarah-Jane Crawford. As Simon would probably say – with the inevitable shrug – ‘ that’s showbiz’. The news of her departure was broken by Caroline herself on Twitter. ‘After three brilliant years of hosting The Xtra Factor it’s time to pass the baton. It’s been incredible and I’ll never forget it,’ she said.
Today she’s stoical about the cut- throat
‘The children call me Aunty Safe, I’m overly protective’
nature of the business. ‘With this industry you have to learn to cope with the ups and downs quite early on – you have to be prepared for what it’s like,’ she says.
‘ It’s a competitive industry and there will always be other people who want to do your job. I very much know what the industry is like. It makes it fun and interesting. You do it because you love it. The ups are good and the downs can be challenging. I don’t see it as being bad at all – it’s an exciting time. Simon keeps changing his shows on a regular basis, and change is healthy when it comes to television. Even if you look back at his programmes from five years ago they look dated. He’s always discovering something new.’
Caroline, 34, is putting on a brave face. She tells me she’s a born worrier, and if she prefers to see challenges rather than difficulties that’s because she endured a baptism of fire when she was first thrust into the limelight after she started dating One Direction’s Harry Styles, who was 14 years her junior, shortly after she started on The Xtra Factor. The two met when she interviewed him on the show and he bombarded her with emails until she agreed to a date. They were in a relationship for three months.
Not everyone was happy about it, to put it mildly. She was branded a ‘cradle-snatcher’ and inundated with hate mail, one magazine even showed its readers how to make a voodoo doll of her. The Twitter messages were so nasty she ended up going into therapy. ‘ When the bullies first started it became a bit all- consuming and I got a bit lost in my thoughts,’ she recalls. ‘It was horrible. But the more you learn about Twitter the more you realise it’s an outlet for people to be angry. I was always comfortable in my own skin until people started criticising it. They’d talk about my appearance and call me fat. At first I thought, “What have I done wrong?” Now I know there are a lot of angry people out there. You don’t get the ups without the downs, or the downs without the ups.
‘For me, therapy was a way of changing the way you think,’ she says. ‘ I do overthink things. I’ve always been a worrier, ever since I was a child. My twin sister has always been the complete opposite and I think I worry more about her than she does about herself. Her three children call me Aunty Safe when they’re with me; I’m over- protective. I’m prepared for every eventuality.’
Caroline’s a grafter who discovered quite young that if going in one direction doesn’t
work, there can be another way around. Growing up in rural Norfolk with her three siblings, she always knew she wanted to be on TV – she just wasn’t sure how. ‘I was a massive TV addict because I lived in a village where there wasn’t much going on – it was a sort of escapism,’ she says. ‘I was obsessed with Grange Hill and East-Enders and wanted to live in their world.’ She started appearing in local pantos and studied musical theatre in Cambridge before moving to London with the dream of treading the West End boards.
She never has; she found work as an actress on the comedy sketch show Bo’ Selecta! and was considered so funny she started getting work as a presenter. ‘Things worked themselves out in a way I never expected,’ she says. ‘Although there’s part of me, the little actress in there, that would still like a go doing musical theatre.’
She’s now dating music manager Jack Street – a mere ten years her junior – who recently moved into her north London flat. ‘ I wouldn’t say I’m completely settled down,’ she says, adding that some of her favourite times are when she’s completely alone with just the TV for company. She recently posed with a baby bump at a friend’s baby shower, but purses her lips when I ask whether she’s planning to have babies with Jack. ‘ That’s a difficult question. I do hope for a family one day but not right now. I hope I get to have children, though; I think that’s the point of life.’
She laughs at her reputation as a cougar – a woman who likes to go out with younger men. ‘ I suppose if someone is going to force you into a category it’s a fun category to be in. No one really knows what’s going on in my private life, though. Everyone has their secrets. I could be known for something a lot worse. It’s not a bad way to live your life.’
She’s just hosted a new comedy panel show Viral Tap on Channel 4 and presented a celebrity Soccer Aid match a couple of weeks ago which raised more than € 6million for Unicef. She’s also the face of communications company TalkTalk and recently helped it celebrate signing up its millionth TV customer. She’s busy enough, she insists, and says she’s pleased with the way things are progressing. ‘I’m living out my ambition. Each job is as challenging as the last. My hope is just to keep on working and I’m ambitious for a nice long career. I’m looking forward to whatever it is I do next.’
Caroline is working with TalkTalk Plus TV
Harry leaving Caroline’s flat in 2011
For presenter Caroline Flack, the bullying on Twitter became all-consuming