The Flack fac­tor

HOW THE FALL­OUT OF A FLING WITH HARRY STYLES LEFT TV HOST CARO­LINE FLACK IN THER­APY

The Irish Mail on Sunday - TV Week - - FRONT PAGE -

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

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