A Northern Ireland content creator who once had to sleep on just a “busted air mattress” has told of his success which has seen him work with some of the world’s biggest brands.
Gerard ‘Ged’ Armstrong has over 120,000 followers and 20 million views across TikTok and Instagram.
He says he was at one point so depressed that he would sleep for over 16 hours a day after he left his family home during his A-levels.
But he now works full time as a content creator, managing and creating original content for companies such as Red Bull, and is also an influencer and professional photographer in Belfast.
Ged, who sometimes goes by VisualGed, says he got his start by creating short videos of his life.
He said: “I started posting on Instagram in 2018, making mini vlogs and showing the creative activities I was up to on a daily basis.
“But the real reason I started to post was to help myself overcome some of the awful insecurities I had at the time.
“I remember looking at myself in the mirror and saying, ‘you’re not going to be the person you want to become if you keep letting your insecurities get the better of you’. So the day after, I just started.”
Ged says his earlier years were crucial in shaping the person he is today as he faced some personal difficulties.
“I (left home) during my A-level exams and fell into a depressed state.
“I had no money to support myself, and when you feel like a burden, you don’t want to ask for help.
“I ended up in my uncle’s house, where I slept on a busted air mattress in a spare bedroom. For a period, it felt like there was nothing left for me at 19, but one thing that kept me going was using my camera.
“I used it to create short films to help occupy my brain and distract myself from how I was feeling.”
Ged is now at the forefront of the influencing and content creation community in Northern Ireland, despite initially beginning his social media career helping businesses create content.
He says that he never expected to take a role in front of the camera.
“I initially hopped on TikTok just before it started going viral at the start of 2020 to leverage it for the business I was working for at the time.
“However, I inadvertently racked up millions of views and tens of thousands of followers in the space of a few months on my personal page.”
Due to his popularity, and the popularity of others, Ged says it’s no longer the case that Northern Ireland is seen as a place where someone can’t pursue this type of career.
He said: “I see so much opportunity for both businesses and creators to thrive here in Northern Ireland, and it will only do great things for discovery and tourism. I know it’s going to continue to grow.”
Ged is now running online classes to help educate people on how to get the maximum out of social media.
However, due to his work in social media, Ged knows all too well the negative impact online abuse can have on people — something that Alliance leader Naomi Long and former First Minister Arlene Foster have been campaigning to stop.
On his profiles, he has reacted to videos where he’s received abusive comments for trivial things such as his accent.
“Negative comments used to get to me, but I’ve since learned that the comments people leave on social media is simply a reflection of themselves,” he said.
“People hate what they don’t understand, and it can come from insecurity, so it’s important to put up a shield and only entertain people who are genuinely interested,” he added. Ged believes that anyone interested in getting into social media should ensure they love “creating content for themselves”.
When asked about his relationship with Red Bull, he says he is “incredibly blessed” to be involved with the energy drink giant.
“They’ve invited me out to a drag racing event, which then led to me getting paid to create work for their social media channels, and now they do things like fly me to Austria and take me up in their helicopters. They even hooked me up with VIP tickets for some music festivals to create content for my own socials.
“I’m now in a position where the 18-year-old me growing up on a council only could have wished for, and I want to use my experience to inspire people to go after a life fuelled by fulfilment.”