He has over 500,000 subscribers, but Luke Cutforth’s rise to YouTube popularity hasn’t been a smooth or easy ride. Talking to TenEighty, he tells us how he’s learnt from past mistakes and chosen his friends wisely, and reveals a secret adventure into filmmaking…
“I was in love with a girl, and she was in love with AmazingPhil [Phil Lester],” says Luke Cutforth, looking rather embarrassed, when asked why he started making videos on YouTube. “I was like, ‘ahh, I can do that, I’ll make her love me’, and she never did.”
Since then, Luke has amassed a subscriber base of over half a million, become one of the organisers of the UK’s largest YouTube gathering, and has now finally found love with Emma Blackery. But he didn’t get there without any bumps in the road.
For starters, his first channel got closed down by YouTube. “The old advertising system meant that if you got banned you never got your channel back,” he recalls. “My sister clicked on some of my ads from the same IP address as the one I was uploading from.
“She was like, ‘oh, I know how you can earn money’, and that was that!” he laughs. “There were a lot of people trying to help me get it back but YouTube didn’t listen. So I made a new channel called LukeIsNotSexy.”
From then on his story is similar to that of most YouTubers: he began uploading regular content and improving upon his on-screen presence. He admits that he doesn’t remember too much about those early days, but he does recall how he felt about YouTube gatherings.
“I felt very excluded from those gatherings,” says Luke. “I followed a lot of people on Twitter who attended them, I’d tweet them and they’d never reply to me.”
Acknowledging the fact that it was probably because the people he was reaching out to simply didn’t know him, he laughs it off and looks back on how he felt as silly. Nonetheless, it was the reason Luke decided to start hosting his own gatherings.
Together with his friend Reece Best, the pair set up Subs Don’t Matter which soon turned into a string of gatherings across 2011 that mostly took place outside of London. “I had my little friendship group; me, Reece, Bertie [Gilbert], and Bethan [Leadley],” says Luke.
Considering the sheer size of Luke, Bethan, and Bertie’s audiences now, Luke finds humour in the fact his gatherings were called Subs Don’t Matter. “We all just wanted to go and hang out, do something fun and have a bouncy castle there, that kind of stuff, but it started getting too big for that to happen safely,” he explains. “The last one we did, Bertie got escorted away by police, and that was the point we thought, ‘yeah, this can’t happen anymore’.”
“When you’re in the community, you enjoy and find beauty in the fact that everyone is just hanging out…”
Not long after that event, Reece decided to stop making YouTube videos and Luke got involved with the UK’s largest gathering, Summer in the City. Nevertheless, he reveals a fondness for those smaller-scale events, and mentions that he tries to attend some when he can.
“If I’m in the area I’ll just pop over,” says Luke. “It’s cool when no-one’s expecting you to turn up because I get to sit and chill with friends and meet anyone who likes me.”
“But I have started being more mindful of the fact that I am an adult now,” he says, “and to go to a park and be surrounded by people who are a lot younger than you is, to some people, weird.”
For people outside the YouTube community, an adult hanging out with some kids in a park has probably always seemed bizarre, but the wave of sexual abuse allegations made against prominent YouTubers has changed the idea of those gatherings for people within the community, too. Is this why Luke feels a sense of apprehension?
“I don’t think it is that,” he says. “When you’re in the community, you enjoy and find beauty in the fact that everyone is just hanging out and making friends, and that’s nice.
“I don’t want us to get to a point where we can’t do that anymore because some people abused their position. The majority of the people are lovely and it’s a shame that so many people have potentially ruined it for the rest of us.”
“Sometimes I feel very personally guilty about what happened because to a certain extent I helped him gain that audience.”
This moment lingers for a little while. Two of the YouTubers who had serious allegations levelled against them were once Luke’s closest friends. Looking back on his friendship with Jason Vihoni and Karim Slimani, who were also his housemates, he starts to talk candidly about how he feels.
“First off, I think it’s disgusting. Let me make that clear,” says Luke. “Yeah, Jason was my best friend but I’ve really tried not to think about that.
“At the time I tweeted something along the lines of ‘I never have and never will condone any form of sexual abuse, we’ve asked Jason to move out and he has done’,” he continues. “It’s disgusting. What he did was disgusting. He abused his power and he abused his place. That’s a truth, it’s not an opinion.”
Due to the nature of his close relationship with Jason, Luke saw a flood of people asking for his opinion on the subject. “At the time, I didn’t feel there was anything more I could add,” he reflects.
“And, I guess, sometimes I feel very personally guilty about what happened, because to a certain extent I helped him gain that audience.
“When I met him he had less than 5,000 subscribers, and three months later he had 50,000. I sometimes feel like maybe that is partly my fault,” he continues. “I know that it’s not. But if I hadn’t helped him, maybe these people wouldn’t have had these things done to them.”
Luke then turns his attention to Karim, who he feels even more personally betrayed by. “When all the stuff about Jason came out I asked Karim to tell me if there was anything I should know. I was so far done caring about this, I just wanted to know,” he says. “And he told me there was nothing I needed to know.
“I didn’t say much at the time because I felt like there was nothing to say,” recalls Luke. “People were getting outed right, left, and centre, and I was sat there watching the community I love dying around me. I lost most of the friends that I actually cared about. I’ve even fallen out with people who had nothing to do with it because of the impact further down the line.”
“That whole group of people is now dead, y’know,” he states coldly. “Thankfully I didn’t lose Emma, so that’s nice!”
“I think me and Emma have sort of ‘Dan-and-Phil-ed’ ourselves…”
When talking about something so serious, just a mention of Emma’s name makes Luke smile. As a result of this, the conversation quickly moves on to what his life looks like now. “I live with Emma now and that’s for two reasons,” he says.
“One, because that’s the natural progression of our relationship, and two, both of us lost most of our friends. We sort of needed to keep a hold of what we had left.
“We get dinner every night, watch a film, make a YouTube video, yeah,” he says. “All that makes me very happy.”
When asked if the two of them have become recluses, Luke smirks. “I think me and Emma have sort of ‘Dan-and-Phil-ed’ ourselves,” he laughs.
On the face of it, his YouTube and Twitter would have you believe that Luke has a very sociable life. “Yes, well I only film the bits where I am seeing people,” he points out. “When I lived with all these people [Patty Walters, Jason, and Karim] we were very specifically sociable.
“But I’m not particularly an actively sociable person, and so I just sort of see people when happenstance calls for it.
“The one positive to come out of the whole horrible situation is that I know who my real friends are now,” he explains. “Real friends who would be my friends whether or not I was on YouTube.”
“Fame is a sliding scale, it’s a spectrum. And YouTube popularity is a spectrum too.”
To the outsider, it looks like content creators within the YouTube community are all friends. And while genuine friendships have been made, it is also true that the numbers-driven culture means friendships can often be disingenuous.
“I went to a Russell Brand show the other day, and he was saying how he believed once he was famous he’d be happy,” says Luke. “And I think that’s the same with YouTube.”
Luke explains that there’s no limit to fame, and unlike a car or a house, you can’t simply get what you want. “Fame is a sliding scale, it’s a spectrum. And YouTube popularity is a spectrum too,” he states. “Even when you’re the most popular in the world you can still lose that position. So there’s never actually something you can get, be happy with, or achieve.
“I think that’s why you’ve got this situation where people are using each other,” he continues. “Even if you’re the closest friends with them, there’s a little bit of you that goes ‘I want that thing that you have’, and that’s sad.”
Observing this culture – which certainly plays in to the YouTube Culture debate – and taking into consideration the unfortunate events of last year, Luke has now found himself in a place where he’s surrounded by people that aren’t like that. “It’s nice, because we are all doing our own thing,” he says.
“I want to go into film, Emma wants to go into music, and Patty is already in music,” says Luke. “We don’t have a situation where we’re trying to get things off each other because we’re all sort of making our own way. Whereas on YouTube, everyone’s making the same way, just jumping over each other.”
Speaking more about his life, Luke is happy he has more time to focus on the things he wants to achieve. “The one thing about living a boyband lifestyle – like I did with my friends – is that you get very sucked into ‘Let’s go on a road trip! Paris? Why not? #YOLO!’,” he says.
“Now I’ve got a slower life, it’s more like, ‘Right, what do I want to achieve by the end of today?’,” he adds. “And that’s more boring, I guess, but long-term it’s more fulfilling.”
It’s at this point Luke reveals that he’s been working on a screenplay for a film the past year. “I’ve been keeping it very secret,” he says. “I do like dropping hints here and there, like in my videos, but other than that I’ve not really been telling anyone.”
Luke is ultra-aware that he’s sitting in front of a journalist at this moment. And not just any journalist, a journalist from TenEighty. He refuses to budge on the subject, but he does tell us the bizarre circumstances that allowed this opportunity to arise.
“The project was already happening before I was brought on,” he says. “The lead actress in the film knew me from a video shoot. She’d already been cast in the film, but it got dropped for one reason or another. She then emailed some people and told them about me. It just so happened the daughter of the person she emailed was a fan of my videos.
“So I got a meeting through that, and they said ‘I need to work with you’,” teases Luke. “It was a very weird set of chances, but it all happened very nicely.”
“I think if you’re not attempting to get someone to click on it then you’re not doing your job…”
We talk a little bit about how filmmaker Luke is different from vlogger Luke. The main difference, in his eyes, is potentially his childish sense of humour which often manifests itself, at its silliest, through the titles of his videos. “I think of the kind of thing that would make me go ‘wait, what’s that?’ and then name my videos something along those lines,” he laughs.
“I think if you’re not attempting to get someone to click on it then you’re not doing your job,” states Luke. “Your job is to invite people to click that video.”
There’s a sense of irony in the fact that when Luke was trying to be genuine with a video title, he caused offence. When Luke revealed to the community he was dating Emma, he named the video Coming Out, and thus upset members of the LGBTQ+ community and got called out for Queer-baiting.
He admits that he was wrong, but goes on to explain how the name surfaced. “When I was talking to other people about the video, I would say ‘me and Emma are going to come out’ and I didn’t even think about it,” says Luke.
“If anything, My Secret [the video’s current title] sounded too click-bait-y to me,” he continues. “The actual choice of the title was a very well-intentioned thing, but I’m aware that it was a joke at the expense of the LGBTQ+ community and that was wrong.”
Nonetheless, it did take a while after the video was published for Luke to change the name. It was Troye Sivan who eventually reasoned with Luke, and got him to understand why the title was inappropriate. “He explained that the reason I couldn’t call it that is because kids go online to look for coming out videos,” he recalls.
“They’re going to come across a straight person talking about that, using the term that they’re going to use, and that’s why it’s wrong. I went, ‘shit, yeah, that’s very true’.”
At this point Luke refers to TenEighty’s article about Queer-baiting. “You approached it in a balanced way,” he says. “You basically said ‘yeah he’s changed the title now, but he did it in the first place’, and that’s fair enough. Make a mistake, get called out for it.”
Part of that article also called out Joe Sugg for Queer-baiting. Luke points out that not only did Joe use this tactic to get people to click on the video, he was also selling a book off the back of it. “There are a subset of people who do that sort of thing,” he says, “and I don’t want to be a part of that.”
“‘Give me £7, we’ll play you two songs and then you can meet us’”
Talking about Joe brings up another topic: Summer in the City. In January, Joe – along with the top-tier stars managed by Gleam Futures – all announced they wouldn’t be attending the event. As one of the organisers, Luke finds it hard to sympathise with Gleam’s talent, because he wouldn’t make any money off the back of their attendance.
“If you’re an actor, you get an appearance fee to appear at an event, that’s fine, I get that,” explains Luke. “But the way Summer in the City is run, it’s more like a charity than a company. It’s always been about giving something back to the people who like YouTube.”
Nonetheless, he admits that the scale of the event – mainly due to the ever-growing size of everyone’s audiences – has become unmanageable. But he believes you should still try to treat your fans as people, not customers. “I don’t see any difference between myself and the people who watch me,” he says.
“But there is a number difference there,” he continues. “There’s one of me and 500,000 of you. I can’t hug everyone!
“However, if you’re going to pay for something, you should be paying for a show, and the fact that you meet me – or your favourite YouTubers – is a separate bonus.”
But what about an Emma and Luke tour? “It probably would be awful,” he laughs. “I could do an Emma and Luke tour where I just meet people in parks across the country. Not just ‘give me £7, we’ll play you two songs and then you can meet us’.
“I mean, yeah, I need to eat, but I do that just fine with YouTube,” he continues. “If I’m going to charge for something it has to be something I can be proud of.”
Photos by Dave Bird
Want more Luke Cutforth?
You could always check out our Christmas 2014 and New Year coverage. The first part featured Luke talking about his christmas traditions and in the second part he looked back on 2014 and picked his favourite moments.
Alternatively you could read our feature about YouTube gatherings, which takes a closer look at Summer in the City and Amity Fest.
To see the full Luke Cutforth: Cutting Out The Dark magazine cover, check out our Tumblr.
For exclusive photo-sets, follow TenEighty UK on Tumblr:
- Luke Cutforth TenEighty 2015 cover shoot: Photo-Set 01
- Luke Cutforth TenEighty 2015 cover shoot: Photo-Set 02
- Summer in the City 2014: Emma Blackery shaving her hair off