From stage fright to self-care, YouTube’s megastar and certified dancing queen shows DARE her soft side...
It’s the middle of the day in drizzly south-west London and social media sensation Saffron Barker is lying on a rug on the floor in silk PJs. She’s laughing at the crew’s what-a-diva jokes while they lift the rug (with her still on it) into position. Her mum, Wendy, is chatting with our editorial assistant, swapping makeup tips. ‘I love having my mum with me – she keeps me grounded,’ Saffron tells us when we step off set and head to the dressing room to sit down and chat.
That her mum is on her first ever cover photoshoot makes perfect sense. Sharing her life – and the people in it – is how Saffron made her internet mark. Time was when YouTube was all funny cat videos and beauty tutorials, but for a certain set
of bright young things born in the Noughties, it offered a ticket to superstardom.
She’s emphatically normal. A regular teenager. A bit like the girl you used to sit next to at school. Yes, she’s undeniably gorgeous, even more so in the flesh – all sparkly eyes and legs sculpted from her riding high on Strictly. ‘My body changed because I was using muscles I hadn’t used before,’ she tells us – but she isn’t committed to curating a perfect image of herself like some influencers are.
‘If I’m having a bad day, I’ll tell people,’ she says. ‘Obviously, I’m a teenage girl, so my hormones are here, there and everywhere! Like everyone, I have good days and bad days, but I love my content to be positive. I want people to feel they can have a great day after watching one of my videos. But I also show the bad days – that’s so important – when I’m feeling down or having a bad skin day, for example.
‘I think that’s the best thing about YouTube. The fact it’s so real. I grew up watching YouTube, so I saw people feeling at their worst, I saw people without makeup or girls showing their bad skin. I think that’s what made me feel confident to do it, to be myself and not to have to worry so much. It made me realise I’m not perfect and I’m never going to be perfect.’
Although Saffron admits that it’s hard to have boundaries and switch off from her laptop lifestyle, ‘I try to have digital detoxes, but it’s so hard! I don’t maintain balance,’ she laughs. ‘Social media is just part of my life now, but I love it.’
Does she ever long for a little more privacy or regret sharing the minutiae of her life with millions of people?
‘When I started my channel, I was vlogging my life every day, so I feel I’ve kind of shared everything. I’ve shared my family, relationships, how I was feeling… I wasn’t always vlogging when I was feeling my best. I was vlogging when I felt my worst because I wanted people to realise that I am a real person. So even though sometimes I think I might have shared too much, I don’t regret it because I think that’s why people can relate to me.’
It’s an insight that shows a level of self-awareness most of us probably didn’t possess as a teenager, but having grown up on YouTube, Saffron is acutely aware of her voice and the impact it has on others.
‘My job is amazing, but I feel the responsibility to be a role model, especially to younger girls, as I have a lot of young followers. Even when I turned 18, I wouldn’t dream of showing myself going out drinking, which younger people can’t do.’
Partying not permitted, she is, however, very happy to give out advice to people wishing to follow in her Insta footsteps, encouraging them to carve out their own paths and find their own vibe.
‘There are so many people wanting to do YouTube now, but a lot of them want to be like somebody else. Although you might like what certain people do, being yourself is key. People watch me because of who I am. People know I’m messy, they can relate. And that’s the biggest thing. There’s already a Saffron Barker out there, so don’t try to be her – be yourself.’
But what about when the inevitable internet trolls come knocking? Does the star’s head-screwed-on attitude prevail when heavy words come her way? ‘I’m very lucky that I don’t get too much negativity,’ she says. ‘But if I ever see trolling or negativity online, I ignore it. Giving them a response is what they want, so the best thing I can do is ignore it. The worst thing about social media is that everyone has an opinion, and some people don’t realise that opinion can affect someone so much.
‘There are lots of good things about social media, too, though,’ she adds. ‘For example, my fans helped me raise about £18k for running the London Marathon for Dementia UK last year.’
Saffron is keen to stay sunny side up and focus on the positives – which she has many of, namely last year’s appearance on Strictly, a move that helped her find fame offline. ‘I get recognised by an older and different demographic now. Before, they didn’t know who I was because they would never have watched my channel,’ she says. ‘I had the time of my life on Strictly. I’m so proud I made it to week 10, and Blackpool in particular was such a huge moment,’ she says. ‘When I first had a manager, about a year into doing YouTube, the first thing I said was, “My dream is to be on Strictly.” I never thought it would happen. When people say it’s the best thing you’ll ever do, it is. It’s changed my life.
‘I felt so lucky to be paired with AJ! I’ve learnt an amazing new skill from the most amazing dance partner and friend, and I was so grateful for his kindness and patience, and for bringing out my confidence when I was so petrified to perform every week. If I couldn’t get a step right, he’d be like, “Nope, we’re not having that negative energy”. His favourite quote is “Is that attitude worth catching?” If I was ever feeling negative, that’s what I heard,’ she says. ‘People kept going on about the Strictly curse, but it didn’t bother us. We get on and we know we’re friends.’
Not only did Strictly ‘change her life’, it taught her several things about herself. ‘The show taught me that I’m not as confident as I thought I was,’ she says when we ask about whether she ever felt the fear. ‘All the cast would tell you that I often got more nervous than anyone about the live shows. I’d go silent!’ she says. ‘I kept all my nerves in, and sometimes they got the better of me. I loved the experience, though, and I pushed through and had the time of my life. My dream was to do this show, so it was magical. Now I want to be in a West End show one day, so you never know, maybe that’s next! ’
So given her prime-time TV nerves, how will Saffron deal with the inevitable anxiety that comes with stepping onto the platform that Strictly has thrown her way? ‘Talking to people you have around you is so important for your mental health,’ she says. ‘You need to have time for yourself and put yourself first. Working out is my biggest thing – when I work out, I feel so much better,’ she says.
‘I hated running before I did the marathon. But now that’s probably my favourite exercise. Oh, that and Muay Thai. You can let all of your adrenalin and anger out, and it’s fun and it keeps you so fit. I feel like a boss woman when I’ve got my gloves on. My New Year’s resolution is to be healthy and fit. I’ve got the “be fit” part, but the healthy part hasn’t happened yet. I don’t enjoy eating healthily, so that’s going to be a New Year’s resolution. And the year after and the year after and the year after as well.’
Boss woman, indeed. With her drive, focus and clear grasp of how to stay at the top of the social media game, we’ve no doubt Saffron’s star is set to soar. The healthy eating can slide.