Manager of Youtubers Zoella, Tanya Burr and Alfie Deyes explains why they are the new celebrities

Gleam Futures CEO Dom Smales tells the Independent why vloggers are here to stay

Olivia Blair
Thursday 05 January 2017 14:05 GMT
Zoe Sugg and Alfie Deyes
Zoe Sugg and Alfie Deyes (Rex features)

In 2010, Dom Smales caught on to a phenomenon: YouTubers.

With a background in production and media, he recognised that a new type of celebrity was forming so signed some of the biggest names in British YouTubing and now represents 31 vloggers under his company Gleam Futures.

It began with Pixiwoo, aka Samantha and Nicola Chapman, who introduced him to their brother Jim Chapman and then his girlfriend Tanya Burr – a very entwined circle of some of the most prominent YouTubers in the country

“I had never managed anyone before, but I could see they had a huge potential,” CEO of Gleam Smales tells me over the phone. “I knew their platform would only grow by YouTube and I could see that the future of entertainment would be led by on-demand entertainment and online video platforms.”

While, for some of us, the explosive rise of YouTubers (anyone who lives in London has surely now seen their adverts staggered up the walls of the escalators in multiple central Underground stations) came out of nowhere, Smales says this is a common misconception.

“Actually, the top talent in this space, and I count our roster as that top talent, have been making videos on YouTube for seven to eight years, in some cases. But, it just so happened, the world discovered them in the last couple of years and now it just so happens that it is a bona fide career and job in the entertainment industry.”

While this declaration of representing the “top talent” may seem boastful, it would be hard to argue. Among his clients are Zoe Sugg aka Zoella (15 million subscribers), Alfie Deyes aka PointlessBlog (10 million subscribers), Caspar Lee (8 million) and Marcus Butler (6.6 million) as well as Chapman and Burr who share a combined subscriber count of over 7 million.

Sugg recently graced the front cover of Cosmopolitan magazine, Chapman writes a style column for GQ and has presented documentaries for the BBC and Burr won a Glamour award earlier this year. Arguably, YouTubers are now celebrities: A new type of instant, interactive celebrity.

“The rise of YouTubers is fuelled by the seismic shift in the way that a generation are consuming their media and entertainment, namely it being online. I think audiences are hungry for more interactive relationships with their peers and idols.

“There’s a generation that sees different people as celebrities now,” he says. “If you’re between the ages of 15 and 24 and you’re more interested in people you engage with online than you are TV stars. It is a generational thing. Any celebrity can be defined by the fact that they are well-known to a large group of people and there are a large group of people on YouTube consuming content regularly so they recognise these guys.”

However, for any aspiring YouTuber – and Smales says he is approached “multiple times per day by people wanting to get on the roster” – he is keen to stress that it is not a route to fame.

“They do not set out to be celebrities… they started it when it was about having a creative outlet and a hobby rather than being famous or wealthy. That was not the end game. It is a consequence of the platform getting much bigger that fame has arrived as well.”

For people who did not expect or want to be famous, the amount of attention they receive combined with the sheer devotion their large fan base often exhibit must be overwhelming.

The level of over-familiarity among some fans was apparent in the case of Sugg and Deyes – who are in a relationship and live together – in 2015 when they pleaded for privacy after spotting multiple fans, and their parents, peering over the walls of their home. After receiving criticism from someone who sarcastically welcomed them to fame, Sugg hit back on Twitter: “Considering we didn’t set out to become ‘famous’… no. It’s not something we should have to put up with.”

Fans’ dedication to their favourite vloggers is in part attributable to the feeling they can communicate with their celebrity on such a personal platform, as Smales has explained. The audience feel they get to know them personally and therefore care for them. It is similar to the ‘fandoms’ of acts of entertainers who regularly use social media, such as One Direction and Selena Gomez, who have the power to turn a ‘get well’ message to their idol into the number one worldwide Twitter trend in a matter of hours.

“Because of the frequency of the contact between the talent and the audience, they get really involved in their lives and feel a sense that they are friends,” Smales explains. “Of course, you would pop round to your friend’s house and say, ‘Hi’ for a cup of tea, wouldn’t you? Sometimes it is hard to make that distinction, I guess, because if you multiply that friend by 11 million, in Zoe’s case, then that’s just too much tea to be drunk in one day.

“But, on the whole, the audience is hugely sensitive and respectful and I think Zoe and Alfie asking their audience to be mindful of the fact that they do have lives outside, everybody needs some element of privacy, and they are really respectful of that.”

While it is only a “small minority that overstep the mark in terms of privacy”, Smales and his team advise their clients on “basic safety” measures in order to maintain their privacy and welfare such as advising the talent to turn off their GPS when they post and keep certain things confidential.

Being in a relationship with another YouTuber, as in the case of Sugg and Deyes, is not an anomaly. Burr and Chapman married last year and they, and Sugg and Deyes, regularly make cameos in each other’s videos. While it is somewhat of a commonality, dating each other has been seen to spectacularly backfire such as the case of Colleen Ballinger who veered off character from her wacky alter-ego Miranda Sings to announce her divorce from fellow American YouTuber Joshua Evans, after just one year of marriage, in an emotional video last year.

I ask Smales, – who has the confidence and ease of speaking to (and shutting down) a journalist in the way which would be expected of any top publicist or manager – if romantic relationships between YouTubers can strengthen their brand, he dismisses it as “irrelevant”.

“It is a genuine relationship so it is nothing to do with brand planning. But people are interested in human relationships, that is what drives a lot of things. So it forms part of the interest in the talent, I’m sure, but it doesn’t affect the outcome or the course of the relationship,” he says.

The brands that YouTubers have been able to create for themselves have brought them, previously unimaginable, wealth. In March, reports estimated Sugg earns £50,000 per month from her various ventures. When asked about the astounding estimated net-worths that regularly do the rounds, Smales refuses to be drawn in on the figures.

“It varies greatly. It is possible to make a good living by being at the top of your game in social media right now but that is just like any other platform,” he says. “It is due to the fact that you’re able to entertain audiences by doing lots of different things... Zoe is an author as well as making great videos on YouTube, Tanya is also an author. This is their full time job, they get paid for the time it takes to create this content and entertain audiences. It [YouTubing] can be a full time job now.”]

And Smales is someone helping his talent develop those other ventures. He recently launched a podcast production label with the aim of extending his talent’s reach to another audience. Butler’s podcast, Lower Your Expectations with Marcus Butler, went straight to the number one spot on iTunes.

And how long does Smales expect this YouTube revolution to last? Forever, of course.

“I don’t think audiences will go backwards, I think audiences will go forwards. I don’t think they care about the technology as much as people in older generations think they do, I think they just care about how easy they get access to great content and great talent.

“It might be that a platform supersedes YouTube as being the biggest online video platform in the world but YouTube is making a pretty good bash of it.”

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in