Parenting vlogger Louise Pentland. Image: Nicky Johnston
Louise Pentland was an influencer long before the term was coined. An early adopter of what became known as vlogging, Pentland was working as a receptionist and writing a blog for a tiny audience of family and friends when it was suggested she make a video. The rest is history.
Originally vlogging under the pseudonym SprinkleOfGlitter, Pentland built up a huge following. HUGE. Her crafting, DIY, lifestyle, fashion and beauty videos amassed more than 150million views and 2.5million YouTube subscribers as she became one of the first wave of British YouTubers to find a mass audience.
None of this was the plan. But Pentland has ridden the wave ever since, creating more grown-up content since re-adopting her own name, and becoming particularly popular as a parenting influencer and novelist. Her latest novel, Time After Time, is out now.
More of this later, but first, Pentland takes us back to the early days.
“I graduated university and didn’t know what I wanted to do with my degree,” she says. “I was the world’s worst receptionist. It was astonishing to everyone that I was hired. I was terrible at my job.
“I was good at greeting people but the post never got distributed, I wasn’t good with files and I would use a lot of company time to go on the internet and read other people’s blogs.”
Then she got involved herself – with instant success.
“It quickly took off and it was famous – it had 35 readers, five of which were people I knew,” she laughs. “But I thought this is it. Now I’ve absolutely made it.
“A friend suggested I made a YouTube video – and at the time I was reviewing make up. ‘Don’t bother buying this cream, it doesn’t work, save your money’. That kind of thing. I think I just caught that wave.”
As SprinkleOfGlitter, Pentland was a household name for millions young people and entirely unknown to an older generation. The original YouTubers, nicknamed the Brit Crew and including Pentland alongside Joe and Zoe ‘Zoella’ Sugg, Jim Chapman, Alfie Deyes and Tanya Burr opened up the kind of Generation Gap not seen in popular culture for decades.
“I didn’t feel like a pioneer. Because I didn’t know what was in front of me,” says Pentland now. “But if I look back now, I can see it all accelerating. All the things we did, all the opportunities, the places we went, the people we saw. And I think, yes, wow, that was the crest of that wave that was starting.
“But at the time, I remember keeping my manager’s number in my phone because I thought when it stops, I’ll go back and be a receptionist again. Because you’re sort of at the mercy of an audience.”
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Pentland took the decision out of her audience’s hands after years on the crest of the YouTube wave. Creating upbeat, unserious content for a much younger audience as her life got more complex felt increasingly false.
“When I started I was 24 or 25,” says Pentland, whose YouTube channel still has more than two million followers. “And I was really talking to a younger audience and had more of a big sister role. I was talking to younger girls, teenagers. A lot of the content was aimed at them because they were the only people that were really watching YouTube back then.
“But as I hit 30, a lot of things happened in my life. My marriage broke down, I ended up divorcing, and I was dating as a single mum and trying to navigate all this hard adult stuff – all the paperwork that comes with a divorce and split custody. Darcy had just started school.
“So I was trying to navigate all of that. And I just thought, I don’t want to make silly videos anymore. They definitely have their time and place. I don’t want to disrespect them or the people that still make those videos, because there is a market for them. But I wanted to make content for grown up women – when I think of my audience, in my mind, I’m thinking of like-minded friends, most of whom are women.
“I wanted to talk about feeling confident in your own body, about motherhood, about dating, about setting yourself goals, about writing.”
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Pentland made the leap and took some of her audience with her. She continues to enjoy the accidental career that YouTube opened up for her.
Following her debut non-fiction book in 2015 – “remember the era when every YouTuber and their dog had a book?” she jokes – Pentland pivoted into writing fiction.
“The first three fiction books were a trilogy about Robin Wilde. The next one was MumLife, all about my journey to becoming a mother, which hasn’t been super smooth,” she says.
“But my new book Time After Time is a totally standalone fiction. And it’s a bit different from the others. Because although it starts off feeling similar with a young woman living in a small town, she finds a way to accidentally slip back into 1989. And the person she meets there changes her whole future or current life forever. That’s it in a nutshell.”
Watch out Russell T Davies, there’s a new voice in the time travel scene. But Pentland explains that her desire to travel back in time comes from a serious place.
“I don’t know a single person that doesn’t have someone in life they would like to go back and visit just one last time,” she says.
“I lost my own mum, when I was very young. And I have often thought, How amazing would it be if I could somehow go back in time and talk to her now? Because I was seven when she died. So I never had an adult conversation with her.”
It is on parenting that Pentland finds she has most to say. She made two series of hit parenting podcast Mothers Meeting and these days is an ambassador for the NSPCC and has fundraised for Childline. Her own upbringing was not easy.
“After my mum died, someone came into my life that was very abusive,” she says. “Although that was terrible, it has taught me a lot about parenting and given me a really harsh insight as to how I don’t want to parent. It’s also really motivated me to support other parents.”
That can include parents facing poverty, as so many are during the cost of living crisis that continues to cause so much anxiety in this country.
“If you haven’t got those base ones, like enough money to eat, how can you fulfill all the other ones? I’ve been very fortunate that I’ve had somewhere to live and been able to provide food on the table for my children but last year my mental health took a turn.
“I’m back and firing on all cylinders now – but it shocked me how easy it is for everything to come crumbling down.”
Asked for her underlying parenting philosophy, Pentland returns to the theme of time.
“I definitely parent differently because I have lost a parent. I cherish time so much more.
“There are definitely times when I feel like banging my head against a brick wall – when I’ve stepped on bits of Lego, everyone’s overtired and we’re in a heatwave. But I cherish these moments so much more because I know how precious they are and how fleeting time is.
“I only got to have seven years with my mum. And my daughters are 11 and four. So I always feel like I’m trying to pour memories and love into them. I know all parents are doing that. But it’s always at the back of my mind that this time is so precious. You can’t find more. There’s no way to get more. So you just have to use what you have.”
Time After Time by Louise Pentland is out now (Zaffre)
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