Dan and Phil.
A few months ago, my best friend excitedly told me that she'd discovered "the male version of us!"
It turned out that Lydia and Emma in male form were called Dan Howell and Phil Lester and were best known for making hugely popular videos on YouTube. "They're so like us," my bestie said, when I next went over to her place. "They even met online, just like we did!" It was pretty clear that Lydia had fallen down the rabbit hole and had absolutely no desire to return, so we sat on her sofa and watched a few videos.
And I smiled. Then I giggled. Then I proper belly-laughed. By the time I climbed into my car to drive home, I was already planning which videos to check out when I got back. I ended up spending my whole evening watching stuff online and I grinned like an idiot the entire time. By the following morning, it was abundantly clear that I had joined Lydia down the rabbit hole and I was more than happy to stay there.
Why would I want to leave these weirdos?!
It's fair to say that I'm probably not really in Dan and Phil's target audience. Visit the many fan pages that have been popping up online over the years and the general conversation ranges from what homework everyone has to do that night, to what they want to be when they "grow up." Dan wasn't even born until June 1991, by which point I was 8 going on 9 (a fact that makes me feel seriously old). But somehow, I've taken these two to my heart in a way that I haven't with any other Internet personalities that came before and almost certainly never will with anyone who follows them. So, why?
Well, to answer that, you need to look at the reason for their enormous popularity with teenage viewers.
Your teenage years are notoriously tricky. You're growing up and trying to work out who you are. There's all this pressure on you to do well at school and decide what you want to do with your life and beyond that, you're supposed to look and act a certain way in order to fit in with the "cool" kids. If you're being bullied or you're going through any kind of personal problems, it all just adds up to a hugely confusing and sometimes scary period of your life. I can barely believe the person I am now, compared to when I was a teenager. I'm so much more comfortable in myself and, for the most part, a lot more confident. In a lot of ways, I really am a completely different person.
For a start, I had surgery to remove that dog from my face.
So, just imagine you're 13 or 14 and you're not one of the particularly cool kids. Imagine you'd prefer to be at home playing computer games, rather than trying to sneak into some dodgy nightclub with sticky floors. You have all these aspects to your personality that you think are weird and it feels like there's nobody who gets you. Then, one day, you're browsing the Internet and you stumble across someone who seems really confident, friendly and funny and they're saying: "Oh God, I'm so not cool." And they're okay with it. In fact, they're more than okay with it. They revel in being comfortable with their own nerdiness and - as a perhaps slightly awkward, shy teen, struggling to come to terms with who you are - you think: "maybe it's okay to be me, after all."
That random person online, for a lot of youngsters, was Dan. Or Phil. Or, let's face it, both.
Suddenly you feel less alone. And have an irresistable urge to draw on your own face.
Visit any Dan and Phil fan page and you'll find comments from teenager after teenager saying such things. These two, slightly nerdy, wonderfully weird guys have taught youngsters that it's okay to just be yourself, whatever that means. They've somehow made being mildly uncool the absolute epitome of cool. I can say, with my hand on my heart, that when I was a terribly shy, scared and awkward teen, I would have given an arm and a leg to have discovered someone older and wiser who was proud to be themselves on camera, telling me that "school won't last forever" and "life gets better."
And what's really, genuinely lovely is that both Dan and Phil know that they have enormous influence over a huge proportion of young people and have used that influence to speak out against bullying, to reassure kids that there's nothing wrong with preferring to stay in and play computer games rather than trying to keep up with the "in-crowd" and to let young people know that they're not alone with the problems they're dealing with and that things really will improve with time.
And so we come to me. I'm not a shy, awkward teenager, anymore. No. I've blossomed into a shy, awkward thirty three year old. YAY!
Seriously though, regular readers will know that I delight in my own weirdness. I think it's so important to be accepting of yourself and know that whatever makes you you should be celebrated, not put down or hidden away for fear of ridicule (I even wrote a blog called "Embrace Your Weirdness!" a couple of years ago). So, to find people who not only agree with that sentiment, but embrace it wholeheartedly and try to ensure that the concept is shared with the people who really need to hear it, is actually rather beautiful. It makes me want to give both Dan and Phil the biggest of squishy hugs (avoiding touching Dan's neck of course, not that I could reach it).
I guess what I'm saying is, in amongst the hilarious videos, the games, the "day in the life" anecdotes and the general fun of Dan and Phil's world, there are genuine lessons that you're never too old to take to heart. With great power comes great responsibility and these two aren't afraid to speak to their audience about real life and how to treat other people with respect as well as respecting yourself. That's worth more than just a "thumbs up." That's the kind of thing that makes an isolated person feel like they're not alone. It's the kind of attitude that we want to be encouraging the next generation to adopt.
So, thank you Dan and Phil. Thanks for making me laugh and for encouraging me to bake more, blog more (seriously, every video makes me want to write, for some reason), play games more, cherish my best friend more and be proud to be the weird little nerd that I am. Don't ever change. You're the cat's whiskers.