REALITY BITES BACK: Love Islander Chris Hughes Takes on The Sun Over Jesy Nelson Reporting and Impact on Mental Health

  • LOVE ISLAND star Chris Hughes has blamed fake news in The Sun for undermining his mental health
  • HE IS joined by fellow former islander Sam Gowland in calling out UK’s biggest tabloid over false stories
  • IT CAME two months after Love Island’s presenter Caroline Flack took her own life – becoming the third person linked to the ITV2 programme to do so
  • MS FLACK had been the subject of heavy newspaper intrusion before her death, as;
  • NEW ANALYSIS suggests Little Mix singer Jesy Nelson, who dated Mr Hughes, is now becoming a major tabloid target

Earnest : Chris Hughes discussing mental health and the impact of bullying on Jesy Nelson on ITV’s This Morning show
Earnest: Chris Hughes discussing mental health and the impact of bullying on Jesy Nelson on ITV’s This Morning show

A STAR of the controversial ITV2 reality show Love Island has accused The Sun of harming his mental health with untrue and invasive reporting – just three months after its presenter Caroline Flack took her own life amid complaints of relentless press intrusion.

Former contestant Chris Hughes says one journalist for the Murdoch tabloid “laughed” when told that a false story they published about his relationship with Little Mix pop singer Jesy Nelson had left him “the lowest I’ve ever felt in my life”.

The alleged incident came two months to the day that The Sun ran a “brutal” Valentine’s story about Love Island’s long-term presenter Caroline Flack who – 24 hours after publication – killed herself as she faced trial for domestic assault.

Tweet:  Former Love Island contestant Chris Hughes hitting out on Twitter
Tweet: Former Love Island contestant Chris Hughes hitting out on Twitter

An inquest at Poplar Coroner’s Court has still yet to fully examine the circumstances of her death, but is scheduled to do so in August. Ms Flack’s was the third suicide by people connected to Love Island, after former contestants Sophie Gradon and Mike Thalassitis.

Following the publication of an article on April 14 about his private life headlined “Chris Hughes is convinced Jesy Nelson still loves him and has insisted they’re just ‘on a break’”, Mr Hughes, 27, took to Twitter to complain about the conduct of The Sun’s showbiz reporter Ellie Henman.

Hounded : Caroline Flack arriving at Highbury Corner Magistrates’ Court, London, on December 23, 2019 (c) Creative Commons licence
Hounded: Caroline Flack arriving at Highbury Corner Magistrates’ Court, London, on December 23, 2019 (c) Creative Commons licence

Linking to The Sun’s story, Mr Hughes Tweeted to his 515k followers: “Just made up bullshit. Girl who published this… literally laughed down the phone to my manager when he told her you’re making me feel the lowest I’ve ever felt in my life and you’ve given us no right to reply before publishing. These people don’t care about anyone.”

Although the Editors’ code of Practice of Press ‘self-regulator’ IPSO stresses the need for members like The Sun to report accurately and give a fair opportunity to reply to significant inaccuracies, when reasonably called for, Ms Henman instead responded in real-time on Twitter.

Tabloid focus:  Chris Hughes and Jesy Nelson attending the National Television Awards 2020 held at the O2 Arena, London (c) PA
Tabloid focus: Chris Hughes and Jesy Nelson attending the National Television Awards 2020 held at the O2 Arena, London (c) PA

First the journalist attacked Mr Hughes’ complaint as “absolute lies”, before casting blame on his manager for not phoning in response to her email about the story, which relied on unverifiable anonymous sources supposedly speaking for Mr Hughes’ intimate feelings on his relationship.

But The Sun’s combative and direct act of self-defence backfired when both Mr Hughes, his manager Jim Erwood, and a vocal group of supporters – including Sam Gowland, another former Love Island star who claims to be a victim of fake news written by Ms Henman – hit back.


Mr Hughes Tweeted: “Wow you’re calling me a lair (sic). Jesus. It’s true Ellie, don’t defend yourself cus you’ve been called out. You lot try and bury me every time I have a break up, or anything ever happens to me. Just leave me alone. I’ve spoke to nobody about my situation. I’m cut up. Leave me alone.”

Mr Erwood, of Off Limits Entertainment management, then addressed the email to which Ms Henman referred, and claimed that parts of The Sun’s story had been changed in response to threats to report its behaviour to IPSO.


Mr Erwood Tweeted: “You sent an email that didn’t reflect the story, no mention of quotes or sources – when I told you I was going to lodge a complaint with IPSO remarkably within 12 minutes a new quote from Jesy’s pals. I told you about how it was making Chris feel and you couldn’t have cared less”

Simon Clare, a well-known public relations practitioner, also denounced Ms Henman’s journalism and called for the article to be taken down, making clear the negative impact it was having on Mr Hughes’ mental health.

It remained on The Sun’s website when this story was published.


Mr Clare Tweeted: “Ellie you now know that your story is entirely untrue, without any foundation and is deeply distressing to Chris.

“Given how damaging this type of story can be to the people involved I would ask you to take it down as for it it (sic) remain permanently online would be extremely cruel”

Accusation:  Sam Gowland claims to have fallen victim to fake news by  The Sun ( c) ITV2 Love Island
Accusation: Sam Gowland claims to have fallen victim to fake news by The Sun (c) ITV2 Love Island

Many critics on Twitter evoked the troubled circumstances surrounding the death of Ms Flack, who singled out – in a final Instagram message – The Sun’s coverage of her private relationship and legal case as a particular stressor prior to taking her own life.

One, fellow former Love Islander Sam Gowland also claimed to be a victim of false journalism by Ellie Henman and The Sun. He Tweeted: “Ah Chris she has written so many false articles about me it is unbelievable!! A don’t know how she sleeps at night knowing the mental effect it can have on people ! She is the lowest of the low”


Twitter user @Sarahlouxxo192, a mental health services advocate, commented: And this guys… is the paper who promoted #BeKind following the harassment and tragic death of @carolineflack1 its like they’ve waited for a while before they go on to now attack and target someone else.”

The Sun’s fresh Love Island backlash comes in the week the 2020 edition of the show was cancelled by coronavirus and as new research suggests Jesy Nelson is herself attracting similar levels of tabloid attention as Ms Flack did, according to a special analysis of British newspaper publishing patterns.

The research from press reform campaign Hacked Off suggests click-hungry media organisations are turning to Ms Nelson, who spoke last October about her own mental health in a BBC documentary Odd One Out in which she discussed cyber bullying.

According to Hacked Off, some 57 articles were written about the 28-year-old singer between April 8 and 14, at an average of eight per day – or one for every working hour – in the week leading to Ms Henman’s article.

Separate research by this website shows Ms Flack was the subject of around 60 articles in a similar range of publications in the week to February 14, 2020, the eve of her death. 

Troubled : Caroline Flack in December 2019
Troubled: Caroline Flack in December 2019

A number of the stories about Jesy Nelson focused on her relationship with Chris Hughes and ranged from the speculative, to the intrusive, to the inane, Hacked Off found.

Most relied heavily on rumours and unnamed “insiders” or “friends”. Others reported banal details, such as describing Ms Nelson’s attire in pictures on social media.

Hacked Off is calling for effective regulation of the UK’s national newspaper industry.

Director Kyle Taylor said: “It is disturbing to see publications reporting on intimate details of Ms Nelson’s personal life on such a scale.

“Elements of the press’ obsession with uncovering people’s private lives is intrusive and can have significant effects on the target’s mental health.

Research : Kyle Taylor of Hacked Off
Research: Kyle Taylor of Hacked Off

“The attitude of some newspapers, that the private lives of well-known individuals exist for clickbait, shows no sign of changing regardless of the impact it has on those affected.

“Every other industry in the UK is properly regulated, from broadcast media, to legal services, to finance. Yet newspaper websites read by millions of people every day get away with intrusive reporting with no recourse for those impacted.”

Mr Taylor added: “No-one should be forced to see the intimate moments of their lives exposed, interrogated and exploited in the pages of newspapers and magazines – least of all someone who has been so open about the mental health challenges they have faced.”

Ms Nelson found fame when put with three other singers – Jade Thirlwall, Perrie Edwards and Leigh-Anne Pinnock – on the 2011 reality talent show X Factor to form group ‘Little Mix’.


They went on to be crowned winners – the first time a group had won the British version of the show – and are now one of the world’s most popular girl bands, selling an estimated 50 million albums and singles worldwide, and winning 42 music awards.

The personal lives of the four group members have been widely discussed in the media, which has chronicled the ins and outs of a relationship between Ms Nelson and Mr Hughes since January 2019.

Ms Flack – who won the BBC’s flagship entertainment show Strictly Come Dancing in 2014 – faced similar press scrutiny of her private life prior to her death in February, aged 40.

The coverage stretched back into the 2000s when she was a young presenter making her way in TV and grew when she was linked to Prince Harry around the time in 2009 that she started presenting ITV2 reality show I’m A Celebrity get Me Out Of Here Now!

mobile phone

Byline Investigates revealed in February how the Mail on Sunday (MoS) used Ms Flack’s private mobile phone communications to reveal her friendship with Prince Harry, while he is also separately suing The Sun’s publisher News UK, as well as newsstand rivals Mirror Group Newspapers, for phone hacking.

His wife, Meghan Markle, Duchess of Sussex, is currently suing the MoS over its publication of a personal letter she wrote to her father Thomas Markle. The couple announced this month they would no longer be engaging with the British tabloid press.

The MoS published two articles in quick succession based around Prince Harry and Ms Flack’s personal phone habits. It was written by Katie Nicholl, a showbusiness reporter with known links to phone hackers.

In one, she revealed a brief two-month relationship between Ms Flack and Prince Harry in 2009, with the words: “[He is] constantly texting Sky TV presenter Caroline Flack.”

Ms Flack later revealed in her 2015 autobiography Storm in a C-Cup that her relationship with Prince Harry ended shortly after it had been publicly reported in the British media.

Coverage of Ms Flack’s private life was constant but intensified when she was alleged to have assaulted her boyfriend, tennis professional and former model Lewis Burton, 28, last December.

She had been due to stand trial in March but was found dead at her home in North-East London on February 15.

Ms Flack had come in for heavy criticism by the tabloid press, including The Sun on Sunday, which ran photographs purportedly of the alleged crime scene covered in Ms Flack’s blood.

Following Ms Flack’s death, British politicians, including now Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, Conservative Party Ministers Grant Shapps, Matt Hancock, and Nadine Dorries, Lib Dem MP Daisy Cooper, and Labour MP Kate Osamor, all condemned traditional and social media over the treatment of Ms Flack.

Byline Investigates has sought comment from The Sun and Ellie Henman in relation to this article.

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