Photography by Kate Martin
With more than a decade in the business behind her, Caroline Flack thought she’d steeled herself for anything the mad, bad and brutal world of celebrity could throw at her. But she hadn’t quite accounted for Harry Styles. And she certainly hadn’t banked on either the relentless scrutiny or the bitter backlash her relationship with the One Direction ladies’ man, 15 years her junior, would provoke.
Tailed by the paparazzi, viciously abused and on the receiving end of death threats from a seething mass of angry, jealous and hormonal One Directioners (exactly – yikes), The Xtra Factor host was left shocked by the reaction to her short-lived fling. And today, for the first time, she reveals the furore has forced her to move out of her flat in Camden, North London, to a more private apartment complex in the east of the city.
“At my old place, the front door opened straight on to the street,” she says. “And when you walk out and you’ve got 20 men staring at you with cameras… it was embarrassing. I’d see my neighbours and say: ‘I’m so, so sorry’.
“So eventually I decided to move east because I needed more privacy, which is what this place gives me. I feel much happier now. It never made me feel unsafe, it’s just a real invasion of your life and everyone is entitled to a life.
“The whole year, especially the beginning, has been crazy.”
That’s one word for it.
Rumours that 32-year-old Caroline and then-17-year-old Harry were “at it” began swirling last autumn. The sexual tension between them during 1D’s appearance on The Xtra Factor couch in November was excruciating – it was surely only a matter of time before they were ripping each other’s clothes off.
Sure enough, a few weeks later they were both snapped leaving Caroline’s flat one morning, having clearly spent the night together. Yet by the end of January, it was all over. Harry went off to the States, where One Direction became the hottest new boyband on the planet, and tweeted that he hadn’t “dumped” Caroline, she was “one of the kindest, sweetest people I know”, and appealed to fans to “please respect that”.
Recent reports claim the pair have been back in touch, although it’s difficult to see where Harry could squeeze Caroline in among the array of models, reality stars and party girls he’s been linked to. Caroline waves away the very suggestion, although, interestingly, doesn’t deny it.
“Do you know what? There’s so many silly stories made up on a daily basis that I just ignore it now.”
Are they in contact?
“Look, it’s just ridiculous. All really silly stories.”
What isn’t in doubt is just how tumultuous the last few months have been for Caroline. Quite apart from the fact her sex life had become a subject of national debate, she was also being bombarded with vile messages on Twitter – just last month she called in police after receiving a tweet from a young girl who attached a photo of herself brandishing a knife.
But the initial hurt and distress has long since turned to defiance. Caroline has no regrets about getting involved with Harry, despite the trouble it led to.
“I will live my life the way I want to. And I will never judge others for living the life they want to live. The last thing I’m going to do is live my life according to anybody else. And I’m not coming off Twitter. I have fun on Twitter. I use it for having a bit of a laugh and have got the loveliest followers,” she says. “A lot of them are One Direction fans,” she adds. “So it’s not all One Direction fans who’ve, y’know… it’s a minority.”
Facing the trolls
Caroline smiles as she remembers one unpleasant tweet that made her laugh all the same.
“The best one I got said: ‘F**k you, I can’t believe you’re going out with my boyfriend, I hope you get eaten by an angry elephant.’ An angry elephant? You’ve just got to think, these people are in front of their computers and probably don’t think you even see it half the time. I just don’t think anyone deserves to be bullied. That’s just not on.”
She says she doesn’t feel like a victim, but it’s impossible not to feel some sympathy for Caroline, who began her TV career on Bo’ Selecta! in 2002 and has gone on to host Big Brother’s Big Mouth and I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here Now!. Especially as sitting here today – pretty, petite, unassuming, fun and normal – she’s anything but the calculating cougar she has at times been portrayed as. She’s nervy when Harry’s name is mentioned; her body stiffens and her answers become noticeably clipped. It must have been tough, feeling constantly judged.
She says: “It hasn’t been easy. I’d try not to take it too seriously, because I think that’s the way you’ve got to try to deal with it. But some of it was quite hurtful. It really was.
“I think it’s 100 per cent harder to be a woman than a man in the public eye. Women should stick together and understand how things can get blown out of proportion.
“I learned so much about what comes with the job, and things like that make you stronger. You see how amazing your friends and family are and you think: ‘God, I’m so lucky’. They supported me.”
Since Harry, Caroline has been linked to a series of men, including Rizzle Kicks’ Jordan Stephens, 20.
“There’s no one serious in my life,” she claims. “I’m single, but I am dating. I’m not a kind of ‘go out and sit at a table and wait for a guy to come over’ kind of girl. I don’t really go out on the pull – I’ve never done that. So yeah, I go on dates but I’m yet to meet anyone that’s potential marriage material.
“I’d like to settle down and have children one day. It’s not something I think about all the time, but obviously it would be nice. But I’d rather be happy and single than be with someone and unhappy. At the minute I’m happy and single. I just moved into my new house. It’s all nice.
“I like the word ‘content’ – that’s how I feel at the moment. I’m lucky to have a brilliant job and such a good life. All my family [Caroline is one of four children to parents Christine and Ian] are there, I’m happy and healthy, it’s a good place.”
Caroline returned to our screens as The Xtra Factor host last night – she chooses not to take on any other major TV projects during the rest of the year, preferring to devote all her energies to ITV1’s juggernaut.
“It’s the only show that’s talked about all year round, even when it’s not on,” she says. “I was shocked with how big the media surrounding the show was when I started working on it.
“I know it’s said every series, but I think without a doubt this is the best year so far. The standard is very, very high and there are some really original people who have made it through.
“There’s one girl who is 32, I’m not going to say her name, but she’s so hot, she’s so talented and she made me cry on her first audition. I think she’s the one to look out for.
“And there are a lot of boybands this year. There’s one group who remind me of Boyz II Men, really spot on with their harmonies, and we’ve never had a group like that before.”
New judge Nicole Scherzinger, 34 – a replacement for Kelly Rowland, who jumped or was pushed, depending on who you believe – has settled in well.
“Nicole’s really nice actually, easy to talk to,” says Caroline. “When I meet big stars I get a bit nervous, but she’s very sweet.
“And Tulisa has really upped her game this year. I find myself a little bit in awe of her because she just knows what she’s talking about, and is just really good at what she does. She never falters, she never stutters, she knows exactly what she wants. She’s very strong, really good this year.”
And what about the boys?
“I love Gary Barlow. The more I get to know him the more I like him. He’s another one who’s really easy to talk to. And Louis Walsh makes me laugh all the time. He always looks like he’s about to do something naughty, or he’s taking the mickey.”
Caroline’s co-host Olly Murs, 28, was on tour in America with One Direction (yep, them again) when the audition stages were recorded, but he will be back by her side in time for the live shows.
Their natural chemistry, despite Olly’s lack of presenting experience, proved a winning formula for The Xtra Factor last year – genuinely funny live TV, which managed to take a sideways glance at the main event and fully embrace it at the same time.
Caroline says: “Olly was a natural and got into it straight away. We found that we were quite in tune with each other. We’re both quite flirty and have similar personalities.”
Caroline, who has recently become an ambassador for the Teenage Cancer Trust, polishes off her fish-finger sandwich and chips, practically licking the plate clean. A female celebrity who actually enjoys her food – how novel.
“I think, like most women, I’ve got things that I’m insecure about, but that’s it. I’m not racked with insecurities.
“Being in my 30s I feel a lot more sure about who I am. I’ve heard that 32 is the age where you’re most confident, and that could be true. This is the most confident I’ve ever felt.
“Life experience makes you more confident. And as you get older you start losing people and you realise that life is really short. I’m not being depressing, it just is. You get to 32 and you think: ‘Blimey, I better start getting a move on and do all those things I haven’t done yet.’”
With legs like hers, Caroline has every right to feel confident. The famous Flack pins are out today, shown off in a lace dress rather than her trademark shorts. But she insists she’s baffled by the attention they attract.
“Look at my wrinkly knees! These are the legs people go on about. It’s funny when they say: ‘Caroline’s got her legs out again’. You don’t say it when someone’s got their arms out do you? ‘Oh, she’s got her arms out again!’ And the whole shorts thing. It’s just that I like shorts.”
How many pairs does she have?
“I’m not sure. A lot! And there will be many shorts on the show this year. I think I wore shorts to every audition day.”
And is she prepared for the weight of press and public attention to return to her shoulders? Especially since she’s only just come through the mill and out the other side.
“I think I’ve kind of learned a way to live my life and do my job,” she says. “Just keep it completely separate. If you can do that, you get the best of both worlds.”
She pauses for a second before adding, a little more bullishly: “Do you know what? I’ll be fine. In the grand scheme of things I’ll be OK. If I get to have the greatest job and enjoy it then I’ll put up with all the silliness. Really, it’s all right.”
- Watch The Xtra Factor, every Saturday, ITV2. Visit Teenagecancertrust.org for more about Caroline’s work with TCT.
Caroline gets candid
Who are your dream dinner party guests?
People I already know. So they already know I’m a terrible cook!
What’s your poison?
I like amaretto.
What would your superpower be?
I’d be Mystique in X-Men.
Do you have any superstitions?
I always say hello to magpies!
What’s your most treasured possession?
Have you seen a ghost?
Yes! When I was a child – it was on the landing of our house.
Best kiss of your life?
That’s a secret.
What’s your biggest regret?
Not writing everything down.
What’s your greatest fear?
Where would you time travel to?
I’d go back to Beatlemania and hang out with them.
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