Mark Ferris began his channel in 2013, creating challenge videos and sharing his stories with a small audience – then Zoe Sugg gave his channel a shoutout. The rest is history. TenEighty chats to Mark about his origins, having friendships in the spotlight, and staying true to himself.
“When I finished uni, I was like ‘dear god what am I going to do with my life?’” admits Mark Ferris, who currently boasts more than 660,000 subscribers and has recently joined Margravine Management, Joe Sugg and Caspar Lee’s new talent agency. However, he wasn’t always making his own videos on YouTube. During and after university, he featured in other people’s work – specifically Ellie Goulding, Union J and The Wanted.
After his first gig in a 2011 Debenhams advert, Mark went on to appear in the music video for We Own the Night by The Wanted which he describes as the highlight of his extra work. “They had me dancing on a bloody bin in the middle of Camden! The police were like ‘can you get down?’, I could have been arrested but that was so fun,” he says.
In fact, in the comment section of Beautiful Life by Union J, you can spot fans playing Where’s Wally to spot Mark in the video.
Studying film and TV at university, he learnt how to edit and dreamed of becoming a presenter, although he didn’t have a clear path to get him there. Instead, he decided to focus on improving his skills behind the camera.
“At the time I loved making short films and I just thought realistically this would be an easier avenue for me to get into,” he says. “There were so many things that I wanted to do in the industry so I decided to just start behind the camera and learn about that because you can’t really study presenting.”
With this education, it seemed inevitable for him to fall into YouTube. It was in 2014, when YouTube began to receive mainstream attention that Mark became fascinated and was inspired to create. Thanks to his degree, he knew how to use cameras and edit. Unfortunately, his peers were less interested.
“I tried to convince my friends to do the chubby bunny challenge,” he says. “It’s funny because I see that friend who I pitched that idea to (he refused) and I said to him ‘can you imagine if we did that video back then?’ He’s probably kicking himself!”
Eventually he convinced his sister’s best friend to join him in a video, the tin can challenge. “Some people actually saw it,” he says. “I woke up and was like ‘Mum! I’ve got ten views!’”
“I’m still a huge YouTube fan when it comes to my friends”
“I’m still a huge YouTube fan when it comes to my friends”
Views and comments began to trickle in, many suggesting more challenges for him to do. Before he knew it, he had a recurring audience that would ask about his absence if he didn’t upload. When he gained 5,000 subscribers, he was invited to Summer in the City. “I felt like I’d found my calling!” he gushes, “I’d finally found my feet!”
After university, when he wasn’t making videos, he was working for his dad, at a company which made parts for planes and helicopters. “I obviously didn’t make the parts!” he exclaims. “I just scanned and sat at my desk and was his little PA, which was really fun! I worked with him for ages and then on my lunch break, that’s when I’d look for work as an extra and stuff like that.”
At the time, Mark’s favourite YouTubers included Jack and Finn Harries, Tanya Burr, Jim Chapman, Tyler Oakley, Daniel Howell and Phil Lester (he’s still obsessed with them), Shane Dawson, Troye Sivan and, of course, Zoe Sugg and Alfie Deyes. “I was just a massive fan girl,” he confesses, “I’m still a huge YouTube fan when it comes to my friends.”
Despite the huge audiences that these channels had, Mark was happy with the few hundred views his videos were receiving. Upon reaching 10,000 subscribers he was elated: “I put on a bloody show, musical, sing and dance for that video! It was my biggest accomplishment ever – 10,000 people! I properly went to town on that video because I was so chuffed. It was amazing.”
It was just when Mark was wondering if he would ever be able to turn YouTube into a career that Zoe gave his channel a shoutout as part of her October Favourites video, and he shot from 10,000 subscribers to 50,000. “I was like ‘bye Dad, that’s it, I’m quitting, don’t need you anymore!” he jokes.
However, he’s very conscious of the impact Zoe has had on his success: “I’ll never be like ‘oh yeah I got here entirely because of my own work’ – do you know what I mean? It’s always been because of the support that Zoe and Alfie gave to my channel and that’s when my YouTube channel sort of went boom!”
Although the pair are friends now, at the time Mark had never expected one of his favourite YouTubers to give his channel a shoutout. “First of all I went bright red and I was like ‘Mum, Zoella just shouted my channel out!’ And she was like ‘what?’” he recounts.
“It was crazy, I couldn’t believe it because I’d watched Zoe and that friendship group for so long. We actually talked about this the other day – I have no idea where my channel would be or where I’d be if she hadn’t shouted the channel out. But, [it was]for a reason so I have to give myself some benefit of the doubt!”
While the shoutout led to a big boost in Mark’s online success and a close friendship with Zoe, it also led to some criticism, that his success was entirely down to her. “For a while, [the reaction] was very like ‘oh you’re only doing well because of Zoe and Alfie.’ So many strangers were commenting on my life – I realised this was getting serious now.
“I don’t get a lot of hate and if I do it’s probably related to Zoe and Alfie, like ‘you’re using them for fame’ or whatever, that old chestnut!” says Mark.
“It was a bit intense at the start because when [we started making videos together], obviously it opened up a lot of criticism, including ‘you’re trying to steal Zoe away from Alfie!’ Which we were all like ‘uh – don’t have to worry about that!’” he continues.
“It’s like if the camera’s not on, we don’t exist”
While Mark obviously acknowledges the boost Zoe gave him, he credits his supportive friendship group, family and loyal viewers for his continued success.
“My dad put it in a really perfect way – I’m very close with my parents if you can’t tell – he said even at his work there’s people who try to put him down,” Mark asserts. “You’re going to get it in all walks of life but they don’t know me and they don’t want to know me, they just want to get a reaction.”
So how does he deal with the negativity that comes with having a friendship in the spotlight? “I feel like I’ve known Zoe for all my life and honestly when I pick up the camera I just let it run. It’s the weirdest thing – I sat there last night thinking I’m uploading a vlog of us two just being absolute nutters but people seem to like it and I love it,” he ponders.
“Not only do I want to make people happy and feel good about themselves, I want have an online diary,” he continues. “When I upload it and people are going to say we’re weird or annoying or loud or obnoxious or whatever – it’s just our friendship and I’d never change it. I want it to be natural so I’ve never felt any pressure on our friendship at all.”
“It’s a very personal friendship and we put a lot of ourselves out there”
However, it’s commonly known that any public relationship on YouTube, platonic or romantic, can lead to assumptions, expectations, misinterpretations and questions directed to both creators.
“It’s funny because I see Zoe so often but the other week I actually got a few comments on my Instagram saying ‘Mark and Zoe aren’t friends anymore’,” he states. “It’s like if the camera’s not on, we don’t exist.”
“It’s interesting how people pick up on certain things but when you think about it, it’s just normal life.”
Having such a well-documented friendship has led to viewers being very invested in it, even resulting in fan compilation videos showing Mark and Zoe’s Best Moments.
“We’ve had our whole friendship documented from start to now. I think when I thought ‘ok this is crazy’ was when people were taking our moments and putting them into videos,” Mark admits.
“It’s a very personal friendship and we put a lot of ourselves out there and people could easily judge how we are because we are very loud! So you never know how people are going to take it but I’ve just embraced it.”
Aside from a surge in subscribers and a friendship with one of his YouTube icons, he realised his YouTube career was getting serious when multiple management companies started approaching him, lining up countless meetings. And he’s still not accustomed to getting swarmed by fans at conventions and meetups or getting recognised on the street.
“Even now, if someone comes up to me on the street or asks me for a photo it’s still the weirdest thing in the world because it’s my life and I’m just uploading it and I do forget people watch it!” Mark confesses.
“It’s so overwhelming but it’s the most amazing feeling in the world. I’ve never panicked or worried about it because everyone supports you – but I need a two minute break afterwards to be like ‘this is my life, this is crazy!’”
There’s one particular experience of meeting a viewer that’s stuck with him. At Summer in the City 2017, he recognised a fan who’d been supporting him for years on Twitter. Her mum started crying which caused Mark to start crying as well.
“She was telling me that her daughter watched my videos to make herself feel better and not alone and it really struck me that I was doing something amazing for these kids,” he affirms.
“I’ll never forget that – when you meet the parents and they’re like ‘this is what you’ve done for my kid’.”
However, the experience can be a little more chaotic. Mark recalls the time he accidentally stumbled across a meetup occurring in Leicester Square – and was immediately surrounded.
“I got out of the cab and it was like Dawn of the Dead!” he laughs. “It was a casual Saturday, I was there to celebrate a friend’s birthday and checking into my hotel, none the wiser as to what was going on in Leicester Square.
“I had my headphones in and all of a sudden I heard these screams and before I knew it I was getting pushed up against the wall, being unable to move! I’ll never forget that because that was my first time having a reaction like that!”
Mark sees himself as an open person, sharing his life on social media and in his vlogs, and because of this many of his viewers feel personally invested in his life. However, he still feels there are things he’s not ready to share, as he senses there’s no reason to be completely open with everything, unless it’s a subject his viewers want to see him talk about.
“If I have personal experiences of things like toxic friendships, I would speak about that because I have experience of that,” he explains.
“If I know [talking about it] can help someone then I do it because it’s what YouTube did for me when I was going through a rough point, and being able to have a voice to give that back, it would be silly not to.”
“It’s probably one of the scariest subjects I’ve ever had to talk about”
Mark’s main motivation to create videos originally was to make people feel better through his work. Almost five years later his priorities remain the same; he wants to help his audience just like his favourite YouTubers helped him, and encourage them to always be themselves. This commitment led him to discuss his mental health online, although he admits it wasn’t easy to upload that first video on the topic.
“I threw my laptop out the window!” he laughs. “I felt I just had to do that video. My heart was coming out of my chest because was so worried but straight away the reaction was so amazing.
“Speaking so openly about it and how mental health affected me, and to see the comments saying ‘you’re speaking my mind’ is just the best feeling,” he continues. “When I had struggles, seeing other people talking about it was amazing because the first thing you want to know is that you’re not alone.”
After talking about his mental health on YouTube, he’s found he’s more open about the topic in real life as well as to his friends.“I feel so brave doing it because there is still such a stigma around it,” he states.
“It’s probably one of the scariest subjects I’ve ever had to talk about but it got to a point where I realised I need to speak about it because I know there’s so many people suffering who don’t have a voice or can’t physically say it. So if someone else says it for them, it might get them talking.”
Mark takes pride in being able to help people in his videos, but with giving advice comes a lot of responsibility. “I say what comes naturally, so if I have advice or experience about something I can help. [However] I’m not an agony aunt, I can’t always give the best advice and I’m only going by what I’ve been through,” he admits.
“I’ve got to keep it as authentic as possible”
“I think it’s really nice that people can DM me or tweet me saying they’re having a tough time but that video or those words really helped. Being able to help someone through my words is just one of the best things,” says Mark. “I’m not perfect but it’s definitely something to keep in mind.”
Looking to the future, Mark says he’s content to continue with what he’s doing now and see where it takes him. But he still has hopes of moving into presenting one day, and is toying with the idea of releasing his own clothing line.
“I’m still taking everyday as it comes. There have been opportunities for me to do amazing things but I didn’t want to do them too quickly because I didn’t want to overdo it,” he admits. “I feel like as soon as I come under pressure, I just lose myself in a way where I wouldn’t act like myself. I’ve got to keep it as authentic as possible.”
The future is bright for Mark, and after such an amazing journey, we asked what advice he would give to aspiring creators like he once was.
“Don’t follow what other people are doing, just be inspired by it,” he states. “Just go for it. That’s what I did and I’m so glad I did!”
Photos by George Yonge.
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