In a post-Kardashian world, every millennial thinks they have what it takes to go viral, but few consider what that online fame actually looks like in a person's daily life. In Elite Daily's new series Life Behind The Likes, we speak with the people you know on the internet — from the people behind major Instagram accounts to the Daaaaamn Daniels of the world who went viral for one remarkable moment of their lives — to meet the people behind the screens.
Most people can't imagine having over 1 million YouTube subscribers in their lifetime, let alone at the age of 15. That's exactly what British teen and YouTube star Nikki Lilly Christou has managed to do. Between her Nikki Lilly YouTube Channel and her @NikkiLilly_ Instagram account, Christou has plenty of fans tuning in to see her talk about makeup, music, and the importance of self-confidence.
Christou was diagnosed with arteriovenous malformation (AVM) shortly before she turned 6. The Mayo Clinic describes AVM as a congenital disorder that surfaces when blood vessels connecting arteries and veins between the heart and the brain become tangled, leading these arteries and veins to become weakened and potentially rupture. Once diagnosed with AVM — which can cause facial swelling, chronic pain, and life-threatening nose bleeds — Christou began making YouTube videos as a way to escape from her health issues and interact with the outside world.
I felt like I was being my truest self and the self that I was before my diagnosis when I was talking to my iPad and just mumbling about whatever.
"I was really down and left feeling isolated from the world and from people my own age," Christou says. "I literally had no hobbies either, so I had nothing to occupy my time."
Suddenly forced to give up many of her physical activities and regular interactions with her peers, Christou began using the family iPad to film short videos of herself trying on makeup she'd snuck from her sister's room as a way to distract herself.
Before she began sharing makeup videos, Christou kicked off her YouTube career in 2013 with a cover of "Over The Rainbow" — a video she posted with the comments disabled because her parents were concerned about the potentially negative remarks from strangers.
"I was 8 and my appearance was starting to change because of my condition, and they knew that people in the world aren’t kind sometimes and they wanted to protect me from that," Christou says. "On the other hand, they knew [YouTube] could be a good thing for me to put my energy and time into because I had nothing else in my life other than my house and my room. That was all I really knew."
The growth was slow. Christou says it took over a year for her to get even 100 subscribers. "I felt like I was being my truest self and the self that I was before my diagnosis when I was talking to my iPad and just mumbling about whatever," she says. Christou refers to making YouTube videos as a form of "escapism," which helps her deal with the bad days her condition can cause.
I’ve always loved makeup ... and [how] someone could really express themselves through it and be really creative.
While the teen now covers everything from videos about building self-confidence to clips of herself singing, it wasn't always like that.
Christou followed the path of internet beauty gurus at the start of her YouTube career. "I did [makeup tutorials] because I thought that’s what would make people like me. It’s a weird thing to say, but I think because I was so low in confidence when I started, I wanted to do things that people had seen."
Eventually, Christou's confidence grew. She doesn't credit the actual makeup as being a confidence booster, but rather the act of putting together looks and filming them. Christou realized it was a way to express herself artistically. She shares, "I’ve always loved makeup ... and [how] someone could really express themselves through it and be really creative."
When the comments were first enabled, they did get to me a lot more when they were negative.
As her channel grew, Christou added more videos of her singing — which she calls a "big coping mechanism" — to her channel. One of Christou's most viral videos is her cover of Billie Eilish and Khalid's "Lovely," which has 19 million views on YouTube as of publication.
The teen admits she "literally cried" when the Grammy award-winning singer liked the post on Instagram. She gushes, "Billie Eilish is one of my favorite people in the whole world. If I met her, I would literally die. And she liked it, and I have never fan-girled so much."
Since then, the 15-year-old has skyrocketed to fame and taken home her share of accolades, including winning a season of the British reality show Junior Bake-Off in 2016; an International Children's Emmy for "My Life: Born to Vlog" in April 2019; and the British Academy Film and Television Arts Children's Awards' (BAFTA) prestigious Special Award in December 2019.
Christou was featured as one of Instagram's 20 people to watch in 2020 as part of platform's 2020 Vision campaign, and through her series "Nikki Lilly Meets," she's interviewed high-profile celebs in the UK, like former Prime Minster Theresa May and tennis star Andy Murray.
However, Christou says fame definitely comes with its pitfalls. She said she's had to change her approach to hateful comments over the years. Christou admits, "If they’d say I’m ugly, I’d think I must be ugly, which is how I first originally absorbed hate comments." She says, "You could have literally 99 positive comments and one negative, but you’ll always — no matter who you are — you’ll always zoom in on that negative one ... so when the comments were first enabled, they did get to me a lot more when they were negative."
Christou now brushes off the hurtful comments. She shares, "The opinion of the people who love you and who you surround yourself with are the only opinions that matter."
Despite having to deal with some negativity, the YouTube star says she's gotten so much love both online and in person. Christou says she vividly remembers the first time she was recognized when two young fans came up to her in a Topshop store. "They were hyperventilating because they were so excited, and then I started hyperventilating," she remembers. Christou didn't have many followers at the time, and she could relate to their excitement. "Their mom said they watch my videos every day, and it's just something my mom would say about me meeting someone I looked up to," she says.
As for the future, the 15-year-old says she's like any other teen. Christou wants to finish school while continuing to "spread positivity."
Christou's advice to others looking to get started in social media goes back to the importance of self-confidence. She shares, "Don’t worry about what other people will think. Unfortunately, not the entire world is kind, but I think you should never let what other people say stop you from following your dreams."
Editor's Note: This post was updated to include symptoms specific to Christou's experience of AVM.
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