AFTER ten years in showbusiness, Olly Murs has endured plenty of highs and lows in the public eye.
But nothing could have prepared him for the tragic loss of his friend and former co-star Caroline Flack.
The 2009 X Factor runner-up became one of the show’s biggest success stories — launching a pop career which has boasted six hit albums and 18 singles.
His rise to the top even saw him return to the ITV singing contest as a host alongside Caroline, after the pair cut their teeth together presenting spin-off series The Xtra Factor.
The primetime role placed them at the helm of what was then the biggest entertainment brand on UK TV — but also saw them face vicious abuse from online trolls and critics, which Olly still remembers as the worst he has endured during his career.
Recalling the experience, he tells The Sun: “The worst I’ve ever had it was when me and Caz worked together presenting The X Factor. The online abuse from social media trolls was truly awful.
“I’ve never minded constructive criticism from my peers but with social media you get commented on — how you’re doing your job, how you look, how you speak, and things people wouldn’t dare say to your face.
“Eventually I stopped going on social media during the series, but something really does have to change online.
“Everyone should be verified and accountable on every platform.
“I’m accountable for what I say, and others should be too.
“Their words would then be attached to their real profile — not just someone hidden behind their computer using a false name.
“Then people would think twice about being so abusive.”
Five years later, the same online abuse is back in the spotlight after Caroline’s tragic death, aged just 40.
The popular Love Island presenter found herself subjected to a torrent of cruel jibes across social media, amid a battle to clear her name after an alleged domestic bust-up with her boyfriend.
Caroline was found dead at her London home on February 15, having apparently taken her own life.
The news sent shockwaves through the showbiz industry and Olly admits the devastating telephone call, which broke the news to him, will stay in his mind forever.
He recalls: “Even answering this question doesn’t seem right, to be honest. I’m still in shock, really.
“To think I won’t have a conversation, a laugh, work, or even just get a random voice note from Cazza again — I just can’t get my head around it.
“I heard the news when I was away on holiday.
“My phone went at 2.23am and I’ll never forget it.
“My manager told me and I just stared at my phone for hours, I didn’t know what to do.
“I just didn’t want to believe it.
“I was numb to any feelings and then I just broke down.
“Since then I just have constant waves of emotions — one minute I’m OK, the next I’m so sad for her.
“It’s hard, I’ll always miss Caz a lot.”
The bombshell news about Caroline’s passing came during Olly’s recent holiday with girlfriend Amelia Tank.
The break had been planned as part of his much-needed recuperation in the wake of knee surgery — the result of a debilitating injury which caused him to pile on weight.
But last week the singer stunned fans with a pair of before-and-after snaps posted on his Instagram, showing off his 2st weight loss following an intense six-week fitness regime.
And while Olly jokes that his bodybuilder girlfriend has been a huge support in helping him make the change, she did not force him into it.
Laughing, Olly explains: “No, it was all me really. Although she’s definitely been very supportive and helped me stick to it.
“When you have major surgery like I did, there were many days where I did nothing at home on the sofa.
“I couldn’t walk, let alone exercise, and I was so bored, so I would often raid the sweet drawer.
“One of the great things about Amelia is she is very active and in the gym a lot, so without her saying it, it encouraged me to get back in there.
“But I knew I needed to take it slow.
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“On January 2, I was 14st 3lb which is the heaviest I’ve been in a long time, but after surgery and six months of not doing much, it was understandable.
"Anyone who knows me knows I love my food, but I needed to change. So I asked the missus to help and she did.
“She basically got me to stick to a strict, lean diet for six weeks, three meals a day, two snacks, but it was actually fun to have that as a focus.
“I’m awful in the kitchen and rarely have time to cook, but I was out shopping every week, coming back and cooking all my own food.
“No processed sugar and just a small amount of carbs a day while training five times a week for an hour.”
Olly also turned to an overseas detox retreat popular with a host of celebrities, where he lived on nothing but juice for a week.
He adds: “I went to a juice retreat in Portugal run by a guy called Jason Vale, who I’d spoken to a few times, but I never had a reason to actually go.
“It was incredible — the best thing I’ve ever done — and I dropped another 10lb doing that.
“So, overall, in six weeks I went from 14st 3lb to 12st 10lb. So I lost 20lb. Magic Mike, here I come!”
After overhauling his lifestyle, Olly is back at work on ITV’s The Voice, where we meet backstage.
He’s also busy planning a host of new projects for 2020 after The Sun revealed he had launched his own TV production company.
The pre-recorded Voice auditions are already on air, with Olly now filming the later stages of the competition with his singing hopefuls.
But the standout moment of the series to date saw the star break down in tears over his fractured relationship with twin brother Ben.
After watching twins perform on stage, Olly became overwhelmed as he explained to co-stars Tom Jones, Meghan Trainor and Will.i.am that he had drifted apart from his sibling following an explosive row in 2009.
It stemmed from Olly missing his brother’s wedding to perform on The X Factor, with Ben publicly criticising his famous brother in an interview a couple of years ago.
Olly explains: “It completely took me off guard, to be honest.
"Of course, I’ve always been very sad about the situation with my twin, especially with how it’s been played out in the media.
“Being a twin is a special bond and when that moment came on The Voice and I saw the twins together, it just brought back so many memories of the love, banter and laughs we used to have.
“It’s something I’ve missed very much over the past ten years.”
Chatting about his return to work, Olly explains: “I was starting to get bored at home after the surgery so it’s great to be back at work, and I love the other coaches and this show very much.
“It’s such a great team on and off the camera.
“But I’ve been enjoying some well-deserved time off. It’s the longest time I’ve had off since 2009, so it has been nice.
“To keep myself busy I started learning the piano.
“It’s something I’ve always wanted to do, so expect some sad ballads on the next album.
“But I might have a quieter year on the music front after a big tour last year.
“There are other projects in the pipeline that I’m working on.
“TV has been a big part of my career as well as music, so watch this space!”
- The Voice returns to ITV this Saturday at 8.30pm.