IN the wake of the utterly tragic death of Caroline Flack, I’m happy that I am not the only person who has been reflecting on the importance of kindness this week.
And the power of words to hurt, even destroy, lives.
It’s easy to say that words will never hurt us.
But the truth is that internet trolls who attack and criticise people — often women — create a negativity that chips away at the soul.
We all know that online trolls are cowards who allow themselves not to think about how much harm they cause as they hide behind the veil of social media.
But sadly, Caroline is just the latest in a long line of celebrities who turn out to be as human as the next person — susceptible to words of hatred and scorn that are, I am afraid to report, an inevitable and nasty side-effect of being a woman in the public eye.
I have pretty much always been on the receiving end of abuse, often from football supporters who can spout the most hateful stuff.
More often than not it comes from middle-aged men with daughters and families of their own who still think it is somehow OK to have a go at me even though I have nothing to do with transfers or the team and clearly don’t play football (not that that would make it OK either).
STEADY STREAM OF ABUSE
The abuse I get is vile. And so much worse now than it’s ever been.
It is very personal, hateful and targeted. Internet trolls often reduce me to the way I look as a way of attempting to belittle me.
“Slag” and “slut” are words I often read — the words that are used to sexualise abuse against women.
I’m a resilient person. And, at the age of 50, I’ve got a lot of life experience under my belt.
But it can still get to me.
It’s not the individual attacks so much as the steady stream of abuse — people talking about slapping me, killing me and accusing me of things I haven’t done.
PEOPLE CAN BE VILE
I’ll be honest. Instead of getting easier to handle, it gets harder.
Especially because my “misdemeanour” — and that of most women in the public eye who face abuse — is that I dare to put my head above the parapet, to have a mind and a voice of my own and to plough my own furrow.
I’m sure a lot of men (who don’t know me) would like me to get back in the kitchen and make the tea.
But even if I tell myself to ignore whatever it is being criticised — my weight, my hair, my job — and even if I know that the only thing that matters is what I think of myself, and what my family and friends think of me, that’s sometimes easier said than done.
People can be great, of course and often are. But they can also be vile. And the vile ones have more impact.
Twitter doesn’t do nearly enough to stop that. (The last time I reported a tweet to Twitter when someone said he was coming to “give me a slap”, I was told it did not violate their rules.)
My only power is to do the one thing they do not want me to do, ignore them.
The good news is that really is a powerful answer. And, increasingly, a new generation of young women realise that too.
Look at Billie Eilish, who already knows that the only possible way to stay sane is to turn off the trolls.
Although how sad it is that she should already know this.
Billie should be on top of the world. At 18 she is at No 1 in the charts singing the Bond theme tune and winning multiple awards.
But as she collected Best International Female Artist at the 2020 Brit awards on Tuesday she admitted that social media trolls have left her feeling “very hated”.
FEELING 'VERY HATED'
So she has decided to take a step back from social media.
“I’ve stopped reading comments,” she said. “It was ruining my life. It’s weird. The cooler the things you get to do, the more people hate you . . . the internet is ruining my life, so I turned it off.”
Poignantly it was Caroline herself who said, “In a world where you can be anything, be kind”.
That’s a great message. But in the meantime, if you are being trolled, here’s my best advice: Block, delete, ignore.
Jen's living her best life
ONE fantastic thing about being a woman in 2020 is just how many tremendous role models we are surrounded by of women in midlife who are, well, living their best life.
Take Jennifer Lopez, who posted this selfie in which she looked jaw-droppingly fit and fabulous at the age of, as it happens, 50.
I can’t help but observe that she’s the same age as me (hangs head in shame).
And she’s had twins!
While it’s a bit exhibitionist to post pictures of yourself wearing next to nothing, if I looked that good I’d be wearing a bikini on the Tube to work.
The lack of help is a floody disgrace
I’VE written a lot about why we should reduce the amount of foreign aid we are paying and instead spend the money at home.
And the best example of that I can come up with is Storm Dennis.
The recent weather has been so severe – the worst in 200 years – that thousands of Britons were forced to abandon their homes in what is a “national emergency”.
Thousands of residents in South Wales, Yorkshire, Shropshire, Worcestershire and Herefordshire were evacuated, leaving their homes to be wrecked by flood water.
Many flooded residents have given interviews saying the help they have been offered by authorities, or by anyone at all, is precisely zero.
They have been left to fend for themselves, which is just not good enough.
CHARITY BEGINS AT HOME
The foreign aid budget should be used to resolve this crisis and help these communities.
In the meantime, I don’t see a single foreign country coming to our aid when we have a crisis like this.
Charity begins at home, and with half the UK under water, this is a vital cause.
Taxpayers’ money should be going towards flood relief, not girl bands in Ethiopia (or whatever else it is they spend this budget on).
A look to dye for
IT’S a brave move for any woman to stop hitting the bottle – the dye bottle, that is – and go white overnight.
But Sharon Osborne’s decision to say goodbye to her trademark dark red hair after 18 years is as rejuvenating as it is brave.
Her new hairdo actually looks amazing.
She looks great – softer, somehow.
Note to self: As I have had the same haircut, length and colour for 50 years, Sharon is a good reminder that sometimes you have to change things up a bit.
Watch this space . . .
No hint of cruise control
WHEN honeymooners Alan and Wendy Steele boarded the Diamond Princess in Japan in January, they were looking forward to the trip of a lifetime to China, Vietnam and Taiwan.
What followed reads like the plot of a horror film. They found themselves confined to their cabin while fellow passengers and crew gradually dropped like flies, testing positive for coronavirus.
They swapped three-course dinners for boxed meals served by crew in masks and gloves.
Instead of being protected, the passengers were kept in what has been described by experts as a coronavirus “incubator” while attempts at quarantine failed profoundly – more than 500 people have so far been infected.
I feel so bad for them – but watching them on the news they seem lovely and chipper.
I hope all the passengers make a speedy recovery.
Something tells me their next holiday might be on dry land.
Time to ring the changes
MOST of us, probably jokingly, refer to ourselves as phone addicts every so often.
But the news that smartphone addiction can actually physically change the shape and size of the human brain, in a similar way that drugs affect the brain of an addict, is terrifying.
Images taken by an MRI scanner revealed the grey matter of people with smartphone addiction have lower volume in some key parts of the brain and decreased activity in some areas.
Similar patterns and trends of dwindling grey matter have also been recorded in the mind of drug addicts.
Isn’t that scary? We’ve all seen people so hooked that they walk along the street bumping into lampposts because they are glued to their screens. I call them phone zombies.
But instead of accepting this as part of life, maybe we should all resolve to put our devices down more often.
I’m certainly going to.
She's still Madge for it...
YOU’VE got to love Madonna’s continued refusal to “act her age”. Well, I love it anyway.
Not everyone does, though.
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When I saw the picture of her kissing toyboy lover Ahlamalik Williams on her Instagram feed after she finished the UK leg of her Madame X tour on Monday night, I could practically hear the sharp intake of breath from the naysayers who love to tell Madonna to get back in her box and behave as a 61-year-old woman “should”.
But would anyone so much as bat an eyelid if this was a 61-year-old man snogging a 25-year-old woman? I doubt it.
So instead of raising a judgmental eyebrow, let’s all congratulate Madonna for continuing to do her thing, whatever her age, and for being such an inspiration when it comes to cocking a massive snook at convention.