Caitlin McBride: 'Can you really claim privacy when you've monetised your personal life?'

Tanya Burr and Jim Chapman, two British YouTube superstars who were early adopters of the platform, have announced their split after 12 years.

I don’t know what it says about me, but, like most celebrities, I could give you at least a brief biography of their personal and professional lives and what makes them them.

It goes like this: Tanya and Jim first met when she was 17 and he was a 21-year-old university student. Under the advice of his sisters Samantha and Nicola Chapman (aka Pixiwoo), she launched her vlogging career in 2009 and hasn’t looked back. At the time, he had hoped to pursue a career using his psychology degree, but had noticed a gilded path to success established by the women in his life and branched out on his own video journey. Within a few years, they became behemoths in the blogosphere. Fast forward to 2019 and Tanya is being flown to Paris to sit front row at Dior and he was voted number one in GQ’s Best Dressed Men list.

She has published three lifestyle books and launched an extraordinarily successful cosmetics range with Superdrug, which, as of 2016, a Tanya Burr makeup product was selling every two minutes.

For those of us who have long since aged out of the YouTube influencer demographic, it’s easy to dismiss their news as something of having little consequence to the general news cycle, but for their devoted followers (a combined 10.8m across social media channels), this is the equivalent of the dismantling of Branglina.

On Tuesday, in an uncharacteristically coy manner, Tanya shared a brief statement on her Instagram Stories confirming their divorce and asking for privacy. “Just wanted to let you all know that a few weeks ago Jim and I made the painful decision to no longer be together. ‘‘We have a huge amount of love and respect for each other and will continue to remain friends forever. ‘Thank you in advance for respecting our privacy at this difficult time,” she wrote.

This is all standard PR practice for a Hollywood couple, but not for that of a pairing who have made millions around sharing details about their private life. Just two weeks ago, they individually gave tours of the home they’re renting in Los Angeles. It was an ad for One Fine Stay, an Airbnb rival, but it showed every inch of the place they were calling home, which doesn’t exactly scream the establishment of personal and public boundaries.

The low-key announcement is also in stark contrast to their much publicised wedding just four years ago, which raises the question: when you’ve monetised your personal life, can you be taken seriously when you ask for privacy?

The key to successful influencing is that you’re required to sell yourself. There are plenty of other nice, digitally fluent folks out there chomping at the bit for a slice of the advertising pie, so one is required to give Truman Show-levels of access to keep things interesting.

Unlike traditional celebrities like actors and musicians, who have a discernible talent and training in their field, and are usually playing a long-term marketing game as dictated by their publicists and movie studios; infuencers rely on the support of their followers who become invested in their lives. Like a close friend who lives in the internet.

Where does it stand, though, when you’ve enjoyed a lucrative career at the cost of essentially selling yourself, but then something serious comes up. A journey you’ve asked your fans to follow you on, that doesn’t work out – for example, a marriage breakdown. After you shared your wedding pictures and tagged your suppliers on social media in 2015?

The practice of celebrities claiming privacy when it suits them is well-established. But there is a tricky line between being a well-known person in your field who doesn’t seek out tabloid culture or commercial endorsements, in comparison to someone whose most popular video is a behind the scenes look of a luxury trip to the Maldives.

There are myriad examples of taking privacy breaches too far, you need only look at the 2011 News of the World phone hacking scandal and nude photo leak when a number of Hollywood actresses had their Cloud accounts hacked. Both are egregious and traumatising for all involved. It’s not representative of a culture that consumes showbiz news at an accelerated pace; but rather the shady practices of the few who ruin the reputations of the many.

What I’m saying is – you can’t have your cake and eat it too. Especially when that cake has made you millions.

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