When Wales first went into lockdown, many people picked up new hobbies. From crocheting to jogging, people found new ways to pass the time.
Some, however, took to TikTok, a video-sharing app – and found internet fame.
TikTok allows users to make short videos that are between 15 seconds and one minute long. Since its launch in 2016, the app has increased in popularity – as well as creating some niche online communities. This includes ‘Welsh TikTok’ – an area featuring Welsh creators that is growing in popularity. So much so, that some Welsh TikTokers are gaining millions of views and hundred of thousands of followers from across the globe.
One of them is Laura Orgill. She is a 27-year-old postwoman, who lives in the Rhondda with her partner Georgia. On TikTok, however, she has over 700,000 followers and has gained fame as the ‘TikTok postie.’
“I first got involved in TikTok during the first lockdown, I started off by just doing some of the trends in my house with my family as something to do. However, my TikTok journey really began when I went to work and started to show people the life of us key workers during a tough time,” she said.
“The first video to ever go viral was when a young person on my round asked me to do a socially distanced TikTok dance trend – which I adapted to my role as a postie, as I do with all of my TikToks. This then received 350k views within the first 12 hours. People loved to see what a postie gets up to day to day and also I think they liked to see what was actually going on outside in the world, as everyone was stuck at home.
“Seeing people’s reactions to my videos made me want to continue bringing people laughs and joy throughout such a tough time and it’s all spiralled out from there.”
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Before TikTok, Laura said she didn’t have much of a social media following, and said she never really had much interest in it.
“However, now I know how much of a positive impact I can make on people’s lives through social media, I’m very grateful that my following of just friends and family has now amounted to all of this,” she added.
Her videos have allowed Laura to show the public behind the scenes in her job.
“I absolutely love my job. I love working as a postie and without it I wouldn’t be the TikTok Postie,” she said.
Laura said the Royal Mail was “100% supportive” of her TikTok videos and even presented her with flowers, bought bacon baps for the whole office and donated £1,000 to Cancer Research UK when she was raising money for the charity through TikTok. Laura’s TikToks have led to her signing with a talent agency after she was approached at the end of last year. As well as being featured in Cosmopolitan, she has partnered with brands such as Snickers, Universal Music and Gymshark.
Her YouTube channel, ‘Laura and Georgia’, has also been verified, with Laura showing people inside her life with her partner.
“There is more to me than the TikTok postie believe it or not, so I can’t wait to share with everyone a crazy journey together outside of work. So who knows what the future holds.”
But Laura said the most exciting thing was meeting her followers when she was out and about.
“Now the restrictions are easing I am able to meet my following everywhere I go, where they stop me to have chats and photos. And this is what makes it all worthwhile seeing people so happy and positive from watching my silly videos. It’s like I suddenly have 700k new friends who know everything about me. They stop and chat to me in the street as if we’ve known each other forever, it’s crazy,” Laura continued.
“I’ll forever be grateful to have had the opportunity to positively impact other lives through my videos in such uncertain times. It has benefited not just myself but a lot of people who have struggled to get through this past year. I’ll always be grateful for the love and support that I have received.”
So what does she think of Welsh TikTok?
“I think Welsh TikTok is definitely on the rise, the Welsh do have such a particular sense of humour and I think Tiktok has given us a platform where we can use our humour to give people an insight into what us Welsh are actually all about.”
Another popular Welsh TikToker is Dean Morris, 26, from Llanelli. Under the TikTok name ‘Dheanasaur,’ he creates skits and comedy videos on the platform, gaining 80,000 followers in the last month alone. He now has over 285,000 followers on the platform.
Dean has been involved with filming – whether on screen or behind the camera – since 2007, but said he’d never had much success with it himself. His work was mostly based around helping creators from around the UK. He became involved with TikTok after it was recommended to him by a friend.
“He said, ‘Dean you’re really funny, you should jump on this new app. So I was like, ‘Ok, I’ll jump on and put a few funny skits on it just to pass the time.’ And then all of a sudden I started gaining followers on there,” he said.
Dean had tried YouTube in the past, but had to use software and DSLR cameras to create content for the platform. With TikTok, he says it’s a lot easier to make videos.
“The ease of access with TikTok – you could film it all on your phone if you wanted and post it straight from there and the settings and features it has are a lot more user friendly,” he said.
Dean started to gain followers ‘heavily,’ but said that he had to credit one of his most popular videos to his Nana.
“One time there was a trend of people chucking glitter onto their phones, and then they were chucking orbeez onto their phones, and people started taking the mick and chucking different things onto their phones. My Nana saw that trend when we were watching TikTok videos and she was like ‘You should throw me onto the camera.’ Overnight, it got a steady 300,000 views.”
Before the pandemic, Dean worked in film doing work for BBC Sesh as well as freelance work, but now also earns some money through his TikTok videos.
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“TikTok doesn’t supply enough money but it’s a nice form of pocket money until they change their income to be more like YouTube. I personally don’t think people are getting paid enough for their incredible creations on TikTok, but you get some advertising campaigns which supply you with a bit more sustenance and money.”
Dean said the platform had allowed him to meet lots of new and funny people – soon, he will be moving to Cardiff with another Welsh TikToker he met on the platform.
“You try and not get into the idea of getting views, because that’s not what it should be about, but when you start getting millions of views on a video and then all of a sudden not that amount of views, it takes a toll on your mental health.”
Dean thinks Welsh TikTok is “incredible,” particularly because of the popularity of Wales as a filming location for TV and film.
“I think Wales is bleeding into the mainstream because of TikTok. I get loads of people commenting on my videos like ‘Oh I’m back in Welsh TikTok – yay, when they find me on their discovery page. It’s shown the audience that we’re a country of very creative people.”
Ellis Lloyd-Jones, 23, has also found fame on the platform – so much so that he gets recognised and approached in the street.
“I went to Ikea with my mam and my sister and this person came up to me saying ‘Oh my god, are you that boy from TikTok?’,” he said.
With over 180,000 followers and over 8 million likes across his videos, Ellis, from Treorchy, said his popularity rocketed overnight after posting a spoof video about ‘Welsh’ celebrities – taking big-name celebrities and changing their names to make them sound Welsh. It took him from 5,000 to 10,000 followers in just two weeks.
Another video of Ellis pretending to man a tollbooth welcoming viewers to Welsh TikTok – a virtual version of the old Severn Bridge tollbooth – won viewers from across the globe.
“I did it as a Welsh thing for Welsh people, thinking only they would see it but I got people from Australia and America and other countries. It was crazy,” he said.
Ellis started making TikToks in October, 2019, after seeing videos on his Instagram feed of people showing their Halloween transformations.
“I thought ‘You know what, that’s what I want to do.’ At the time, I had three costumes – Anne Boleyn from Six the Musical, Pugsley Addams and Harley Quinn, so I went with Harley Quinn.” Ellis has introduced more drag characters into his videos including the gates of hell receptionist, and, for the Welsh Government, Aunty Bac, who encouraged social media users to follow hygiene rules to help combat the spread of coronavirus.
“I guess TikTok is like a full-time thing. I wouldn’t say it’s like a full-time job because I don’t earn a lot of money from it, but it is something that I’m on 24/7 thinking of ideas that I could do and interacting with my followers,” he said.
He has just finished his final year studying Welsh Language at Cardiff University, but has ambitions beyond TikTok for the future.
“I’m not going to give up on TikTok, because without TikTok I wouldn’t be where I am. But the idea is to move on a bit and get into the media world – but how to get there, I’m not sure.”
Ellis said his TikTok presence had given him confidence that he was doing something right.
“I’ve always been told that I’m either not good enough or this or that, so when I came to TikTok and saw that there were people that liked me I thought this is nice – people like what I like to do.”
Ellis’s videos have even led to him appearing on TV in the new BBC Three series, Young, Welsh and Bossin’ It.
“It’s nice to see a bit of Welsh representation on that app, because I see people being like ‘I didn’t know there were Welsh creators on here.’ It’s nice that we have our own little community on there with everyone that can relate with us and the stuff that we’re posting.”
As a first-language Welsh speaker, Ellis also encourages his followers to speak the language to him.
“It’s something that I love to see – people having conversations in Welsh in the comments. That’s something that I like to bring to TikTok, so I’ve started doing more videos in Welsh.”
Jessica Thomas, a full time travel agent from Ystrad Mynach, is also growing on the platform as a Welsh creator, with over 67,000 followers and over 1 million likes on the app.
She too downloaded TikTok as something to do during the first lockdown.
“I never intended on posting a video but here I am now,” she said.
Despite earning some money from the TikTok Creator Fund – an initiative that pays eligible TikTokers for their videos – as well as extra money from promotional videos, Jessica said she had no intention of giving up her job anytime soon.
“I will never be a full time social media influencer as I love my job too much to give it up.”
According to TikTok, the amount of money creators receive from the Creator Fund is determined “by a combination of factors.” These include the number of views on a video, the level of engagement, as well as making sure content is in line with their Community Guidelines and Terms of Service.
For Jessica, the best thing about her TikTok presence is being able to entertain people.
“I am a people-pleaser so I love to make people laugh with my content. The worst thing is the online trolls, some people have been really mean and have hurt my feelings with their comments but I have learned to reply to them by calling them out,” she said.
“Welsh TikTok is the best side of TikTok. When I started there were only a handful of us ‘Welsh TikTokers’ but now there are loads of us! It is important to me to educate as much as I can,” she continued.
And it’s not just people in their 20s who have found TikTok fame. Julie Griffiths, a 36-year-old Carmarthenshire mum, now has over 100,000 followers on her TikTok account where she posts comedy sketches about family life.
“It all started with the first lockdown – I’d heard about TikTok so I had a look. I didn’t think I was going to create anything, I was just looking at other people’s at first,” she said.
To overcome lockdown boredom, Julie started making videos with her family. When they got bored of making videos with her, she carried it on as a hobby – and has now amassed over 105,000 followers and millions of views. When not making TikToks, Julie works with children. Like her fellow Welsh creators, she has been able to make some money from her videos through the Creator Fund which allows her to get paid for her views.
“I only started it because I just wanted to make people laugh. It was a dark time for a lot of people and I enjoyed making people laugh, so I’ll just see how it goes really,” Julie said.
She said she had been able to make friends on the platform.
“The best [part about TikTok] is the community on there and the people I’ve connected with. I’ve got some good friends on there. The worst would be the trolls, but you’ve just got to be thick-skinned. They don’t bother me. [My family and friends] think I’m crazy. They never thought it would get so big – well, I didn’t. My husband is supportive and has come around to the idea of me TikToking now.”
From the growing number of TikTok creators and their popularity on the platform, it seems Wales isn’t short of creativity and humour.