How YouTube Star Zoella Became One Of The Most Influential People In Britain

Zoe Sugg spoke to BuzzFeed News about success, taking a break to escape trolls, and the pressures of being a role model to millions.


This is Zoe Sugg, aka Zoella. She is arguably one of the most marketable people in Britain right now.

Matt Alexander

The 24-year-old made her name creating make-up tutorials and offering shopping advice from her bedroom in Brighton.

In the five years since she uploaded her first video, she has secured a two-book publishing deal, launched her own beauty range, landed a presenting gig on the BBC, and created one of the most popular YouTube channels in the world.

She is held in the same esteem as pop stars and actors by her young fans, who hang on her every word.

Matt Alexander

Her two YouTube channels have a combined 8.5 million subscribers, more than One Direction and Coldplay put together and 2 million more than Beyoncé.

She also has 2.4 million followers on Twitter, over 1.8 million fans on Facebook, and 3.2 million subscribers on Instagram. Her blog reportedly receives 6.8 million views a month.

And yet if you are over a certain age you've probably never heard of her. / Via

That though seems certain to change as brands and the mainstream media in Britain finally wake up to the YouTube phenomenon.

Sugg's squeaky-clean image makes her the perfect YouTube ambassador, but she told BuzzFeed News that there is significant pressure in being a role model to millions of impressionable fans, and there are days when the trolls get the better of her.

"It’s definitely quite a pressure," she said. "It’s not something I set out to do or that I’ve ever thought would happen."

Her hair and make-up tutorials are a phenomenon.

View this video on YouTube

Her most successful to date is “How to: My Quick and Easy Hairstyles”, which has so far been watched over 7 million times. Its slickness is a far cry from her first video, uploaded in December 2009, which was simply her showing the camera 60 things from her bedroom.

The success of her videos led to her signing a publishing deal with Penguin – her first novel, Girl Online, is out in November and there is a follow-up planned for next year – and scoring major presenting gigs.

The 24-year-old and a number of her fellow YouTubers were recently signed up by the BBC to guest-host a Sunday Radio 1 show.

While the presenting opportunities excite her, creating videos in the comfort of her own home remains the priority. "I still love my little home on YouTube, really," she admitted.

"I think it’s like a little safe place and also a lot of people are still loving that as opposed to traditional media, so it’s fun trying [TV/radio] out and doing it but I wouldn’t say it’s something that I 100% want to go into right now.

"I wouldn’t say I wouldn’t want to do that ever, but I never had any goals in mind like, ‘Oh, I think I’ll carry this on because I’d love to be a presenter.'"

Inevitably for someone who became a teen idol through lifestyle coaching, brands are tripping over themselves to be associated with her.

The 24-year-old has a beauty range with Superdrug and is one of the faces of a new two-month YouTube advertising campaign in the UK.

The adverts are being shown online, on TV, and across public transport in London.

View this video on YouTube

She said she's turned down a large number of opportunities to avoid "self-combusting".

David M. Benett / Getty Images for Zoella Beauty

"I keep it as real and as me as possible," she said.

That philosophy is obviously paying off, and on Sunday she picked up her second BBC Teen Award.

Matt Alexander

The last year has seen her pick up awards on both sides of the Atlantic: She was named the UK's favourite vlogger at the Nickelodeon Kids’ Choice Awards and awarded the fashion/beauty web star prize at the Teen Choice Awards in Los Angeles.

Although such success might seem entirely wonderful from the outside, she recently took a short break from YouTube after a number of negative comments about her anxiety issues upset her. / Via

Sugg has spoken publicly about having dealt with panic attacks and anxiety since she was 14, and was recently made a digital ambassador for the mental-health charity Mind.

She said the abuse was "people going down the whole anxious route in their way of trolling.

"For me it’s such a close subject to my heart, and so when I see like, really ignorant, narrow-minded comments about mental health and anxiety, it really frustrates me and makes me really upset."

"Some of the comments just weren’t very nice, and I didn’t want my viewers to ever see those, either," she added.

Matt Alexander

"It made me feel a bit like, ‘Well, if you’re going to write things like that, it doesn’t really make me want to carry on sharing my anxious periods of time,’ so I just took a couple of days off."

Sugg was quick to point out that 99% of the comments were positive though, and she enjoyed being able to reach so many people and potentially making them feel better.

The Brighton vlogger is clearly a firm believer in YouTube as a force for good, and one subject she was unwilling to discuss was the recent controversy surrounding fellow YouTube star Sam Pepper.

A number of women came forward to BuzzFeed News in recent weeks to claim they were raped by Pepper.

After we spoke, one of Sugg's representatives asked for our questions and her answers on the subject not to be published.

Like the vast majority of the UK YouTube stars, Sugg is represented by the Gleam Futures talent agency.

As BuzzFeed News discovered when we interviewed her brother, Joe, who has 3 million subscribers himself, and his housemate and fellow YouTube star Caspar Lee, the agency fiercely protects its vlogging talent, and seems to carefully stage manage their media appearances.

Such is the interest in Sugg and the way Gleam protects its talent, it took a month and a half to organise this interview with her.

Her private life generates as much interest as her videos, primarily because she is currently dating fellow YouTube star Alfie Deyes, aka PointlessBlog.

Sugg's announcement last week that she was moving in with Deyes has been retweeted 26,000 times and favourited over 71,000 times so far.

TODAY I MOVED OUT! WITH ALFIE <img src=""> #NewZalfieHouse



8:05 PM - 16 Oct 14ReplyRetweetFavorite

The pair appear regularly in each other's videos.

Despite the fact their work overlaps so much, Sugg insisted that they actually share very little of what actually goes on in their lives publicly.

"With the move for example, we didn’t discuss it [with their fans] until we’d actually moved, so it was quite funny because a lot of people were like ‘See, they only film 10 minutes of their life, we don’t know everything,'" she said.

"Obviously, because we’re in the same job it can sometimes be quite consuming, so it is important for us to take time out of filming and work things," she added.

David M. Benett / Getty Images for Zoella Beauty

Sugg and Deyes are key members of an extremely close-knit core group of UK YouTubers, many of whom are in relationships together, live together, or are related. / Via

The group are even heading out on tour together this month.

When asked about the "most famous woman in Britain you've never heard of" tagline that crops up every time the mainstream press reports on her latest success, Sugg brushes it off.

When pushed on where she sees herself in 10 years, Sugg simply said: "Still doing something creative that I love and that other people still want to engage in."

But for now she's enjoying every opportunity as it comes along.