Having been nominated for a Brilliance in Blogging award in Campaigns and Commentary, TenEighty caught up with the ‘mummy of YouTube’ Lindsay Atkin to discuss how she balances her job as a teacher with her charity work, the state of the YouTube community and what it was like watching her son, Charlie McDonnell, become the UK’s first YouTube star.
“I was really sceptical and couldn’t understand why he was talking to these people on the internet,” says Lindsay Atkin, reminiscing about how she felt when her son Charlie McDonnell first started making YouTube videos in 2006.
“And I’d hear things in the press, about the internet or YouTube being unsafe places. Charlie was 16 at the time. I was a bit concerned really.”
It was Myles Dyer who eventually reassured her that Charlie was safe to go to his first gathering. Myles drove to Bath from Reading to meet them both and put Lindsay’s mind at ease.
“The thing is, you either say: ‘I’m not interested, I don’t know what you’re doing’, and don’t take part,” she explains. “But I could see it was important to him, so I knew I had to find out what it was all about.”
The transition wasn’t smooth however, and as things were starting to really take off in Charlie’s YouTube career, Lindsay was facing some hard times with her family. As Charlie met more of his YouTube friends, was invited to the Google offices and made television appearances, Lindsay’s mother was dying of cancer.
“I remember when Charlie was invited to be on breakfast television. How To Be English got taken up by the local paper and then suddenly the BBC Breakfast Show wanted to use it, so he got invited to go for an interview. It all took off very quickly,” she says.
“That morning, I put him on the train knowing that my mum had died and I didn’t tell him,” she says. “It was hard, but I couldn’t tell him because he was very fond of his grandmother. She had seen his videos and was really impressed with what he was doing.
“I remember sitting on my sofa watching Charlie on television – I didn’t go into work that day – and I’m not sure how I felt. It was just kind of like ‘this is happening’ and then ‘this is’ and ‘this is’.”
“ I was being bullied at the time… for me it was a good distraction ”
Lindsay says that whole period of her life is fairly hazy. But despite how difficult it was, she soon found herself becoming more and more intrigued by YouTube and the community behind it. “Originally I was checking it out to make sure he was OK, but then I started to get interested in it as well,” she says.
Lindsay first got a taste for making videos when she was invited to guest star on FiveAwesomeGuys, a collaboration channel that featured Charlie alongside Alex Day, Johnny Durham, Todd Williams and Alan Lastufka. The theme of the week was mums.
“I remember we filmed it quite quickly one morning before I went into work,” she says. “I just jumped into his video, said a few ridiculous things and then realised I quite enjoyed doing it.”
This brief introduction helped Lindsay realise she could do something productive on YouTube about an issue that was still affecting her at that point in her life. “I was being bullied at the time,” she says. “I wanted to make an anti-bullying video, and that was the whole reason I started. I was not in a good place myself, so for me it was a good distraction.”
Through her anti-bullying video she soon found opportunities coming her way, that eventually evolved her content towards charity and campaigns. “I think that’s why I carried on with the channel.”
“A few years ago Save The Children contacted me and asked if I wanted to be involved with a vaccination campaign. Fortunately it happened at half-term, so it was a no brainer. There’s always been a reason for me to do the campaigning. I’ve carried on with that because of the response on the videos. There has been so much positive interest,” she says.
Throughout it all, Lindsay has been working as a full-time primary school teacher and has had to balance her campaigning with teaching. “I must admit, I sometimes send emails at 6am before I go to school, and until midnight when I get home,” she says.
“It is quite a lot to do,” she continues. “But at the same time the issues and the campaigns are always so important that I have to do it. It’s like anything, you find that energy from somewhere.”
“ If the internet had been there when I was younger, we would’ve been this generation. ”
Lindsay has found the YouTube community welcoming, and doesn’t believe that her age is an issue. “I might have a vague panic about why I’m going to a gathering ,” she explains. “I’m so much older than everybody else but I’ve always found everyone friendly, so it’s not a problem.
“Sometimes my boyfriend may ask: ‘Why are you going and meeting all these young people?’ and I say: ‘Because they’re people’,” she continues. “All my friends are of different ages – they’re all people, it doesn’t matter how old they are.”
Nonetheless we observe that YouTubers are predominantly younger, and the older generations aren’t very well-represented online. “It’s very much how it’s happened in terms of technology,” says Lindsay. “I don’t doubt if the internet had been there when I was younger, we would’ve been this generation. I think some older people don’t get it and reject it.”
Lindsay considers that possibly the older generations just aren’t interested. “I like embracing new things, I’ve always been like that,” she explains. “Could it be that most people when they reach a certain age just aren’t like that any more?”
“Look at people like Michael Markman [Mickeleh] and [the late] Peter Oakley [geriatric1927]. Look at how they have embraced the technology and just go with it. Why there aren’t more, I don’t know,” she adds.
“ Once you get to a certain level you have to recognise that kids are going to watch anyway… ”
Having observed the YouTube community for some time, Lindsay is invested in the debate surrounding celebrity culture online, and believes it’s an important discussion. “The idea of taking responsibility for your own content is incredibly important,” she says.
“If you’ve got a lot of impressionable kids listening to you, it’s important. You can say: ‘It’s their decision to watch me,’ but once you get to a certain level you have to recognise that kids are going to watch anyway, and you need to take responsibility for what you’re putting out there,” she asserts.
With this in mind, Lindsay says how proud she is of Charlie, who she feels has always taken responsibility for his content. “Charlie didn’t start making videos because he thought he’d get loads of views, or that people would watch it and he could make a career out of it. He never expected that. And I hope people realise that of him.”
“ What’s happened with these YouTubers is an abuse of power… ”
Lindsay also addresses the sexual abuse scandals that have recently shaken the YouTube community, voicing her concerns and relaying it back to real life. “The thing is you can think: ‘It’s fine, it’s all lovely, everybody likes each other,’ but life isn’t really like that, is it?” she says.
“What’s happened with these YouTubers is an abuse of power and that happens in every walk of life. I think lessons have been learned,” she adds.
As a mother of three who takes part in the YouTube community, Lindsay has a unique view of the situation that other parents may not have. “When you have a daughter or a son it’s a constant worry of what they’re doing, where are they, who they’re with,” she says. “If my daughter was going to a gathering, I’d want to know who she’s with and when she’s coming back.
“But it is hard when they’re that age,” she explains. “You don’t want to stop them from doing things, but at the same time you want them to be safe. For parents, the main concern is just making sure their children are safe, whether it’s at a YouTube gathering or a friend’s party.”
“ I think as a society we’ve become more aware about how people in positions of power behave… ”
Lindsay acknowledges that it is the responsibility of parents, especially at events like Summer In The City, to make sure their kids are safe. “But it’s also the community’s responsibility,” she adds. “It’s a tricky time for girls of that age. And it’s something that we need to be aware of.”
Despite the turbulent climate she does have hope for the community to pull through. “I think as a society we’ve become more aware about how people in positions of power behave,” she says. “In the past things weren’t noticed or they were swept under the carpet.
“I think it’s brilliant that’s not the case now,” she continues. “I applaud the girls who have come forward and said: ‘This is what has happened to me.’ Individuals have to be responsible for their own actions. As much as you say it’s also the community that needs to look out, it still comes down to those people.”
This year Lindsay was nominated for a BritMums Brillance in Blogging Commentary & Campaigns award. Unfortunately she didn’t win, but she discusses how making it to the final rounds made her feel. “It’s really surprised me because I do vlogs, not blogs,” she says. “Somehow I made it through to the finals, which was really fantastic and lovely.
“What’s interesting is that I’ve been doing this for years, but it’s now that you’ve got something like BritMums – who are very well known within their own field – that are interested in YouTube,” she says. “Maybe 10 years from now mums will all be vlogging and we’ll take over!”
“ …By the time we get there, we’ll be the five awesome grans! ”
Whether it’s because she is the mother of one of the UK’s most successful vloggers or because of her own role of campaigning on YouTube, Lindsay is considered by many creators in the community as the ‘mummy of YouTube’. “Bethan [Leadley] has called me that in the past,” she says. “I just think it’s very sweet and kind.
“I’ve met Bertie Gilbert’s mum and Louis Cole’s mum and we all get on really well,” she says. “I really like the idea of us setting up a channel, but I think we’re just so busy being mums. By the time we get there, we’ll be the five awesome grans!”
With her insight on the community and her experience of being a mum, Lindsay leaves us with some advice for other YouTube mums out there. “You need to remember that you wouldn’t let your child go and play or stay somewhere you didn’t know,” she says.
“Make sure their safe through showing an interest, as you would with any other hobby they have,” she adds. “If your child is using YouTube – even if they are a teenager – just show an interest. It’s as simple as that.”