Treat People With Kindness

Storm In A C Cup by Caroline Flack (Simon & Schuster, 2015).

Storm In A C Cup, the autobiography of television and radio presenter and occasional actor Caroline Flack, was originally published in 2015 at the height of her popularity and celebrity – which, it’s easy to forget, was absolutely enormous. It’s a book that I’ve struggled to read, although not for the reasons that the more snarky and sneering and extremely vocal if extremely few pockets of ‘the public’ – who always weirdly seem to assume that I’m on their ‘side’ for some reason – might presumably expect.

Those same individuals probably would not have expected me to have read Storm In A C Cup, and to be honest it isn’t a book that I would have expected to read either. Not out of any reason related to intellectual snobbery or cultural outrage, though – simply on account of the fact that it was so far outside of my orbit that it was in some ways surprising that I would even have been aware of it at all. In fact I really only owned it by accident.

I was given a copy of Storm In A C Cup several years back by somebody in Caroline’s entourage while we were both sitting in an artist hospitality room in a media studio; she was no doubt there to participate in something considerably more prestigious than I was. This was not as glamorous an exchange as it might sound, as they were handing out copies to pretty much anyone in sight, presumably in the hope that they would post photos of themselves holding it up and grinning on social media – and this is the point at which I have to slightly sheepishly admit that I didn’t. While we have to be honest about this here and stress that Caroline would have had even less of an idea of who I was, I obviously had heard of her and she seemed pleasant enough in the brief chatty exchange that followed – which was primarily sparked by what appeared to be a genuine curiosity about the other book I was carrying around, the wonderful Secret Diary Of A 1970s Secretary by Sarah Shaw (which you can get from here if you’ve never heard of it) – but I have to admit that I didn’t really understand who she was. That whole big brash showbizzy reality show world is a little outside my usual areas of interest, and as a consequence I didn’t really feel particularly inclined to read it. Storm In A C Cup immediately disappeared into a huge pile of books. We all know what happened next.

Following what happened next, I felt that I really ought to read Storm In A C Cup, and it absolutely was not what I had been expecting, although knowing what all of this was leading towards made the experience something of a daunting one and I repeatedly found myself having to put it to one side and rattle through something lighter and funnier for brief respite. Well, I say lighter and funnier, but this was the real surprise. Storm In A C Cup is no rushed-out banged-in glossed-over take-the-advance-and-run ego-driven lightweight rush job. You could understandably be forgiven for expecting this, given the sheer volume of celebrity autobiographies that nobody asked for that deliver nothing other than the possibility that they will be bought for Christmas for that difficult-to-buy-for relative who you saw watching them on something once only to be ejected into the charity shops by February. Caroline freely and readily admits from the outset that her life has been relatively undramatic and that her career has yet to take off in the directions that she personally might have hoped it would. In amongst all of the at least entertainingly told anecdotes about Strictly Come Dancing and The X Factor, there are amusing stories about trying to sneakily stay up late to watch horror films on television as a youngster and frank admissions of the shortcomings of many of the early digital television shows she had worked on. Not even her big career moments escape this entirely, and where even so many major names with acclaimed autobiographies only ever mention many of their most significant works in passing, usually getting the title wrong in the process, you do actually end up feeling like you’re there at ITV3 with her struggling to read a broken autocue. There are no doubt many who followed Charlie Brooker’s Screen Burn columns and their demolition of such early excursions into interactive light entertainment who would have considered Caroline Flack the ‘enemy’; in reality she and Charlie might well have had more in common than anyone expected.

What emerges from Storm In A C Cup – quite unexpectedly – is a sense of someone who was more thoughtful and sensitive than many around her ever seem to have given her credit for, let alone the general public, and who appears to have genuinely been at her happiest when catching up with her teenage friends watching no-profile indie bands in rathole indie venues. That said, regardless of how they may have slipped under the radar at the time, there are what are in retrospect clear and worrying signs of supressed depression and struggles with mental health, which begin to take a nasty turn towards the end. Most notably there is her reaction to a bewildering spell of tabloid vilification for the unspeakable crime of being a single woman in her thirties, spearheaded by a foul Jan Moir opinion piece which evidently caused some very deep wounding. There is also a disturbing section about a trip to Africa with Comic Relief, where Caroline is haunted by the stories she heard from villagers in warzones and is open-mouthed that certain other unnamed celebrities on the trip unashamedly did not give a fuck and were only there for the publicity. Everything ends on a high with a promise of exciting things ahead, but… well.

Nothing that led up to that ‘well’ is any of my concern or even my fucking business, but an important point remains – it is all too easy to make ‘enemies’ out of people who plainly and simply aren’t. Not enjoying what they do, not feeling that they conform to some self-defined pious notion of artistic integrity, or just straight up finding them annoying are not a good enough reason to hang a ‘KICK ME’ sign on the back of someone who has done little or nothing demonstrably ‘wrong’. You are not going to change the world by violently or performatively shouting about how much you dislike a lowbrow sitcom or a bland rock band, but you are going to make someone uncomfortable or unhappy, and foster an atmosphere where the very big feel entirely justified in going after the very small for the same reasons, only to then wash their hands and claim they are not responsible for the actions of their audience; speaking as someone who has next to no audience, I’m still only too aware that the buck stops with me sometimes and I’m continually astonished by how many with a larger platform do not seem to be able to grasp this. It’s all fun and games to the people joining in, but somewhere else someone could be finding themselves having to explain themselves to friends and family over something that is largely untrue, or trying to juggle grief with a string of abusive messages over a review someone got high and mighty about, or suffering unwarranted career damage, or self-harming or worse. There are probably some who would still see this as a ‘victory’, and frankly – along with the handful of accounts who will reply to this on social media with ‘I don’t know, seemed shallow and vain to me – even named her book after her tits lol’ or obsessively trawl for something I’ve said in the past that they can draw a false equivalence with – they are people that I would actively worry about. Even if they don’t demonstrate any level of concern for anyone else.

Harry Styles, a former partner of Caroline Flack who no doubt had a deeper understanding and experience of what led up to that ‘well’ than any of the rest of us, paid tribute to her with his 2021 single Treat People With Kindness, a sky-rocketing anthem of joy that even someone who would normally quietly say that they mainly listen to sixties soundtracks and jazz and leave it at that would enthusiastically describe as an absolute belter of a song. Far removed from the current mean-spirited and judgemental demands to ‘Be Kind’ from people who quite demonstrably are not, the message of the lyrics – inspired by an interview where David Bowie said more or less the exact same thing – is that we should all just try to do so in small ways wherever we can rather than just demanding others do it for us, which was a sentiment that frankly we all needed to hear in that miserable year. It didn’t get through to everyone, though. If you’ve not seen Eternals yet, you might want to skip the rest of this paragraph – although given that I had this ‘spoilered’ for me ahead of the movie’s actual release by Steve Wright on Radio 2 glibly reading out a leaked report from a press screening in the same convincing and not at all remotely disinterested tone of voice he would more normally use to express an opinion that people will get Compact Discs mixed up with coins of money I don’t feel as wary of revealing this particular plot detail as I might normally do and yes I am making this as lengthy as possible in the hope of giving you an opportunity to avoid being ‘spoilered’ too – but Harry Styles shows up unannounced as Starfox, Thanos’ handsome, amorous, hedonistic and joy-spreading brother, which even if you had been made aware of it in advance was still difficult not to take some delight in. Except it seems that nobody told the two ‘lads’ sitting in front of me, who loudly declaimed ‘ar ey fuckin’ ell not that bellend I can’t stand him’ because the entire audience needed to know what side of the war against pop music that isn’t aimed at them and that they don’t have to listen to they were on. Never mind Harry Styles, perhaps they could have treated a large number of people who had gone to see and enjoy a movie with kindness?

Storm In A C Cup is not Moab Is My Washpot, but then it’s not Jacob Rees-Mogg’s book full of spurious historical detail he’d just made up either. Simon & Schuster have confirmed that Caroline had been working on another book which ‘blended aspects of self-help with her personal recollections on maintaining good mental health’, and what a tragedy it is that we never got to see that. Even if you are someone who believes they never judge a book by its cover, you can still do that – literally – without realising, and that we never really know what’s going on in the heads of the rich and famous, or even those who are neither but have aroused the idle ire of far too many for far too few reasons. Maybe you should read it, and maybe you should think twice the next time someone you feel the urge to join in with bullying anyone who has done nothing to deserve it.

Or, if you will, Treat People With Kindness.

Caroline Flack reading Storm In A C Cup  (Simon & Schuster, 2015).

Get Storm In A C Cup

You can get Storm In A C Cup from Amazon here.

Further Reading

You can read about someone who actually did treat people with kindness here.

Further Listening

Darrell Maclaine joined me on Looks Unfamiliar for a rip-roaring chat about Carols At Christmas by The Greater Manchester Police Choir, FunFax: Disguise And False Identity, Rubik’s Clock, The Brennan JB7 Advert, VTech Master Video Painter and the Children’s BBC Broom Cupboard 1996 April Fool’s Day Hoax here.

© Tim Worthington.
Please don’t copy this only with more italics and exclamation marks.