They’ve got millions of viewers, six-figure incomes and a level of influence that most conventional broadcasters could only dream of. Oh, and most of them are yet to celebrate their 25th birth- day. Meet the YouTube superstars, a group of entrepreneurial young Brits whose digital empires, launched from their bedrooms, have seen them eclipse popstars and actors to become the biggest celebri- ties of their generation.
Most of today’s vlogging (video blogging) A-list started out making videos for fun in their bedroom, then posting them online. “I just used to talk about the things I loved, or things I thought other people would love as well,” says beauty and fash- ion vlogger Zoe Sugg, aka Zoella, whose YouTube channel has more than nine million subscribers. She was clearly onto something, clocking up hundreds of thou- sands of views for chatty videos that ranged from make-up tutorials to musings on relationships and body image.
The most well-known YouTubers now transcend the platform that launched them, publishing books, launching cosmetic lines and signing sponsorship deals. But they are careful not to alienate their fans, who look to them as friends rather than glossy, inaccessible celebrities.
“There isn’t any amount of money that could tempt me to promote something that I didn’t believe in,” says Zoella. “I’ve built this community of people who trust my opinion and I value that far more than a fat cheque.”
YouTube channel: Zoella
Subscribers: 9.1 million
Who is she? Zoella grew up in Lacock, Wiltshire. While working at an interior design company in 2009 (she decided against university), she started a fashion blog, expanding it into a YouTube channel a few months later.
What does she do? Initially her videos offered make-up and hair tips, but she now discusses all aspects of her life, including her panic attacks and anxiety. She’s also a proud teetotaller. In 2014 her first book, Girl Online, became the fastest-selling debut novel since records began – but there was a media backlash when it emerged that she’d had the help of a ghostwriter. Her annual income is estimated at £300,000 thanks to advertisers shelling out £20,000 for a slot and sponsors paying £4,000 for a mention.
Offline: Zoella lives in a £1 million mansion in Brighton with boyfriend Alfie Deyes. Last year they became the first YouTubers to be immortalised in wax at Madame Tussauds.
She says: “I started off going to car-boot sales and finding make-up for 50p and writing about them. My dad was confused – he kept telling me to get out of my bedroom and get a proper job.”
YouTube channel: Thatcher Joe
Who is he? Zoella’s little brother quit his job as a roof thatcher (hence the name of his channel) to become a full-time YouTuber.
What does he do? Pranks and comic challenges usually featuring his flatmate and fellow vlogger Caspar Lee (5.5m subscribers). Last year Joe published his first graphic novel.
He says: “We’re experiencing a new type of fame and we’re our own people, in our bedroom with no massive production.”
YouTube channel: Jim Chapman
Who is he? Chapman was inspired to join YouTube by his two older sisters, who run the Pixiwoo make-up channel (1.9m subscribers). He is married to beauty vlogger Tanya Burr (3.4m subscribers).
What does he do? Anything and everything – pranks, men’s fashion, baking. He also answers viewers’ questions and starts every video with “Hello best friends!”
He says: “I started vlogging in my bedroom because I found meeting people out in the real world incredibly difficult.”
YouTube channel: Beautycrush
Who is she? Born in Harrow, London, Samantha Maria (Sammi) studied fashion styling before becoming a vlogger.
What does she do? Fashion tutorials, beauty tips and “Favourites” videos where she reveals her items of the month. In one of her most- viewed videos, Sammi talks about the domestic abuse she suffered in a previous relationship.
She says: “It was such a difficult and emotional subject to talk about but if anyone is going through something similar, the video is there for them.”
YouTube channel: PointlessBlog
Who is he? Brighton boy Deyes started vlogging in 2009. Fans refer to him and his girlfriend Zoella as “Zalfie”.
What does he do? Alfie combines light-hearted games and challenges with insights into his relationship with Zoella. A recent video showed them waking up in a treehouse on his 22nd birthday. He even vlogged a recent trip to hospital.
He says “I’m myself online, I’m not doing an act. These people [the viewers] know me better than some of my friends do.”
Warning: Expect strong language
Name: Olajide “JJ” Olatunji
YouTube channel: KSI & KSIOlajidebt
Subscribers: 11.8 million
Who is he and what does he do? Britain’s most successful YouTube star started out as a video game commentator before expanding his YouTube repertoire to include rapping, comedy skits and the occasional spot of acting. He’s the only British YouTuber on Forbes’ list of The World’s Top-Earning YouTube Stars in 2015, racking up an estimated £3.13 million across his various YouTube channels and music releases.
Name: Ingrid Nilsen
YouTube Channel: missglamorazzi
Subscribers: 3.9 million
Who is she and what does she do? Nilsen’s videos are primarily about fashion, lifestyle and make-up, but she made waves online when she decided to come out as a lesbian via her YouTube channel in one of her most popular videos of all time. She’s also recently hosted a live chat with President Obama.
Name: Tyler Oakley
YouTube Channel: Tyler Oakley
Subscribers: 7.9 million
Who is he and what does he do?: Perhaps YouTube’s most famous LGBT activist, Oakley has made his name online by posting videos about every aspect of his life. His empowering speeches about coming out and being yourself ring true with his ever expanding audience and have even landed the 26-year-old a special appointment at the White House, discussing healthcare with President Obama. With a biography (Binge) and a documentary (Snervous) under his belt, he’s a fairly busy bloke.
Name: Laci Green
YouTube Channel: Laci Green
Subscribers: 1.4 million
Who is she and what does she do? There’s no such thing as one talk when it comes to sex – that’s what Laci Green believes anyway. That’s why she dedicates her time to talk about sexual health, sexual activity and feminism via her YouTube channel. It’s an endeavour that’s landed her quite the educational role, hosting online sex education content on behalf of Planned Parenthood and Discovery News. She’s also known for never being afraid to call out YouTube activity she deems sexist.
Name: Thomas Ridgewell
YouTube Channel: TomSka
Subscribers: 3.9 million
Who is he and what does he do? Comedy filmmaker Thomas “TomSka” Ridgewell made his name with the hugely successful animated skits of the asdfmovie series, though he’s also popular for his offbeat action and comedy sketches. He also vlogs about issues like body image, grief and the nature of YouTube, and collaborates on the animated Eddsworld series.
Name: Lex Croucher
YouTube Channel: TyrannasaurusLex
Who is she and what does she do? Lex is a veteran of the YouTube scene with some of her oldest videos dating back six years. She’s known for her quirky and clever creations, which cover everything from odes to Play Doh to discussions about books that are utterly edible.
RHETT AND LINK
Names: Rhett James McLaughlin and Charles Lincoln “Link” Neal III
Ages: Rhett is 38 and Link is 37
YouTube Channel: Rhett and Link
Subscribers: 3.9 million
Who are they and what do they do? Comedy duo Rhett and Link are best known for their silly sketches, songs and other curiously creative YouTube offerings. Their efforts don’t stop there though, as the pair have various YouTube channels, one of which is home to their very own YouTube chat show Good Mythical Morning.
Rise of the Superstar Vloggers airs on Monday at 9pm on BBC3