Caroline Flack was a star who marched proudly to the beat of her own drum.
The late TV host loved who she wanted, lived how she wanted and made no apologies for it.
In many bold and brilliant ways, the Love Island host challenged how women are seen and their choices are judged.
And while Caroline tragically took her own life earlier this year after learning she would be prosecuted for allegedly assaulting boyfriend Lewis Burton in a early morning row – claims both denied – her legacy lives on.
On what would have been Caroline’s 41st birthday, Mirror Online looks back at the star’s most powerful moments that trailblazed a long overdue change in attitude towards women and mental health…
On prying questions about marriage and babies
Caroline was heartbroken when her engagement to Apprentice star Andrew Brady, 30, collapsed at the end of 2018.
And just days before her 39th birthday in November that year, she took aim at critics over their prying questions about her relationship status and thoughts on starting a family.
“A lot of people do say to me, like, ‘Oh, you should have kids by now.’ Or ‘You should be doing this by now,'” she said on Instagram stories.
“And I just think, ‘Why? Why do we all have to do the same thing? It’s just weird.
“People are weird. They are. Saying anything mean to someone is just weird.”
Her searingly honest account of depression
Caroline was at the top of her game after winning Strictly Come Dancing in 2015 when she was struck down by a crippling depression that would take a year to lift.
“It all started the day after I won Strictly. I woke up and felt like somebody had covered my body in clingfilm,” she told The Sun in 2018.
“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,” she continued – before revealing she was prescribed anti-depressants that left her ‘numb’.
“I felt like I was being held together by a piece of string which could snap at any time,” she continued.
Shattering the common misconception that success guarantees happiness, Caroline added: “People see the celebrity lifestyle and assume everything is perfect, but we’re just like everyone else. Everyone is battling something emotional behind closed doors – that’s life. Fame doesn’t make you happy.”
On ending the stigma of mental illness
Caroline bravely went public with her mental health battle in a bid to help others by removing the judgement that once surrounded it.
“You would tell people if you have taken Nurofen or Lemsip, but not anti-depressants,” she explained.
“There’s a stigma around it. I used to go to the chemist to collect my prescription on a Sunday, thinking the pharmacist had probably seen me on telly the night before.”
On why it is essential to ‘be kind’
In October last year, Caroline bravely took to social media to discuss her struggles with anxiety and personal fears as she marked Mental Health Day with a poignant post.
Sharing a black and white photograph of herself, she opened up to fans and followers with a candid statement about her own mental health – as she urged others to show compassion to those who could be struggling.
“I wanted to write something about mental health day last week but I was knee deep in work. And some days it’s hard to write your feelings of your not in the right place,” she wrote as she took to Instagram to share her personal thoughts.
“The last few weeks I’ve been in a really weird place… I find it hard to talk about it .. I guess it’s anxiety and pressure of life,” she continued.
“And when I actually reached out to someone they said I was draining. I feel like this is why some people keep their emotions to themselves,” she wrote.
“I certainly hate talking about my feelings. And being a burden is my biggest fear…. I’m lucky to be able to pick myself up when things feel s***. But what happens if someone can’t,” she continued.
“Be nice to people. You never know what’s going on. Ever,” she added.
* Samaritans (116 123) operates a 24-hour service available every day of the year. If you prefer to write down how you’re feeling, or if you’re worried about being overheard on the phone, you can email Samaritans at email@example.com