YouTube royalty, musician, filmmaker, and now author, Charlie McDonnell (AKA Charlieissocoollike), has spent the last decade with his fingers in many creative pies. I met him after a signing event for his latest project, Fun Science. The genuine excitement in those queuing was palpable; one girl stood by the side long after her book was signed. She proudly showed me her photo with him (despite the fact I had witnessed it being taken moments before) and talked animatedly about her favourite videos. Mainly though she just looked at him, savouring her moment with a digital idol made physical.
I was curious to know how he approaches events where everyone is there to see him. Does it pile the pressure on?
“With something like this there is more time to have conversations. You want to see if you can create that connection, even if it is brief. I don’t want people to feel like they’re just part of an assembly line.”
I ask if he feels his audience has stayed fairly demographically constant over the decade.
“It’s interesting, one girl came who is 21 and has been watching my videos since she was 11 or 12. So people have kind of ‘grown up’ with me. My main demographic used to be 13 to 17 year olds but a few years ago it shifted from 17 to 30. I suppose the audience reflects the kind of person they’re watching […] I’ve tried to talk about my own anxieties and show I’m just a human being. I suppose that has spoken to a calmer group.”
In a recent video he talks candidly about anxiety and mental health. I ask why now felt like the right time to discuss what can still be a a taboo subject.
“It was partly me finding myself in a place where I’m more comfortable to talk about it, where I was feeling they’ve become more separate from me. I felt it was a good time to talk when I wasn’t too overwhelmed myself. I found that talking about them was helping me too! So it was partly like, if I can get this off my chest and out into the world it makes it less of a scary thing.”
Given his mainly young female audience, I ask whether an initiative to encourage women into the sciences affected his decision to write this book.
“It’s definitely something I’m aware of. I heard my Fun Science videos are the only educational series on Youtube that reaches a majority female audience. So it’s a responsibility I’m aware of. I think having a general knowledge of and enthusiasm for the sciences are very important things, so to be able to reach people who may not be interested in it otherwise feels like a responsibility in and of itself.”
Considering this need to increase science’s profile among younger generations, is making education more accessible something he has an interest in?
“I suppose it’s partly tangential, I didn’t have the same enthusiasm for science in school, I only really got the bug for it after I left. Independently reading books and listening to podcasts and stuff like that. So I want to get that enthusiasm out to people.”
Given his book and Youtube series are called Fun Science, one question had to be asked: was it difficult to make science fun?
“Sometimes like, ‘this is really dense and boring, how can I translate it into something that clicks for me’. It is oftentimes something that I become fascinated by […] I found the chapter on geology hard. I’m not really passionate about geology. I didn’t know how to communicate it well. But then I watched my friends’ geology series on Youtube and was like, ‘oh my god! geology is really cool!’ So all you need is to find someone who’s genuinely enthusiastic.”
With so many projects under his belt, can he pick a favourite?
[Pause] “Oh my god. Probably. [laughs] I’ve done quite a lot. It sounds like a cop-out but I did genuinely enjoy writing a book. I was approached to write a book and found it was a creative passion. It fitted better with my personality than I was expecting, which has been big for me.
“I previously thought doing lots of different things was probably a bad thing, because of that general ‘you need to stick to one thing’ idea. But I’ve found allowing myself to go on different tangents based on what opportunities popped up feels like a good thing. It’s worth trying out at least, which has led to me learning more things about myself and what I might want to land on eventually.”
Photo credit: Midas Public Relations