From classrooms to red carpets (and back again), Jade Bowler began posting videos of herself studying. Two years later, she’s found herself with a dedicated audience, topping podcast charts and handling a whole lot of pressure she’s never faced before. TenEighty catches up with Jade to talk StudyTube, being a role model, handling online abuse and living like Hannah Montana.
Welcome to the new genre of YouTube: StudyTube. In this corner of the internet, students document their education experience through school to university, share revision tips, create exam survival guides and offer advice for fellow students.
Jade Bowler started her channel in February 2017, despite being uninterested in mainstream YouTube culture. She preferred videos about self-improvement, minimalism, veganism and general lifestyle content, listing Ellen Fisher, Thomas Frank and Matt D’Avella as her favourite channels.
While Jade was doing her GCSEs, she turned to the internet for advice on how to deal with exam stress. However, she struggled to find people who’d recently been through the school system.
After finishing her GCSEs, she decided to share the knowledge she had gathered and wish she’d known. As one of the earlier StudyTubers, Jade found herself accidentally becoming a pioneer of the genre.
“Pioneer – that is a fancy title! But yeah, I suppose I am – in a weird way?” she considers. “That’s so strange!”
“I had never seen anyone making the content I was making when I first started doing it. But it was quite nice because in the first year, there were three of us who were making studying content in the UK and we were all in the same year group.”
The others were Ruby Granger and Eve Bennett. After finding each other via comments, emails and Twitter, they began to meet up, talk and collaborate. Soon, a community began to grow around their content.
For the first few months of Jade’s channel, she was at around 200 subscribers, but by April 2017 that shot up to 10,000, all in the space of a week. She currently has over 350,000 subscribers.
“I was on SkyNews the other day – sorry, what?”
“All of a sudden, the people at school who were like ‘hah, Jade’s got a tiny YouTube channel’ were like ‘oh wait – she actually has a YouTube channel?’,” she laughs.
While StudyTube is still niche in the wider landscape of YouTube, it’s grown into a strong community and a welcoming corner of the internet. We ask Jade if there’s been any drama – she paused to think for a few moments.
“None that I can think of… literally none,” she says. “We’re just people studying and happen to put it online!”
With the success of her channel, Jade finds herself going from classrooms to national TV, radio and red carpet events – and then back to school again.
Last year, she posted a video of herself crying on Snapchat when she felt her biology exam had gone badly. That video went viral and Jade ended up talking to BBC News, The One Show and national radio to talk about StudyTube and exam pressure.
“I was on SkyNews the other day – sorry, what? It’s just mad!” she exclaims.
“Another really crazy thing is doing really mainstream, almost ‘celebrity’ type things – being invited to a movie premiere, going on a red carpet and having press take photos of you. In my head I’m thinking ‘all I did was share videos of myself revising and now I’m on a red carpet – like what am I actually doing here?’”
On this, she shares a few anecdotes; when attending the premiere for The House with a Clock in Its Walls she ended up in the background of Cate Blanchett’s press photos. She also attended the Prince’s Trust Award with Prince Charles, Fearne Cotton and Phillip Schofield. And during the Into Film Awards she found herself a metre away from Eddie Redmayne.
“I was like ‘why am I here?’ This is amazing!”
“I was at school for most of this YouTube time so I would live this parallel life. I’d go to school, do all the boring work and then come home and do revision, and then I’d turn on my phone my management will be like ‘oh yeah Channel 4 wants to speak to you.’”
So Jade was basically a StudyTube version of Hannah Montana? “I mean – you said it, not me!” she laughs.
“No one teaches you what it’s like to become a well known YouTuber and I’m not even that well known. It’s just surreal because I’m just a person, I’m just Jade and I’ve really tried to not let any of the perceived fame change anything about myself.”
Jade takes care to catch herself before letting any ego grow, but also battles with imposter syndrome – particularly when she’s attending events or finds herself on mainstream platforms.
“I’m just so aware that I’m just a young person trying to navigate life and when you get these cool opportunities – well, why me? Why is it not someone who’s done something more worthy?”
“It can be quite lonely. Even though you’re connected to so many, at the end of the day it is sometimes just me and my laptop”
With Jade’s maturity and success, it’s easy to forget that she is still only 19 years old. How is she handling all that comes with being a digital influencer in the public eye, with online and mainstream media attention?
“It’s hard. If I’m honest, mental health-wise, I think it’s a tough blow,” she admits. “It can be quite lonely. Even though you’re connected to so many, at the end of the day it is sometimes just me and my laptop.”
Jade finds herself struggling to navigate the maze of being online, particularly with handling negative attention and abuse.
“A lot of people can’t relate to being a YouTuber, so it’s hard to talk to people about getting a horrible hate comment – people can’t fully appreciate what it’s like. You’ve almost signed yourself up to allow everyone to form an opinion of you without ever meeting you, which for me is a scary thing. I think I care too much about what other people think of me and I really hate it,” she says. ”I really want to not care but I do.”
“Especially when you’re trying to help people or you’re trying hard to be a positive impact on social media – when you get a mean comment it sticks in your head. You can get 200 nice ones and you get one mean one and you remember that.”
Jade reveals that her first ever hate comment really affected her at the time, but now it makes her laugh. “Someone said ‘oh my god you sound like a horse’.” Jade begins laughing hard at the memory.
“They would come and leave comments like ‘oh you look like a horse, you sound like a horse’ – to the point where because they left comments on every single video, I would be waiting for this evil person – horse man! And I remember once looking at myself in the mirror and going ‘oh my god – do I look like a horse?’ Which is so stupid!”
These types of comments no longer affect Jade so strongly – she’s since learned that they tend to come from a place of insecurity. However, she finds it’s the essay long, seemingly well-reasoned comments that can still get to her.
“When it’s something like that you can almost see the truth in it – why do I feel like I should share advice? Ones like that are bad because they spiral you into self-doubt and question why you bother,” she shares.
“It’s so easy because of the anonymity of the internet – you just tap a few keys and you can put whatever you want on the internet. A lot of this gap year has been me navigating that and learning how to be online. I love sharing content but also I need to look after my mental health.”
Jade has also been using her gap year to break away from all the academic pressure placed on her at school. She had always been a top student; she received all A*s at GCSE and A-Level, she was the head girl at school and her peers and teachers held her to an extremely high standard – and she was sharing her experience online.
“Now I’m publicly going to get good grades apparently. Results day was one of the most dreaded days in my entire life. Looking back, no matter what you get you can still be successful, you can even turn it into a cool message for people to see that things don’t always go to plan,” she considers.
“It doesn’t matter what grades are on that piece of paper but at the time I really did think that if I didn’t get those grades it was the end of the world”
She remembers how getting top grades was her whole world – day in, day out; revising at home; lessons at school.
“I think it does train a good discipline and work ethic, and it teaches you a lot: how to deal with stress, learn to deal with coping mentally with knowing that a piece of paper will mean a lot and learning to cope with that. But I don’t like how much pressure is put on younger people.”
If Jade was able to go back and give her old self some advice, what would she say?
“I would say in the grand scheme of everything, it really just doesn’t matter. Whatever you want to do, you can do it whatever grades you happen to get. Now, I’m a firm believer that if you’re passionate about making something happen, you’ll make it happen.”
“It doesn’t matter what grades are on that piece of paper but at the time I really did think that if I didn’t get those grades it was the end of the world – it isn’t!”
“The older you get the more perspective you get, especially on this gap year. Now I just radically see my life in so much more perspective than I could when I was in that whole cycle, so it’s nice trying to share that.”
Having been so academically strong, she was feeling pressured to go straight into university. However, she decided to defer her place at university for a year, and hasn’t regretted that decision.
Jade’s gap year has allowed her to travel the world and go through a lot of personal growth. Fresh out of school, she spent a month solo interrailing across Europe, lived in London for two months, backpacked across the Australian East Coast for two months, spent two weeks doing an intensive French language course in Montpellier, France and at time of this article’s publication, is in Uganda for three months.
She now feels inspired, rather than obligated, to learn. But, September and university is coming soon – how does she feel about returning to the academic world after such a long time away?
“Mixed feelings. I’m excited but also a lot of anticipation and nerves,” she confesses.
Having spent almost an entire year able to dictate her own time, become self-employed and make her own plans, she’s wondering how she’s going to return to the routine of deadlines and others setting tasks for her.
Originally intending to study Biology at Bristol, Jade recently revealed she will instead be doing possibly the coolest university degree ever. She’ll be doing a programme called Minerva School at Keck Graduate Institute (KGI), a four year course spread across seven countries.
“I think there’ll be an adjustment period because I definitely want to continue to do the YouTube side of things which I won’t be able to do to the extent I am doing it right now. So I’m going to have to scale down the thing I’ve focused the whole year on. But I’m excited to vlog it and take people along on the journey!”
Is she ready to be a university vlogger? Other StudyTubers have had experiences of getting recognised around on campus and dealing with all its repercussions – admittedly a likely scenario given you’ll be submerged in the same environment with your main audience demographic.
“I’ve spoken to some StudyTubers at university – one of them, she was at a lecture just doing some work and then she looked up and someone had been looking at her. She was like ‘oh my god I’m being watched doing my work!’” she shared.
“I am worried in some ways. I think it’s just you’re always going to get it; school, university or whatever, you’ll always have people who don’t like what you’re doing, who say things. I know there’s anonymous confession Facebook groups and some friends have been victimised by some of them. It’s just one of those things that comes with being slightly in the public eye.”
“But equally I’m excited to meet a lot of new people and if people know who I am, it can help me meet more like-minded people – they probably know a lot about me so we will get on!”
“I look back at that and I feel like it was something from a film or a dream or a movie”
Thankfully, Jade is not the only StudyTuber and has friends she can rely on. Jade teamed up with fellow StudyTuber friends Ruby, Eve Cornwell and Jack Edwards to create The Wooden Spoon podcast. All of the hosts were high academic achievers who felt a lot of pressure from peers and teachers. Banding together, the podcast aims to reexamines what success and failure means, in and outside of the classroom.
“We were at an event together and we thought it’d be quite cool to make a podcast aimed at young people discussing issues young people face,” says Jade, sharing The Wooden Spoon’s origin story.
The podcast quickly went from idea to release – and upon release rapidly hit the top of the UK podcast chart, as well as various countries across the world.
“I remember we were all in this hotel room, our two managers and the four of us, sat on the bed. One of the managers was reading out a list telling us we were number one in this country, and this country,” says Jade.
“I look back at that and I feel like it was something from a film or a dream or a movie – like when a musician has released their amazing new album and it’s climbing the charts. Yet here we are, some random students!”
After the success of their first season, are there plans for a second one? “Perhaps…” she teases. “We’re definitely planning something, nothing formal just yet – but yes!”
The support for the podcast translates to real life as well – the gang did a live recording at VidCon London to a packed out room. Afterwards, they were surrounded by fans and spent the next few hours chatting to their audience in person.
“It’s so nice feeling supported! When I meet people in real life who watch my channel, it genuinely feels like friends. I don’t feel this awkward fan relationship. YouTube can be such a one sided thing – people know all this stuff about you and on the screen it’s just numbers, so it’s really nice to just get to know people’s lives and just chat,” says Jade.
“I prefer having real conversations rather than going ‘do you want a photo?’ – I would need to check myself and be like ‘Jade, who do you think you are?’ Please punch me in the face!”
“I’m so conscious now of everything that I share”
At the moment, Jade’s still able to have casual chats with her audience without being overwhelmed by crowds. However, she still finds interactions can get draining, especially when there are large groups.
“It’s so amazing that people would support your content and you kind of pour a lot of energy into meeting people. The only time you can’t do that is when you’re in a rush and you feel so mean.”
She shares a story of being recognised after getting off a plane at 4AM after six hours of delays. “I hadn’t brushed my hair or my teeth or anything. I was at this airport and this huge group of girls were like ‘it’s UnjadedJade!’ And by that point you’re tired but you want to give your best self to people.”
As Jade’s audience are predominantly students, a lot of younger people look up to her for advice, help and guidance through some of the toughest parts of their lives. We ask how Jade copes with the pressure and expectation to be a role model?
“I’m so conscious now of everything that I share and say – I will never post something on Instagram without thinking about it just for another little second. It’s terrifying because I know when I was 13 I was so impressionable to things that people online would say and I remember feeling so insecure,” she admits.
“I make a conscious effort to be a positive influencer but equally that can be hard because not everything is sunshine and rainbows all the time. It’s trying to strike this balance between being super real and authentic, while also being a positive force on social media.”
With all this self-questioning and cautiousness, how does she avoid getting paralysed with fear?
“I don’t know! I have no idea! I honestly think actually for me having a yoga practice and a practice of mediation is honestly the most important thing. If I didn’t have a practice of regulating my own thoughts, I couldn’t do it.”
Jade’s mother is a yoga teacher and therefore, like most children, had no interest in her parent’s profession. However, she started going to classes at the age of 15 and began meditation to help deal with exam stress.
“In some ways, if I never grew again and was to maintain this I think I’d be really happy”
Jade’s garnered a public image for healthy living, self-improvement and living a good lifestyle – she’s a vegan, and some of her most viewed videos are about getting up at 5AM and achieving productivity.
“Sometimes we all go through phases in life where I’m not actually living this lifestyle. At the start of my gap year I was a lot more perfectionistic and was blaming myself for not upholding these standards that I set for myself. Whereas now I’m a lot more honest about sharing the realities of not being perfect everyday.”
“I don’t get up at 5AM anymore – the only way I could balance my YouTube channels and getting the grades and being head girl was I would edit all my videos before school, then I would do all my work at school, come home, do my homework, do my head girl stuff prep for school council. That was the way I balanced my life. Now, I stay up late!”
As of writing this article, Jade is finishing up her gap year by spending three months in Uganda, then attending Summer in the City, followed by going to Japan for a week and a half with Eve, before starting university. She’s got more than enough planned for the immediate future, but does she know what she’d like to do in the long term?
“I don’t know what I’m doing with my life! There’s a few sectors I’m interested in but I think right now I can’t imagine doing YouTube full time, just because I’d quite like to pursue a traditional career as well. But, I can’t imagine stopping this – I just love it – so as long as it’s something that’s having a positive impact, that’s kind of all I want from a job!”
In terms of YouTube, Jade dislikes having numerical goals for her channel. She believes that’s largely out of her control and doesn’t want to resort to clickbait. However, her subscriber count is steadily increasing and with all growing channels, the possibility of getting big on YouTube is real. We ask Jade if she’s considered this and the repercussions that come with having a large channel.
“I’ve actually been thinking about this recently – I know that for most people, the goal is a million subscribers and to keep growing. But, in some ways, if I never grew again and was to maintain this I think I’d be really happy.”
“I like the level of sort of fame that I have because it’s not everywhere all the time, it’s just nice interactions and I think that when you get to really huge numbers you lose that element of friendship and being just a normal person. I do worry that the more I grow that I would lose the things that make it so special,” she affirms. “Who knows?”
Jade’s making a positive impact already; during the photoshoot for this interview, a viewer approached and excitedly told Jade how much they loved her videos. For Jade, it’s those experiences that keep her making videos.
“It makes any self doubt and imposter syndrome worth it. I’ve had people cry to meet me and I start crying! Because I think when I started my channel I assumed school would be the biggest thing I helped people with, but when I find out I’ve helped people with confidence and other things it really affects me,” says Jade. “It’s just why I do what I do and why I started this channel.”
For those who are just starting their YouTube journey, what advice does Jade have?
“I would say focus on the passion of creating. Personally, I think aiming to have a positive influence on the internet in some way is the most important thing – if you can benefit someone’s who’s watching your video or content, even if you just make them laugh.”
“When you touch people more deeply than just the one view, that’s when people stick around, that’s when people remember you. If you focus on helping, the rest will follow.”
Photos by George Yonge.
Want more from Jade?
Check out these exclusive photosets:
- Jade Bowler TenEighty Photoshoot: Set 01
- Jade Bowler TenEighty Photoshoot: Set 02
- Patreon: Jade Bowler Behind-the-Scenes
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