Mother whose daughter died after she had been to Love Island, demands that ITV end the “cruel circus.”
Deborah Gradon was torn between grief and anger when she heard a week ago that Love Island presenter Caroline Flack had taken her own life.
“That poor girl was thrown in for the wolves,” she says.
“ITV2 must have seen the vulnerability in it. They must have known what her career meant to her.
“She was everywhere. They have access to the best clinical psychiatrists that London has to offer. The question that haunts me is whether they could have done more to help her. I feel that they owed Caroline and our daughter the same duty of care when they left the show. “
Deborah Gradon (photo) was torn with grief and anger when she heard a week ago that Love Island presenter Caroline Flack had taken her own life
Deborah’s daughter is Sophie Gradon, the former Miss Great Britain who appeared in the second series Love Island in 2016 and never returned.
In June 2018, she was found hanged at the family home in the Northumberland countryside.
Sophie, 32, was Deborah and the beloved only child of her husband Colin. They have never recovered. Deborah says they will never do that.
“I could barely breathe when I read about Caroline,” she says.
“I managed to walk on to the kitchen, where my husband asked what was wrong. I said, “Caroline Flack was found dead in her apartment.” He just put his head in his hands and we were both in astonished silence.
“Then my phone started beeping with messages from people … it catapulted me back into hell – all those emotions we had after the loss of Sophie.”
Deborah, 60-year-old Deborah continues, “I had come to the point where I could talk and talk to people, something like that happens and you just want to go to bed and not get up. The only emotion you feel is the void, the void.
‘Losing your child is suffering unspeakable loss. And too many parents have lost their children because of this three-ring circus. “
Sophie was the first person involved in the reality TV show to take her own life after struggling with anxiety and depression.
Last year, a second participant, Mike Thalassitis, 26, was found hanging in a park in North London.
Deborah’s daughter is Sophie Gradon, the former Miss Great Britain who appeared in the second series of Love Island in 2016 (photo) and has never recovered
The Gradons hoped that what they call “the Machiavellian project that benefits from the trauma and humiliation of the participants” would be called to account if the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport would conduct its own investigation into the deaths and those of Jeremy Kyle Show guest Steve Dymond – but that ended when Parliament was dissolved in December for the general election and may never be picked up again.
“I hoped we would be called as parents,” says Deborah.
“I thought we would be asked to provide evidence about the way of thinking, the manipulation and what Sophie was like.
“When I heard about Caroline, I thought I would find out where the committee is now. Caroline definitely needs to add something. But when I checked online, it said “status closed.”
‘You hope that they will record the research because there is no mention of reality TV.
“I feel that the ITV is allowed to unleash a very uncomfortable hook, and that the government is sweeping this issue under the carpet.”
Colin, 62, nods in agreement. The couple runs a lucrative land maintenance company that has not only paid for the beautiful four-bedroom house where we meet, but also a two-bedroom apartment in Newcastle and a Range Rover for Sophie.
You know they would trade it in an instant to have their beautiful daughter back.
“We just exist,” says Deborah.
‘The person for whom you live is not here and you wonder why. Why? What is the purpose of life? We will not have grandchildren. We have no future. Everything we dreamed about has disappeared. “
Sophie was the first person involved in the reality TV show to take her own life after struggling with anxiety and depression. Pictured: Sophie Gradon, 5 years old, with mother Deborah and father Colin
Sophie’s parents hope to convince the government to legally lay down tighter controls of reality TV programs. Pictured: Sophie Gradon, 7 years old, on vacation
Deborah sheds tears, while Colin starts making tea. His grief is less clear but painful to testify.
Sophie loved her father. Three days before her death, on Father’s Day, she posted a photo of her as a canoe with him on social media. “Happy Father’s Day!” she wrote. ‘My rock and my absolute world, always full of adventure !!! Dadda, I love you so much. “
“They all want to become Insta famous, don’t they? Her is a generation of direct satisfaction and yes, we have spoiled her, “admits Colin, who, in addition to giving his daughter a private education and allowance, spends her vacation with Mallorca to, Mallorca, Ibiza, Dubai, Tenerife and elsewhere acquired.
‘Not a day goes by that we don’t think, if we hadn’t spoiled her, could things be different? But when they grow up, you do everything you can, don’t you?
‘It not only gives them money and cars. It is cuddling and there are times when times are difficult. Spend time with them when they are small. Reading stories before bedtime, whatever. Yes, you spoil them.
“She had her horses and dogs. She absolutely loved her dogs. She was looking after them at home while we were in Norfolk when … “He can’t bring himself to finish the sentence. “This one is Sophie’s dog, Minnie.” She is a “puggle” – half pug, half beagle.
“That’s something we couldn’t understand. Minnie has kidney problems, so if she hadn’t been given water, she could have gone. Sophie has left her to possibly die.
“When the balance of the mind is torn so that something as important as your little dog doesn’t mean anything to you, has something pretty catastrophic happened?”
“We believe she suffered from undiagnosed post-traumatic stress disorder – and we know exactly when it started: when she was bullied on Love Island.”
ITV, to borrow its own word, “improved” the psychological support it offered to participants after Mike Thalassitis’ second Love Island suicide, 26, last year. Pictured: Sophie Gradon, 15 years old
This is the first interview of the Gradons since the suicide of their daughter.
A dignified, deeply private couple, they speak with crude honesty in this emotional interview, hoping that it will persuade the government to lay down tighter controls of reality TV shows in law.
They mainly want a law that ensures that program makers provide support to those who appear in such shows.
“Can you imagine how the participants on the island will feel now when the show is over?” Deborah says.
“They don’t know what happened to Caroline, so they run around that villa to smoke, laugh and drink. When the show ends, they are taken to a side room one by one and told what happened to Caroline. “
Although Laura Whitmore is the presenter of this series (Caroline Flack stepped down when she was accused of mistreatment), Deborah still believes that competitors had the right to know that someone associated with Love Island had died.
“They should have been given the choice of staying in the light of events or going home. But the production team has taken away their ability to make that decision. ”
After Sophie’s death, Deborah discovered messages that her daughter had sent to a fellow Love Island participant about their shared experiences.
“I found private messages she had sent to someone she was at the villa with on a phone she’d borrowed from me,” Deborah says.
“They were all about how the show had merged with her head and made her sick. It gave me a good insight into her mind. “
Deborah said: ‘How many families must be destroyed in this way? There is our family, there is the family of Mike and now there is the family of Caroline ‘
To show what she means, Deborah gives me the phone and I read some messages.
‘Hello darling, it’s mental. I have also been a bit s *****. It is a huge brain teaser, but it must have been difficult for you. How do you feel now?’ reads one.
In another, she writes: “I think some of us then found it scary and difficult. I completely understand where you come from. “
Sophie was approached to participate in Love Island via social media, and it was clear that things were not right from the moment she got home.
“She said to her mother,” I think I need some help, some advice, “says Colin.
“We said ITV2 telephone, which she did. They offered her ten minutes by phone during a Skype conversation. That was it. Their duty of care was really shocking. She shouldn’t have had access to the show. “
Sophie was a vulnerable young woman who had been suffering from anxiety problems for years.
“She used medication,” says Colin. ‘Her moods can fluctuate from one extreme to the other. It started after a friend died in a car accident when she was 17.
“We didn’t want her to go to the show, but we thought that if she asked her if she was taking medication, that would put an end to it. They asked, but only said they would make sure she got her medicine. “
ITV, to borrow its own word, “improved” the psychological support it offered the participants after Love Island’s second suicide last year.
ITV says that pre- and aftercare measures have been taken, including psychological and medical support for the islanders.
However, clips from Love Island 2016 now make it difficult to view. In addition to entering into a relationship with bartender Tom Powell, Sophie ‘combined’ the glamor model Katie Salmon and became Love Island’s first same-sex couple. But as the show progressed, tensions with her fellow participants increased and Sophie was often in tears.
“It was heartbreaking to see,” says Deborah. “At one point no one spoke to her, so she walked through the villa alone. The production team played Sound of Silence by Simon and Garfunkel. What kind of message did that give the viewers? It’s the subliminal message, “It’s OK to bully. It’s OK to isolate.”
“She asked to leave four times, but somehow stayed. She knew she wanted to get out.
“It didn’t feel right, but she made good TV, which was good for advertising. It was that simple: pounds, shillings and pennies – blood money.
“They tried to get her to have a relationship with Katie Salmon. She was not interested. It was completely written and directed. Sophie didn’t want to do it. She was told that they were the first female couple of the same sex to win a dating reality show and it would be huge.
“She said,” I’m not going to be part of it. It’s a lie. I want to leave. I can’t do this anymore. ” The fourth time they let her go. “
Sophie left the island to abuse internet scrolls on an extraordinary scale. The cyberbullying contained comments such as “I hate you, I wish you would die of cancer” and “Sophie is the ugliest girl there. Her skin is s ***, just like her eyelashes.
For every bad thing that was said, there would be a hundred good things. But Sophie has always focused on the bad.
Her parents noticed signs of anxiety when she started to struggle and spend much of the day in bed.
“The appearance also began to decline,” says Deborah. “She came out in July and was initially invited to film premieres on Leicester Square. By October it would be an invitation to open a local supermarket.
“That destroyed her. She considered it a personal blemish. She thought she wasn’t good enough. Then many new participants came out in 2017 and she was the fish-and-chip paper yesterday. “
Gradually, with the support of her family, Sophie seemed to overcome her mental health problems. She started giving lectures about the harm of cyberbullying and encouraged young people to use social media responsibly.
Her online support grew to 300,000 when she established herself as a respected influencer. The day she took her life, she had a £ 7,000 contract per month for a shoe company.
“She gave a presentation to Leeds Education Authority in March before we lost her,” says Deborah.
“She was so eloquent and funny that the Q&A, which would last 25 minutes, lasted an hour.
“I thought,” She went through “. When we lost her, I read her speech again. She had put small pencil notes on it. One read: “Most of the time I was alone with alcohol because I sincerely believed that I was a bad person and honestly did not want to be.”
“I thought,” My God, how can anyone have that on you if you don’t know them? ” but they came into her head because she was battered by her experience on Love Island. “
Colin and Deborah were on vacation in Norfolk when Sophie took her life. They had texted and spoken to each other the day before her body was discovered. Nothing seemed to be wrong.
“I sent her a message and she sent a message back, exchanging script lines from Ab Fab,” says Deborah. “She would be Patsy and I would be Eddie. “Are you shopping baby?” “Yes, I’m shopping honey.” “Did you go by public transport?” “I think so. Anyone can.” That kind of foolishness. “
The next morning a friend of Colin’s called. “He said,” Are you going to sit down? “Colin says. Deborah continues: “I couldn’t believe it. I screamed.’
“These are the worst words you would ever want to hear in your life,” says Colin, while he is about to make another cup of tea.
“My sister brought us back,” says Deborah. “Then it all crumbled. Everything collapsed. I could not accept it. I still can’t. There was no note. We don’t know a single letter. “
ITV2 made no contact and did not even send a sympathetic card to Sophie’s parents.
“You hear the music on TV that promotes the show and it pinches your stomach,” says Deborah. “I want Love Island to be taken out of the sky. It is a theater of cruelty. Modern bear catching does not belong in contemporary culture.
“How many families have to be destroyed this way? There is our family, there is the family of Mike and now there is the family of Caroline. “
Kevin Lygo, television director at ITV, said: “After Caroline stepped down from the show, ITV made it clear that the door had been left open for her to return, and the Love Island production team kept in regular contact with her and continued to provide support in recent months. “
But Deborah wonders if more could have been done.
“Caroline was tired,” she says. “She was so often beaten by the negativity of the trolling. She lost the courage to continue.
“To think that a girl can be destroyed in the name of entertainment. The government must tighten controls for these types of programs – but we must all take responsibility for this. “
- For confidential support, call the Samaritans on 116123 or visit a local Samaritan branch, see www.samaritans.org for details.