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Caroline Flack: Presenter who helmed some of TV’s biggest reality-show successes

Caroline Flack was the outgoing and popular host of some of Britain’s biggest television programmes, the winner of Strictly Come Dancing in 2014, a co-presenter of The X Factor and most recently presenter of Love Island, the dating show she helped to turn into ITV2’s most successful ever programme.

Flack, who has taken her own life aged 40, grew up in Norfolk and had dreams of working in entertainment from a young age. “Television is where I’m most at home,” she once said. “I’m not one of those TV presenters who secretly yearns to be a Hollywood actress. Live telly is what I thrive on.”

Her brief career spanned presenting roles on reality TV spin-off shows before her Strictly Come Dancing win turned her into a household name. Her celebrity status was then confirmed when she landed her dream job, hosting The X Factor alongside Olly Murs, before Love Island beckoned.

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Flack presented Love Island for five years, with the most recent 2019 season attracting more than 6 million viewers. Her contract – worth £1.2m – put her among Britain’s highest-paid presenters.

The show, set in a Majorcan villa, in which sun-kissed contestants “couple up” to avoid elimination and win £50,000, became a runaway success. In 2018 it won a Bafta for best reality TV show – which Flack collected. Its famous fans even included former chancellor George Osborne.

Love Island’s success has been attributed to its “relatability”, one of Flack’s own personality traits. “I think people just relate to the situations,” Flack told The Telegraph in 2017. “It doesn’t matter who you are, what you do, where you’re from, how old you are, it doesn’t matter how much experience you’ve got in life, how educated you are: emotions are all the same.”

Viewers and contestants warmed to her unalloyed enthusiasm, her sense of mischief and rumbling belly laugh. But behind the ebullience lay vulnerability; after winning Strictly Come Dancing she spiralled into depression.

“I woke up and felt like somebody had covered my body in clingfilm,” she told The Sun. “I couldn’t get up and just couldn’t pick myself up at all that next year. I felt ridiculous, being so sad when I’d just won the biggest show on telly and had such an amazing job.”

Flack: ‘Television is where I’m most at home’ (Reuters)

Flack’s turbulent personal life made headlines throughout her career. Aged 31 she dated One Direction’s Harry Styles, then 17 – and enraged his fans. She was also romantically linked to Prince Harry. She was engaged for three months to the Apprentice and Celebrity Big Brother contestant Andrew Brady before last year starting a relationship with Lewis Burton, a former professional tennis player. In November she was arrested following allegations she had hit Burton with a lamp. She had been due to appear in court on 4 March.

Born in Enfield, north London, in 1979, Caroline Louise Flack was one of four children of Ian Flack, a sales rep for Coca-Cola, and his wife Christine. She had a non-identical twin sister, Jody, of whom she wrote, in her autobiography Storm in a C Cup (2015): “In photos you can tell us apart because I have the square head, Jody the pointy one.”

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She was seven her family relocated to rural Norfolk to be closer to her father’s work, a place she would later call “nowhere land”. After completing her GCSEs aged 16, she moved to Cambridge to study dance and musical theatre at Bodywork Company, where her all-round talents were highly regarded.

But Flack was drawn to London and the prospect of working in television. Her break in showbiz came in the sketch show Bo’ Selecta! (2002-04), where she played Michael Jackson’s pet monkey, Bubbles. She then turned to presenting, on shows ranging from The International Pepsi Chart Show (2003) and Fash FC (2003-04) to the Saturday morning CBBC show TMi (2006-08), as well as Comic Relief Does Fame Academy (2007) and Gladiators (2008-09).

Now established as a jobbing presenter, Flack began hosting spin-off programmes of some of Britain’s highest-profile reality shows, including I’m a Celebrity – Get Me Out of Here! NOW! (2009-10) and The Xtra Factor from 2011 to 2013.

Winning Strictly Come Dancing in 2014 alongside professional dance partner Pasha Kovalev turned Flack into a prime-time celebrity and rekindled her passion for performing. In 2017 she played Irene in a stage production of the Gershwin musical Crazy for You.

“She’s strong, she knows what she wants, but there’s a vulnerability,” she said of the role. “She gets hurt the whole way through, but she’s brilliantly defiant. She stays strong and doesn’t give up. She’s naughty as well. There’s definitely bits of Irene that are quite like me.”

Flack, who is survived by Burton, her parents and siblings, loved the “thrill” of live television and described the world as “one big Love Island”. Following the death of a former contestant, she defended the show from criticism, saying: “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.”

Caroline Louise Flack, television presenter, born 9 November 1979; died 15 February 2020

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