Alfie Deyes: ‘There may be social media pitfalls we're not even aware of yet’

Rosa Silverman
·8-min read
Alfie Deyes
Alfie Deyes

Alfie Deyes has filmed every day of his life for the past four-and-a-half years. Just let that sink in for a minute. Or for 15 minutes, which is the approximate length of many of his YouTube videos. He broadcasts his daily movements and thoughts with a degree of detail that would be dull if it was your own life but somehow when it’s someone else’s… Well, it’s hard to know exactly what the appeal is sometimes, but it’s very easy to keep clicking.

Deyes and I are chatting via videolink because he has his first podcast out. I wonder if he knows why so many people  – Alfie Deyes Vlogs has 3.68 million subscribers on YouTube – love watching him go about his business. Is it simply the logical extension of our reality television obsession?

“I wish I knew,” laughs the handsome and genuinely personable 27-year-old. “I don’t really know, to be honest.”

There’s no drama or plotline to keep people hooked, I point out.

“No,” he agrees. “With a lot of reality TV, they’re often putting things in the mix to create situations and scenarios that will be entertaining, whereas mine is quite the opposite. And the content that performs best, the videos that get the most views, engagement, comments and likes, are often the most mundane [ones].”

Like what? “It could be myself and my girlfriend on the sofa chatting about a couple of programmes or films we’ve really enjoyed. I don’t know what [the appeal] is. There’s got to be a hint of nosey looking into someone else’s life, because everyone’s got an interest in what somebody else is doing.”

His girlfriend, by the way, is 30-year-old Zoe Sugg, otherwise known as Zoella, an even more popular YouTuber than Deyes. Her channel has 4.8 million subscribers. Her most recent video, at the time of writing, involves her visiting a pumpkin patch. Among Deyes’ most recent output is a six-minute tour of his new office. If you were actually on the tour in person, you’d be looking to make your excuses and leave fairly sharpish. But watching it on screen is different. You stick with it, maybe because he’s so nice, or maybe because you don’t have to leave your own sofa and it’s easier to keep watching than to turn it off and find something else to do.

Deyes never set out to be famous. “No way!” he cries cheerfully, as if the idea is preposterous. Yet he and Sugg are so famous among a certain demographic that fans used to pay for bus tours past their Brighton house. Deyes says he cannot sing or dance and had no interest in stardom. But you don’t need to be able to sing or dance now.

When he started making videos for fun in his mid-teens, no-one was earning anything from YouTube. “I was purely enjoying creating,” he says. “Then it happened that over time different features came in that enable you to make money from the videos [such as advertising and paid partnerships with brands] and that was amazing because it enabled me to quit my part-time job and just make videos. But that was never a goal of mine.”

His part-time job was in a clothes shop. When, one month, he earned 20p more from YouTube than his shop work, he handed in his notice and began making videos full time. “Luckily it worked out,” he laughs.

It really did. Born in Tottenham, North London, to a mother who managed a team of social workers and a father who works in IT, Deyes is now a millionaire who’s branched into property and e-commerce and owns a creative agency called A to Z with Sugg. The couple, known to fans as Zalfie, share a seven-bedroom mansion in Sussex. 

At their previous address, some of these fans would sometimes turn up unannounced. Deyes sounds forgiving, though it must have been quite the nuisance. “When somebody would knock on the door, they’re just excited and there to say hello. It doesn’t mean that I, while having my breakfast in my boxers, necessarily want to go outside and have a picture with them, and that’s OK as well.”

He says this after I’ve asked him about the downsides to fame. He initially can’t think of any. Eventually he concedes: “It can be super busy walking around, but everybody’s got such good intentions and everybody’s so friendly and nice, I’ve never had a negative encounter with somebody [in] the streets.”

The privacy question is an interesting one, though: clearly there are, and must be, boundaries. Deyes insists he has shared absolutely everything online, to the extent he now has not a single secret to his name.

Not even a hidden drug addiction?

“I’ve literally never even tried a drug in my life,” he says. “I’ve never even tried a cigarette.”

If he’s all out of secrets, the guests on his new podcast have plenty. Called The Secret’s Out, it involves celebrities (the most famous of whom so far has been Robbie Williams) sharing embarrassing secrets of their own, then reading and discussing those sent in anonymously by members of the public. It’s not for the squeamish, but clearly plenty of people aren’t squeamish because it topped the iTunes chart shortly after its release in September.

I’m struck by how willing the guests are to overshare. Then again, perhaps we’re all guilty of this in the age of social media, when our willingness to share our lives online runs amok. Isn’t our difference from Deyes (who says “I genuinely believe I’ve shared everything”) one of degrees rather than categories?  

I ask Deyes whether he thinks we’ll ultimately regret it all, and if there may be pitfalls. He considers this. “I’m sure there will be, we just might not be aware of them yet, and if there are then we’re probably mostly all in it together.”

Except we are already aware of some of the dangers. A recent Netflix film called The Social Dilemma illuminated them more than ever, exposing the extent of our addiction to social media, the algorithms that keep us hooked, and the way we are manipulated for financial gain by the tech giants.

What did Deyes make of it? “My mind was blown!” he says. “The amount of times within videos or on social I’ve said to people ‘Click off this video... Go and enjoy your day, go and see your family... Do something that matters more than watching this video.’ Watching that [Netflix film] is scary, isn’t it?”

It is. Did it make him think “Oh God, I’m part of this”? 

A long pause. “It definitely made me more aware of setting boundaries. One thing I’d love to do would be no technology in the bedroom. Waking up first thing in the morning and checking your phone, it’s just not needed. Or lying in bed and just scrolling Instagram, it’s so easy and so fun to do, but it’s just not needed.”

But it is needed if certain people are to continue making huge sums from it. Deyes speaks at length, and convincingly, about the “amazing opportunities” social media also opens up, whether it’s helping people find their own tribe or community online, or enabling them to build a business or learn a skill. He also admits he’s addicted. “I don’t think there’s that many people my age who aren’t, and I think it’s scary,” he says. 

So he’s scared too, even though he’s part of it. We’re all part of it. We have each created our own personal Truman Show and are busy contributing to it every time we post our pictures, videos and thoughts online. A few people, Deyes included, are making a fortune from doing so. The rest of us are helping other people make a fortune. 

What happens next for Deyes? “I’m sure in the near future I’ll be having kids, so that’s going to be something I’ll be not documenting in the same way,” he says. “I will not be filming my kids every day at all, far from it.”

Why not? “My videos have always been around me... I wouldn’t just shift to ‘now my content is around my children’ because it isn’t really what I’d want to be doing.”

So there’ll be no Deyes the Daddy Blogger, then – a surprise, perhaps, because for so many, the intimacy of family life is now fodder for public display, too. 

Is any of this “real” or is it all carefully curated? Truth or mirage? The answer probably lies somewhere in between. It’s not always easy to tell; the lines that once separated public and private have, for most of us, become too blurry to see. 

But as Deyes himself wisely observes: “You can only put up a facade for so long.”

The Secret’s Out Podcast with Alfie Deyes is available on all podcast providers