TikTok was just the start for Grace Keeling, otherwise known as GK Barry, who has amassed 3.2 million followers through her funny and relatable content. It is not often we get to see a different side to social media stars, and I did not know what to expect when meeting Grace. She was down to earth, easy-going, and surprisingly shyer than I anticipated. “I wish more people knew that I'm actually pretty normal. I don't really leave the house. I sit at home with my cat a lot. And I really enjoy Real Housewives.” She said cheerfully.
PWR: How have you come out of your comfort zone to achieve the things you have achieved?
GK: I used to have chronic anxiety, I wouldn't leave the house, I wouldn't get on the tube, I'd never go to London, and I wouldn't even get on a train that was 15 minutes from my hometown to my city centre. So when I started TikTok, I knew I just had to do it. And now I feel like a completely different person. So I just had to push myself. And it's actually not as bad …. I think the thought is always worse than what it actually is.
PWR: Do you still get anxious especially as now you are in the public eye?
GK: To be honest I'm still kind of the same, but I mask it quite well now I think and I've got a really good support system now who I can message for help.
PWR: Is there anything you do for your mental health?
GK: Talking helps a lot. So before I'd keep it all in, then we have a 2007 Britain moment shaving the head. Even if it's my parents, my boyfriend, or my friends, I have someone to talk to. Also, I feel like crying is underrated. Have a cry once a week. It makes you feel great.
PWR: Were there any points where you felt overwhelmed? How would you describe the moment you realise the impact you had?
GK: I say I felt quite overwhelmed when I was doing my masters and doing TikTok because I was always at Nottingham. So I was travelling to London back and forth. Also trying to juggle my reports. But I'd say the first moment that I saw the impact was when I did a tour this February. And it was just really mental seeing the amount of people that actually were watching and supporting. When it's a number on a bit of paper, it's different actually seeing it in person. So I think I made it a bit more real.
PWR: What does breakthrough mean to you?
GK: I’d say I’ve broken through the stereotypes of girls can’t be as funny as boys, or that to get big and you have to be really fit with loads of work done. And also just me as a TikToker, that's a bit niche. I remember when I started, people would never take TikTok too seriously. I was the first one to start a podcast that was successful. And now I'm being invited on TV. So I feel like whatever you want to do, it's possible.
PWR: What is your biggest achievement?
GK: Probably selling out my two-week tour in like three minutes. That was absolutely mental. Because I remember I put bets on that it wouldn't sell out within two weeks.
PWR: Tell me about the evolution of your career. How have you ensured that you are continually progressing?
GK: So for me, I blew up quite quickly. So from March to August, I've hit 100k. And then December to maybe March, I've had a million so it just blew up completely. And I've always been worried about how I stay relevant. What if I fall off? And end up going back to Costa. So I think having your fingers in a lot of pies. The podcast, releasing different stuff that's relevant to your brand, I think is really important. Because if one day everyone deletes social media, what are you going to do then? I think it's really good to have other elements.
PWR: How has your overall career experience been? Did you have any setbacks along the way? Or has it been smooth sailing?
GK: Jesus Christ, my TikTok has been deleted eight times. My Instagram was deleted once, and I am yet to be cancelled. But I think there's been a lot of setbacks and a lot of times where I thought, What is the point of me doing this? Because I'm getting nowhere. But I’m glad I carried on and got further. I do feel like you've got to be resilient in any industry, not just if you want to be a creator. If you want something just go for it because nothing's an overnight thing.
PWR: Speaking of getting cancelled and reported, have you ever offended anyone?
GK: Everyone's offended. And a lot of the time it’s because my humour is quite dark. I enjoy Ricky Gervais and enjoy Jimmy Carr, and a lot of their stuff is rogue. So I didn't realise that my jokes maybe could sometimes offend others, especially Americans, I know what's going on there. But I think you've just got to post what you want to post realistically.
PWR: Have you ever experienced trolling?
GK: I think one reason why I have self-depreciating humour, is because I get 14-year-old boys who will tell me I have a flat arse. So I think maybe now I’ve got a defence mechanism to say it first. But realistically, if you're getting trolled, it's never that deep. They’re probably 14 and haven't grown pubes yet, so just don't get offended.
PWR: What would you like your legacy to be?
GK: Girls are funny, nothing is too taboo, and just don't be embarrassed. Realistically we are only here for about 30 years. So just say what you want to say. Do what you want to do. And it doesn't matter if you've got a flat arse.
PWR: How do you feel the lockdown affected your career? If it didn't happen, where do you think you'd be?
GK: I think if it wasn't for lockdown, I would not have this career. I would not be doing what I'm doing really. Thank God for the lockdown. I don't think I would have got the exposure because everyone was at home on their phones on TikTok. So if it wasn't for that, I'd be roaming.
PWR: Do you think people are too sensitive nowadays because your content can maybe be considered a bit tongue-in-cheek?
GK: I think everyone has a right to be sensitive and offended because people have found their voice now. You don't have to just put up with what people are saying. A lot of the time it's the intent of how people say things. Like if you’re saying it to take the piss vs in a funny way. I think if you don't like it scroll past it if it's with no mean intent. But I think a lot of people just like to be offended for the sake of being offended.
PWR: Is there anyone in your industry who inspires you?
GK: So funnily enough, I remember growing up on Miranda Hart, and she's a bit like Marmite- some people don't think she's funny. But when I was younger, I forced my parents to get me the box set of Miranda, and I watched it religiously to try and be funny. And then I also found Absolutely Fabulous at uni with Jennifer Saunders and Joanna Lumley. I'd say they're my idols and I just copied what they did, and hoped for the best. Hope they don’t mind.
PWR: Would younger you believe that one day you'd have a podcast and sold-out tour?
GK: Young Grace was really embarrassing. I thought I was going to be the next Britney Spears. I performed in front of the mirror sexy dancing and slut dropping with my flask. And so, I think she'd be shocked that I'm doing a podcast. But I don't think she'd be shocked that maybe I was well known. I must have manifested it.
PWR: What did your classmates think? Did anyone recognise you?
GK: So, at school, I don't think I was very well-liked. I was a bit weird, had buck teeth, was a bit of a Bob, and was really ugly to be fair. So, I think when people saw me doing well, a lot of girls that were mean to me at school messaged me saying well done. So, to them, I say… your breath still stinks, good luck to you.
PWR: What is the next move for you? Do you have any creative projects you want to explore?
GK: I definitely want to expand the brand of GK Barry and promote and sell products related to the image. But I also want to expand into TV. I feel like I can be Stacey Dooley, but just a bit more unhinged.
Interview by: Sara Hammond