Producers at the BBC told broadcaster Laura Whitmore that she needn’t come to work the day after Caroline Flack’s death, but Laura was determined to pay tribute to her friend.
Speaking exclusively on Yahoo’s podcast, White Wine Question Time, Laura said she found out that Caroline had died on 15 February via Twitter, and initially disregarded it as fake news.
READ MORE: Laura Whitmore discusses grief and guilt following death of Caroline Flack
“I found out in a way I wish I didn't,” she told podcast host Kate Thornton. “It was something on Twitter that someone had tweeted that I disregarded because there's always so much stuff. There's so many things that would be said about Caroline that you wouldn't really take everything as truth.”
Once the news was confirmed, the current Love Island host knew she had to speak up and tell the truth about her friend – and also address the current culture of social media trolls and click-bait headlines.
“I just felt I had so much that I wanted to say,” she said.
“Maybe because of how I found out and also the fact that my immediate reaction was, ‘Well that's not true’ – because there's always things being said about different people online; this culture that has started and how we tear people down.”
She went on: “I knew that people would be looking for a quote from me or I'd be followed. [I thought] I'm going to do this on my terms, in my safe space.”
Caroline’s death happened on a Saturday, the day before Laura’s BBC Radio 5 Live show and the former MTV presenter says she didn’t make a decision about what she was going to do until the last minute.
“I didn't really make a decision until the morning of. I knew that they had cover in case,” she said.
“I just wrote on Saturday night how I felt and then I decided on Sunday that I wanted to read it. But I didn't know if it was the right thing to do.
“No one changed what I said. I said, ‘If I'm going to say it, I can't read a tribute or a news story as a news story’. It has to be truth and my truth.”
In a heart-wrenching speech delivered on her Radio 5 Live show, Laura said she wanted to give her friend “the respect she deserves and didn’t always get” and she went on to warn people about the effect of their harsh words on social networks and within the media.
Fighting back tears, she said: “Anyone who’s ever compared one woman to another on Twitter, knocked someone, because of their appearance, invaded someone else’s privacy, who have made mean unnecessary comments on an online forum, need to look at themselves.
“You don’t have to tear down someone to feel good about yourself… Be kind. Only you are responsible for how you treat others and for what you put out in the world.”
During the episode of White Wine Question Time, podcast host Kate Thornton revealed she had spoken to a high-profile radio executive that described Laura’s emotional tribute as one of the “biggest moments in radio”.
While Laura had the support of her close friends and family, not everyone supported her decision to read her tribute. “Everyone gave me their opinion and a lot of people said don't do it,” she admitted to Kate. “Don't say anything because you're too raw.”
“But at the end I just had to go with my gut, because in the past I haven't always gone with my gut and probably that's my biggest regret sometimes.”
Laura, who recently won an award for her writing and acting, said that while it was a “weird situation” it’s important to maintain the dialogue, even when the subject matter isn’t the easiest to broach.
“We need to talk about things, the uncomfortable things,” she said. “There's no right or wrong way. Some people don't want to talk and that's fine. I just felt like I had this space that felt very safe.
She added: “I didn't want to make it about me. It just felt like something had to be said and then I didn't want to talk about it again.” Listen to the full episode below.
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Hear Laura Whitmore talk more about the grief she felt after Caroline’s death, and how dancing helps heal her, on the latest episode of White Wine Question Time. Listen now on iTunes and Spotify.