Star of the stage, page, and internet age – award-winning actor, author, and YouTuber Carrie Hope Fletcher knows better than most what it takes to live life in the spotlight.
From times when her personal life has been put under a microscope, to the collision of her online and offline worlds, here Carrie speaks candidly about rebuilding yourself after a relationship ends, her experiences with depression and anxiety, and the importance of having your own back
It was the night of the 30th anniversary of the first London production of Les Misérables; that, Carrie Hope Fletcher tells me, was the pinnacle of her career so far. At the time, Carrie was playing the role of Éponine, and following the curtain call, the current cast were joined on stage by the original actors for a half-hour concert, concluding with a rousing rendition of ‘One Day More’.
In the shuffle to fit everyone under the spotlight, Carrie found herself standing centre stage next to Colm Wilkinson – the original Jean Valjean. As the song ended, and confetti cannons and applause erupted, Colm took Carrie’s hand and said: “You were excellent.”
Of course, this was far from Carrie’s first rodeo. Her big break was aged five, featuring in a Honey Nut Cheerios advert – and by the time she was 11, she’d already starred in three West End shows.
Today, Carrie’s fingers are adorned with rings – one for each show she’s starred in – and this year she won ‘Best Actress in a Musical’ for her performance in Heathers: The Musical in the WhatsOnStage Awards. But despite all this, Carrie admits she still has ‘pinch me’ moments, and struggles with imposter syndrome, and feelings of self-doubt.
“It’s an insecurity of mine that I always feel I have something to prove because I never went to drama school. I convince myself that I don’t deserve to be here,” Carrie says. “But then you talk to other people who have been to drama school, and they think the same thing. Everyone convinces themselves that they don’t deserve to be where they are.”
Meeting Carrie – who is calm, attentive, and warm – you may not suspect the current of anxiety that, she explains, is often meandering below the surface.
“I feel like I walk through life with a bubble over my head,” Carrie says. “It’s just my own thoughts bouncing around, and I come up with every single scenario of what could go wrong, and then a contingency plan for each.”
Carrie shares how recently she was due to meet her boyfriend – fellow West End actor Oliver Ormson – and his castmates for drinks after rehearsals. As she approached the bar, Carrie felt her heart begin to beat faster as anxiety, at the thought of walking into a room full of people she didn’t know, set in. The evening went absolutely fine, and afterwards Carrie was frustrated that she spent so much time worrying about it.
It’s something that many others who experience anxiety will relate to. But putting feelings and experiences that are rarely articulated into words is something of a speciality for Carrie. In 2015, at the age of 22, Carrie published her first book, All I Know Now. Written on train journeys between her job at the West End, and home where she would film, edit and upload YouTube videos – and aimed at her then-teenage following – the book sought to address the worries and hurdles that Carrie herself had come up against as a teen. And it did so with huge success, topping the charts as a Sunday Times best-seller.
Fuelled by a cocktail of rapidly-changing hormones, bad haircuts, and general angst, our teenage years are some of the most memorable, but also most challenging. It makes perfect sense that so many people would jump at the chance to read a guide like Carrie’s. But, now 26, Carrie looks back at the four years that have passed since the book was published, and sees them as equally formative.
Everyone convinces themselves that they don’t deserve to be where they are
“There are times in your life where even a year or two makes such a difference,” she reflects. “I think about myself a year ago and say: ‘Oh God, what was I thinking? Why did I make that decision? Why didn’t I just calm down?’
“Then I look around at the people who are exactly the same age as I am, and one of them has three kids, one of them is single and travelling, one of them has created her own business and she’s just bought a mansion.
“There’s no one way to do things. There’s no: you get a house, you have kids, and you live out the rest of your days with your husband and your children.”
Carrie’s right. While there may have once been a check-list for a good life, now things are increasingly less directed. We have much more freedom to choose our own paths, but that doesn’t mean things are easier.
The conundrum of modern life is something Carrie explores in a recent heart-on-her-sleeve blog post, ‘Trips with Exes’. Following a visit to Disneyland Paris in July, Carrie reflected on how she had also been there with previous boyfriends – in 2012 and 2015. She notes how, as a society in 2019, we’re in a strange situation where we no longer expect to have just one partner for our entire lives, but we haven’t yet learned how to deal with the legacy of past relationships.
“Especially when they’re archived on the internet,” adds Carrie. “Someone asked me why I hadn’t deleted all the photos with my ex-boyfriend, and I’m like, because it happened! I’m not going to erase every trace of my ex. I was with him, I spent two and a half years with him. I’m not going to pretend it didn’t happen.”
While Carrie finds being open about such topics cathartic, having been active online for eight years now, she’s had to learn where to draw the line when it comes to letting people into her life.
“You know where your line is, and you know that your line is here. But other people think your line is much closer to you than it actually is – and they don’t realise that when you put a 10-minute video up, that’s 10 minutes of a week.”
That said, Carrie looks back on a time when YouTube, and sharing her life, was her whole world. Her journey into the online world began in 2011, when she first began uploading videos to the site. A mix of singing covers and chatty vlogs, Carrie quickly amassed a following that today sits at more than half a million.
“When I started I was 19, which is fetal now I think about it,” she says. “That’s a weird time to be sharing yourself with strangers, because you still don’t know who that self is.
“And then I got into Les Mis, and I had to move my focus somewhere else. I was still making videos, but I wasn’t so much a part of the YouTube community, and I realised how much I enjoyed that. When you’re submerged in one thing it’s all you ever think about, it’s all you ever do, and the people you’re speaking about only ever have one perspective – which is being a YouTuber.”
That ‘YouTube community’ was the focus of much attention in the early years of this decade. A level playing field, mainly driven by young people like Carrie, where everyone was welcome to join the movement – YouTube was revolutionising the media landscape at a drastic rate. And while much of the same can still be said today, 2014 remains a difficult time in the platform’s history.
“A lot of things happened; there were a lot of scandals,” says Carrie. “People didn’t want to associate themselves with others too heavily, just in case something went wrong. I think everyone’s still a bit scared of that now.”
From early 2014, sexual abuse scandals shocked the YouTube community, with numerous allegations made against several UK creators. At the centre of this was Carrie’s ex-boyfriend – a prominent creator who was accused of abuse and inappropriate behaviour in 14 separate allegations.
“It was such a horrendous time for everybody,” Carrie says. “When I started dating him, people told me: ‘He’s cheated in the past, so just be careful.’ But I was that girl who thought: ‘I’ll change him, it’ll be different with me.’ He was very charming, and he was quite aloof, so when he was giving me attention I felt special. And I was 19 – I was so young.
When emotional things happen, you’re left with a few soul scars
“There will be people who will read this interview and say: ‘I’m 19 or 20, and I know better.’ I promise you, you don’t. I thought I knew better, I thought I knew it all. But I was so oblivious to what was going on. I was surprised when I found out he cheated on me with one person, and then I found out it was seven. But you couldn’t have told me, there was no way.”
Carrie describes the incident, and the allegations, as driving a wedge through her life. Looking back, she sees her life in two acts: ‘before it happened’ and ‘after it happened’.
“Of course there are things that are different now, like how I conduct my relationships – when emotional things like that happen, you’re left with a few soul scars. But I’ve surrounded myself with an amazing group of friends, an amazing boyfriend, and my incredible family, so I never need to worry because I’ve always got people to fall back on.”
To read more of Carrie's exclusive chat with us, pick up the September issue of Happiful in supermarkets from Thursday 15 August.
Carrie is starring in ‘Les Misérables: The All-Star Staged Concert’ which opens at the Gielgud Theatre on 10 August 2019 for 16 weeks. Find out more at lesmis.com/london
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If you're looking for support with anxiety, you may want to consider talking to a counsellor. You can find a counsellor near you at Counselling Directory.