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WillNE: Uni days, fitting in, and BGMedia

YouTuber WillNE sat down with The Tab to discuss his days at university, how he transitioned into his career, and why finding out where you don’t fit in is important

Last Sunday, Will Lenney returned to the Cambridge Union, this time to talk about his rise to YouTube fame, after his visit last term where he celebrated pulling off a prank TED Talk. Having amassed over seven million subscribers, he spoke to The Tab about how he found his “passion,” including how BGMedia enabled him to make a career with content creation which is now much more high-brand.

Will spoke to the Union chamber on Sunday 5 March (Image credits: Flo Tawns)

Uni days

Will studied automotive engineering at Loughborough University alongside producing YouTube content, but he found that he had applied largely to get in to the “best ranked” university possible.

Reflecting on this, he said that it was “awful” and he “really didn’t want to be there.” Academically, he “didn’t want to do [his] course,” claiming that it “wasn’t going to be that good for me.” As a result, when he would get back from his “nine to five” at uni, he would stay in his room and produce YouTube content as a “get out.”

As well as not enjoying it academically, Will felt the difficulties of the social and cultural differences in Loughborough, rather than his beloved Whitley Bay – and the North East more broadly.

At home, he was used to everyone having “the same sense of humour,” “a certain type of conversation, or a certain thing being funny,” plus the “same values.” He did not find this in Loughborough. He “assumed that was how everyone was” before moving, saying that he was surprised that there were “so many differences in the culture, where you wouldn’t expect it – because it’s the same country.”

He claimed that he learned a lot during this experience; how it was important to “find where you don’t fit in to find out where you do fit in.” For Will, he did not fit in as the student doing automotive engineering at Loughborough. But he did fit in as the witty YouTuber making commentary videos.

Image credits: Flo Tawns

Advice to students

When asked what he can pass on to students today, Will stressed to “choose the right uni!”

When asked what he can pass on to students today, Will stressed to “choose the right uni!”

While he joked that this may be a bit late as we are all at Cambridge, he moved on to explain how we should put all of our energies into finding where we fit in within the uni, and then put everything into whatever that may be. He said that it was a “breath of fresh air” when he realised that YouTube was his “true passion,” and, while he initially wanted to balance university and content creation, his parents encouraged him to follow what was for him, and this made him far happier.

Biggest challenges

He reflected on his biggest challenge as the constant uncertainty that he could pursue YouTube as a “realistic [career] aim,” rather than merely a hobby. Having started it in 2012, a year before he moved to university, he felt that it was a “pipe dream” regardless of how hard he worked, since he needed a “lucky break.”

This was overcome in 2016 when he got that break, joking that it was when he found some “rapping teenagers from Blackpool.” At this point, he understood that YouTube was a “tidal wave” where the platform would keep on pushing the videos once one had done well.

He reflected on how quick this happened, where “suddenly [he] saw a wage coming in.” From a conversation with his Ma after this, he realised that he could pursue this and not have to be patient and build a career he was less interested in alongside YouTube.

Image credits: Flo Tawns

How YouTube has changed

Will’s channel has evolved significantly since he first took off seven years ago, and he put this down to “necessity” in the industry. He claimed that he needed to “adapt with the times” and “reinvent [him]self” a few times, which has led to him doing longer, more ambitious videos such as trying to get on live TV, and buying a billion of the world’s cheapest currency. He said how this stemmed from asking himself how he could “top the last video,” and how this is his attitude to each video.

He reflected on some of his regrets during this evolution, and spoke about how he feels YouTube is a “cynical” business because “you have to think about packaging first” if you want it to do well, with a “good title” and “good thumbnail”. He said that, a few years ago, he afforded this marketing “too much weight,” rather than focusing on enjoying the content he made – which he claims is where his best videos come from.

Loughborough University were contacted for comment.