Caroline Flack’s suicide this week, which has left the public reeling, makes her the third person associated with reality show ‘Love Island’ to have taken their own life.
As a mark of tribute, the ITV show decided to hold off airing the latest episode while close friends, family and fans of the 40-year-old TV celebrity come to terms with her tragic death.
The money-spinning reality show, that pits couples on an island to complete tasks in a bid to find true love, has been rocked in the past as well following the suicides of former contestants Sophie Gradon, 32, and Mike Thalassitis, 26.
Flack, who was a host of the show until last year, was removed from her duties after she was involved in a court case, accused of assaulting her boyfriend with a lamp — a charge she had denied.
Flack’s suicide has called into scrutiny the trial by media culture that many are comparing to the tragic death of Princess Diana and the reason why the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, Harry and Meghan, stepped away from their royal duties to lead a normal life.
The death has also prompted calls for the producers of ‘Love Island’ to take more care of its stars and identify mental health issues that can occur in the celebrity spotlight.
Sophie Gradon, first contestant to commit suicide
The former beauty queen won the Miss Great Britain title 2009, while working as a marketing manager, according to her profile. Gradon was known for her activism, raising money for children with cancer and lending her celebrity status to similar charities before she became a contestant on ‘Love Island’ in 2016.
Gradon’s stint on the reality show saw her first linked with fellow contestant Tom Powell, before she became involved with model Katie Salmon.
Her appearance on ‘Love Island’ opened her up to a large fan base, but also attracted a large number of trolls who objected to her pairing with Salmon. Two years later, Gradon participated in a talk on the impact of social media on children, where, during an interview with Radio Aire, she revealed that she had been a victim of intense cyberbullying and trolls.
“It was horrific. I think when you get so many comments on the scale we did coming out of thousands of followers,” she was quoted in the interview, adding: “Sometimes I would look for it ... There would be so many negative comments. They are commenting on the way you look, the way you talk. They would come up with an opinion of you on a TV show where they’ve watched you for 45 minutes.”
That same year, Gradon hanged herself at her family home in Ponteland on June 20. According to an inquest, the 32-year-old took cocaine and alcohol and then killed herself. The situation turned even more tragic when her boyfriend Aaron Armstrong, 25, who found Gradon’s body, took his own life 20 days later.
The BBC quoted Northumberland South coroner Eric Armstrong as saying he was “certain she would not have acted as she did without taking alcohol and cocaine”.
Detective Sergeant Neill Jobling of Northumbria Police told the hearing Gradon had been exchanging messages with a male friend into the early hours of the day she died, where she stated she was “struggling with the world”.
Mike Thalassitis also commits suicide
Less than a year after Gradon killed herself, ‘Love Island’ star Mike Thalassitis also followed a similar tragic trajectory after consuming cocaine and alcohol. The reality show alum hanged himself on March 15 last year, leaving suicide notes that were found near his body.
A female jogger found Thalassitis’ body hanging in a park near his home.
According to media reports at the time, the 26-year-old was believed to have been grieving the death of his 94-year-old grandmother and faced mounting debts before his death. However, critics went after the producers of the reality TV show for not being able to take ample care of their contestants.
Incidentally, Caroline Flack, who was the ‘Love Island’ host at the time, spoke out in defence of the show, speaking to Cosmopolitan last year.
“It’s dangerous and I’m really, really angry. It’s not just that you’re blaming a TV show, you’re blaming people and their jobs. In life we all have a duty of care to look out for each other, but I don’t think it’s fair to point fingers of blame,” she was quoted as saying.
“This is a much bigger issue than just a reality TV show, and when something this bad happens — and I’m talking about Mike — when something this horrible and sad occurs, it’s so dangerous to point fingers within hours and minutes of it happening,” Flack added.
Flack’s tragic death
The events leading up to Flack’s own suicide on February 15 has left her near and dear ones stunned.
The 40-year-old had been associated with ‘Love Island’ since the show went on air in 2015. However, many have criticised the way ITV unceremoniously dropped her after she was charged with assaulting her boyfriend Lewis Burton last year. Flack denied the charge and was scheduled to stand trial next month.
The sixth season of the show, which is currently airing, cancelled its February 16 broadcast, in light of Flack’s suicide.
Critics claimed the programme needs to be held accountable for putting impressionable and vulnerable young people under scrutiny and pressure.
According to British daily ‘The Sun’, ITV released an updated set of ‘duty of care’ guidelines last May ahead of the show’s fifth season. Provisions included a minimum of eight therapy sessions for each Islander on their return home, as well as ‘proactive contact’ from the team for 14 months afterwards.
However, a call from critics have demanded further investigation and some even suggesting pulling the plug on the show.