YouTuber Nikki Lilly: ‘Ugly is such a thrown-around word’


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Media captionNikki Lilly spoke to Chloe Tilley on Victoria Derbyshire about the highs and lows of being a YouTube star

YouTube star Nikki Lilly, 15, has already interviewed a prime minister, won Junior Bake Off and pulled off a ukulele rendition of Here Comes the Sun that would have made George Harrison proud.

She is now being officially recognised at next month’s British Academy Children’s Awards, where she will become the youngest ever recipient of a Bafta Special Award.

So it’s going to take more than a few internet trolls labelling her “ugly” to ruin her day.

Confidence boost

At the age of six, the presenter was diagnosed with an arteriovenous malformation – a life-threatening medical condition, which began to affect her appearance and cause severe health issues.

Two years later, as a way of coping with the sudden changes, she began to post videos of herself up on YouTube. Initially she had the comments section switched off and found making the videos really helped to boost her confidence.

Now seven years on, over one million followers regularly watch her give makeup lessons, talk about cyber bullying and generally lark about with her family, like an “average teenager”.

Nikki, who has undergone more than 40 operations, says she’s learned a lot about herself and other people too along the way.

“As soon as you put yourself online you’re exposing yourself to the whole world,” she told BBC Two’s Victoria Derbyshire show on Thursday. “So you are going to get the positives with the negatives.

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Nikki Lilly

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Bake Off champions: Nadiya Hussain and Nikki Lilly

“Even the most beautiful girl or guy in the world is always going to get something.

“I think when I first started it was a lot of ‘you’re ugly’ – ugly is just such a thrown-around word.”

She added: “Back then it would get to me a lot more because my confidence was a lot lower than it is now, and it’s been built up through doing videos.

“I get it so often that it’s just something I’ve become immune to almost. That’s not to say that it doesn’t get to me [but] I think I’ve realised that the people commenting horrible things – it’s much more about them than it is you.

“It’s quite sad and cowardly that they feel the need to post horrible things to someone else because they’re so sad in their life and they think ‘oh if I’m mean to this person then hopefully I’ll feel better about myself, and my life that I’m unhappy in’.”

Her TV career began in 2016 when she was crowned the winner of CBBC’s Junior Bake Off, and in the same year she was awarded the Child of Courage award at the Pride of Britain awards.

Since 2018 she has been presenting her own CBBC show Nikki Lilly Meets… interviewing influential figures such as the then prime minister Theresa May and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.

‘Important to be yourself’

Bafta has said her upcoming gong, which has previously gone to the likes of Jacqueline Wilson, Peter Firmin, Newsround and the Chuckle Brothers, is their highest honour at the Children’s Awards.

The YouTuber and campaigner admitted she is “so, so excited about working with Bafta”.

Helen Blakeman, chair of the Bafta children’s committee, believes Nikki is “a pioneer for her generation”.

“I am so pleased to see Nikki’s work and her outstanding bravery and the hopeful message she has spread to so many other young people, to be recognised in this way,” she said in a statement.

Nikki has twice been the subject of CBBC’s My Life documentaries; First in 2016 with Born to Vlog, which was Bafta-nominated and won an International Emmy Kids award, and again in 2018 with I Will Survive.

While she uses her vlogging platform to spread “positive messages”, she’s also acutely aware of the social pressures and trappings that come along with sites like YouTube, Instagram and Twitter too, as well as the good stuff.

“Although I look different I’ve not tried to change myself,” she explained.

“We live in this airbrushed world today on social media, and kids are always subjected to glossy images of what they think reality is like, and social media isn’t reality.

“I think it’s so important to be yourself because why should you fit this mould of how you should be, or how you should act, or how you should look?

“Everyone is different and everyone is unique and if we lived in a world where everyone looked the same and acted the same and everyone had the same likes, it would be a really boring world.”

The British Academy Children’s Awards ceremony takes place on Sunday 1 December at The Brewery, London.

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