Belfast Telegraph

If our daughters meet a girl online, let's hope it's sweet, sisterly Zoella

By Jane Graham

Forget Harry Potter or Fifty Shades of Grey - the record for the fastest selling debut novel since records began has just been broken by a 24-year-old most of you wouldn't recognise if she sauntered past in Sainsburys. Yet when the author did a small book tour recently such were the concerns about riotous crowds that the signings had to be ticketed and in secret locations. Zoe Sugg, whose Girl Online sold more than 78,000 copies in its first week, is that thing many grown-ups still struggle to get their head round - a megawatt YouTube star whose stage is her bedroom, whose script is the first thing that comes into her head, and who made her name giggling self-consciously while recommending lipsticks.

There has been a surge of supercilious sniffing at "sugary sweet" Zoella, to give her her "celebrity" handle, since she moved beyond the cocoon of YouTube and into the more mainstream, adult realms of books and her recently launched beauty range. Her ordinariness, her unashamed girliness, the absence of serious intellect - all have been pointed out by commentators who still assume that a young person gazing at a tablet screen is a passive, unthinking, unengaged teen-zombie who should be outside climbing a tree like kids did in their day. The six million subscribers to Zoella's channel know better, but it probably suits them nicely that their cultural preferences are wildly misunderstood, if they are known at all, by their elders.

Every generation reacts against the ones which came before; it's as natural as bees making honey. I envy today's teenagers, because they have YouTube for this and it's a godsend. It's easier to access than the telly, it connects people around the globe in seconds, and yet it's so vast (1 billion viewers a month) that international networks of like-minded souls can come together, share a language and a passion, and remain entirely under the radar of the rest of the planet. What's interesting and surprising about the new breed of YouTube stars is that, unlike the Pete Dohertys and Britney Spears who came before them, they're less interested in nihilism and rebellion than they are in friendship, creativity and social responsibility.

Dan Howell and Phil Lester are my favourites of the current crop. In fact, 23-year-old Dan's stream of consciousness soliloquys are especially smart, funny and unpredictable; he is plagued by self-doubt and thoughts of death (more fun than it sounds). Zoella is very clean-cut and almost improbably affable. It's hard to pin down exactly why her beauty blog channel, one of millions, holds such an appeal. When I ask my 11-year-old daughter why she's so fixated, she struggles to explain. She just likes Zoella so damn much.

As an on-screen performer, Zoella is no Miley Cyrus. But that might be the point. Her slightly awkward presentation, her sometimes shaky voice, award her absolute believability. She's the ideal big sister - kind, unthreatening, never judgemental, always encouraging - a human fuzzy feeling. At the same time, as a painfully shy sufferer of anxiety and panic attacks (she recently became an ambassador for mental health charity Mind) she makes every young girl who goes through periods of feeling unloved, abandoned, angry or frightened (ie just about all of them) feel better about herself.

If the queen of YouTube, who is pretty, has a lovely boyfriend, and lives in a beautiful fairy-light festooned flat, sometimes feels so overwhelmed by the world that she can't go outside, then they might be ok, too.

If this is teenage rebellion 2014-style, it's going to be fine. Parents - enjoy it before the backlash kicks in.

Farage makes a breastfeeding boob

This week Nigel Farage said breastfeeding women should retreat to cafe corners because they make people uncomfortable. His words were defended by supporters on the grounds that he was only asking for good manners.

I can see how that interpretation might occur, but it's misguided and out of date. From the moment a woman gets pregnant, she's hounded by the NHS to breastfeed exclusively for the sake of the child's health.

Breastfeeding is hard; it can be awkward, painful and embarrassing. It would be good manners to welcome its practitioners into society with tolerance, not shunt them into dark corners while they raise the next generation with maximum care.

This is what I call a horror picture

It's never a surprise when Stormont opts for big arts cuts - they've been doing it ruthlessly for six years now. This year's is the toughest yet - major film organisations are facing cuts of up to 50%.

Slowly, surely, the optimism which shines and floats like a Chinese lantern above the gloom and entrenched old arguments in this country is being dragged down and stomped into the dirt.

It could mean the end of Belfast's beloved Queen's Film Theatre and Derry's Nerve Centre.

Places where people were inspired, felt hope, met like-minded souls, emerged with ideas on how to make Northern Ireland better. It's not dark yet. But it's getting there.

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