How (And Why) Are Celebrities Expected To Grieve On Social Media?

Mike Thalassitis' death raises questions about the disconnect between grieving in real life and on social media, especially for celebrities

Love Island's Mike Thalassitis' untimely passing raises questions about the disjoint between real life and social media, especially for celebrities

by Bonnie McLaren |
Updated on

"I'm lost for words. My heart breaks for your family RIP Mike Thalassitis."

"I can't get my head round this RIP brother."

“Devastated to hear of the passing of Mike Thalassitis. My heart goes out to friends and family.”

It’s possible that on Saturday evening or Sunday morning, you discovered the tragic news that Mike Thalassitis had died by suicide by reading one of the many tributes which flooded social media. It’s since been suggested that Mike, who was 26, and had recently lost his best friend and nan, was struggling with depression in the six months prior to his death. The entertainment world was immediately plunged into shock – online, and offline – by the passing of a man who appeared to have all the modern markers of success: confidence, fame, money and women. He was even a semi-professional footballer before his stint in the Love Island villa, playing as a striker for teams including Stevenage, Chelmsford City and Margate. Nadia Essex - a dating coach on Celebs Go Dating, which Mike appeared on in 2018 - was in such a state of disbelief when she heard the news that she filmed herself hysterically crying while she read an article on MailOnline, which she then uploaded to Instagram.

After the initial story broke, the press were quick to jump on ‘trolls slamming’ his ex-girlfriend, Megan McKenna, for not immediately expressing her grief in 140 characters. Meanwhile, his Love Island ex Olivia Attwood, received some vile direct messages on Instagram, for simply posting a candid tribute, which read: “Literally don’t know what to say. Another one gone too young. Thinking of Mike’s family and friends at this horrendous time. You will be missed terribly.” Megan eventually posted a statement to Instagram, where she needlessly apologized for staying offline. “Sorry I haven't been on social media but I'm in complete shock and trying to come to terms with this," she wrote. "I can't believe I'm even writing this post. My thoughts and prayers are with Mike’s family. Rest in peace Mike.”

“Death is a touchy subject,’ says Ed Hopkins, a celebrity publicist who has been working in the industry for five years, and has worked with various reality stars. “Journalists have to realise that the person is mourning, and although they are in the public eye, they do have to compose themselves about what they’re going to say. If it was a normal person, so to speak, then you’ve got to deal with the grief, but if you’re a celebrity and you’ve got to deal with how you conduct yourself in public straight away. It’s a lot to deal with; there’s a lot of pressure.”

And celebrities agree, too. “It’s such a shame that we live in this day and age where something tragic happens that the public straight away turns to social media to see how certain people are reacting to things,” Kendall Rae Knight, who was the first contestant out of this year’s Love Island, told Grazia. “How they’ve left comments, how they’ve worded things [are analysed.] I just think it’s really upsetting and very disrespectful that people would comment on that. Everybody deals with grief differently; whether they want to post to social media or not.”

Sam Thompson mourns his Celebs Go Dating co-star Mike Thalassitis
Sam and Mike starred together on Celebs Go Dating ©Getty

Even Made In Chelsea’s Sam Thompson, who shared the screen with Mike on Celebs Go Dating, started his incredibly honest, heartbreaking tribute with the confession that he didn’t want to post about Mike’s death. “I wasn’t going to do a post,” he wrote on Sunday evening, alongside a press shot of Mike on the programme. “I don’t think for me anyway that social media is a place to grieve. It makes me sad that to the normal person in today’s world, if you don’t do a post then you didn’t care.” He also said that, tragically, he believed he could have done more to help Mike, writing that he was ashamed for judging him - the nickname of Muggy given to him on Love Island definitely wouldn’t have helped - before they worked together. The post was so long that he had to continue it in the comment section. That candid approach was one only a few of Mike’s colleagues in the public eye took, such as his close friends Ellie O’Donnell and Montana Brown, but Ed says that he would be happy for his clients to post an unfiltered and heartfelt tribute if they were in the same situation. “I wouldn’t make them filter it at all, if they were close friends,” he says. “It’s their opportunity for closure, and to grieve. But none of my clients tweeted out about it because they didn’t know him. We’re all saying how sad it is, but they didn’t put anything out.”

That, Ed says, was a conscious decision, following discussions he had with celebrities who reached out to him, hesitantly asking if they should make a post reacting to Saturday’s news. “You have to be so sensitive about it unless there is a true connection with you, to that person. I had clients saying to me, I don’t feel I should Tweet something because I didn’t know him. They were saying that obviously it’s really, really sad – but to put something out when I didn’t know him, it would almost be like I did it for the likes.” Ed adds that he felt some Z-listers jumped on his death to get their tribute written up as an article on MailOnline. “People who haven’t actually met him, when they whack up a photo with him when they met him at a personal appearance, I just don’t think it’s right,” he added. “The whole culture of when someone dies, that you must tweet about it is very odd. As a celebrity PR, my advice would be if you didn’t know that person – if they weren’t a friend – then it isn’t your business to mourn from them.” Those who did actually know Mike, he says, would have been advised (if they wanted to make a statement) to pay their respects, but to keep it quite vague. Twitter is favoured to Instagram, as it is more conversational.

Singular death is weighted differently to tragedies, though. While Ed would never insist that clients post about the death of somebody they knew, interestingly, he says that PRs do sometimes get in touch with their clients - and recommend that they should post supportive messages in the wake of tragedy, such as the New Zealand shooting last week where 50 Muslims were horrifically murdered. “It would be something the celebrities would write themselves, something like my thoughts are with New Zealand” he adds.

Unlike journalists, there isn’t industry wide guidelines for how publicists should deal with death, either. You do not have to join a watchdog to become a PR (though publicists can join The Chartered Institute of Public Relations, which does have a code of conduct which outlines PRs should abide by.) Clause 4 of the IPSO code, which journalists follow, is intrusion into grief or shock. It states: “In cases involving personal grief or shock, enquiries and approaches must be made with sympathy and discretion and publication handled sensitively.”) One of Ed’s clients, Lil’ Chris - real name Chris Hardman - took his own life in 2016, at the age of 24, which Ed only found out about when a journalist rang him with a tip off. “I had no guidelines on having to write the press release for that, and how I should tell everyone. It was really difficult,” he said. “The tributes were lovely though, like from the guys in McFly, but it happened at a time when Twitter wasn’t so much of a thing.”

Celebrity or not, we’re living a world where people are probably more likely to write a tribute on the internet than leave flowers. But should public figures, when there’s already so much pressure on them to ‘break their silence’, continue to pay their respects on social media? “It depends. If a person is grieving, and that’s the way they deal with it best, then they should be allowed to post about it,” Ed concludes. Andy Langford, Chief Operating Officer at Cruse Bereavement Care, said: “It can help people to express their grief in a public way and receive support online from others who are also grieving. But we all grieve in our own way, and, for some people, reacting to someone’s death on social media may not feel appropriate. We should not criticise others, including celebrities, when they don’t post tributes online when someone they know dies. We should respect their privacy and offer words of support instead."

See below for some celebrity tributes to Mike Thalassitis.


Celebrity Social Media Tributes To Mike Thalassitis

Johnny Mitchell pays tribute to Mike Thalassitis1 of 9
CREDIT: Instagram

Johnny Mitchell

Amber Davies pays tribute to Mike Thalassitis2 of 9
CREDIT: Twitter

Amber Davies

Megan McKenna pays tribute to Mike Thalassitis3 of 9

Megan McKenna

Olivia Buckland pays tribute to Mike Thalassitis4 of 9
CREDIT: Instagram

Olivia Buckland

Sam Thompson pays tribute to Mike Thalassitis5 of 9
CREDIT: Instagram

Sam Thompson

Ellie O'Donnell pays tribute to Mike Thalassitis6 of 9
CREDIT: Instagram

Ellie O'Donnell

Tallia Storm pays tribute to Mike Thalassitis7 of 9
CREDIT: Instagram

Tallia Storm

Montana Brown pays tribute to Mike Thalassitis8 of 9
CREDIT: Instagram

Montana Brown

Caroline Flack pays tribute to Mike Thalassitis9 of 9

Caroline Flack

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