TikTok: How the app's surge in use helped a doctor, a drama graduate and an athlete become household names

December 27, 2021

TikTok's growth over the pandemic has paved the way for a new wave of influencer to hit our phone screens.

While we are still seeing meticulously produced YouTube videos get viewed millions of times - TikTok's users often take a somewhat different approach.

Over the pandemic, a number of new influencers have burst on to our tiny screens - showing us anything from wholesome train spotting content, all the way through to Brit-nominated music.

And in the year that web infrastructure company Cloudfare named the app as more popular than Google - Sky News has caught up with some of the new voices who have used it to break through, and talk about just how they came to their new found fame.

Ilona Maher - USA Sevens rugby player - 832k followers

The USA and rugby aren't always synonymous - even less so with women's Sevens (the seven-a-side, seven-minutes-a-half version of the game).

But Ilona Maher is on a mission to change that, and began to go viral when she showed users some behind the scenes content from her time at this year's Tokyo Olympics.

"I did know that the Olympics would be a great time to get your brand out there and to get people watching," Maher explained to Sky News.

"And I just think TikTok is an amazing platform. And yes, people call it a child's app, but this app is powerful, and in the Olympics, I was just doing it and it's really just me being authentic and then people just loved it.

She said her first really viral video was when her and the rest of her team are testing the infamous cardboard beds in the Olympic Village, showing them doing various activities to show their resilience.

"I said, like, 'yo guys, just do whatever on the bed and we'll just react organically'.

"I went to bed with that one because it was the morning in the US... and then I woke up and I was like, 'guys it's at 1.3 million viewers', then it just kept climbing."

And while she believes she is a role-model - she doesn't want to have to censor her content to fit a box.

"We think of role models as pristine, never does anything bad, they're just the the best people - but I'm very smart.

"I have my registered nursing degree, I'm getting my master's in business, I'm a very nice person - but I don't want to be put in this box of like being a role model and I have to just appeal to children - which is what somebody was telling me.

"'Oh, maybe watch what content you're putting out' but then I'm like, 'no, that's who I am'.

"Like, if you know me, I make jokes like that's who I am, and I'm 25 - I am allowed to make those jokes. So I think I am a role model, even if I make those some of those [more adult] jokes, because even the role models like do some weird stuff.

Kyron Hamilton - comedian - 1.2 million followers

After graduating drama school during lockdown, Kyron Hamilton turned to TikTok to show off his acting prowess - going viral for his one-man comedy skits where he played teachers interacting with students.

As a result he has bagged himself an agent, and now dreams of starring in comedy shows for television audiences.

"I was in my third year, and then COVID hit and I was really bored during the day... I kept laughing at people on TikTok, and I thought I'll try and make people laugh and give me something to do as well, and the process was born in lockdown."

Hamilton is best known for his point of view style clips, where users become part of the experience, and he invokes memories from their school days.

However, he says after getting sometimes tens of millions of views, he did feel pressure to keep going.

"I was excited by it and I thought, 'Oh my God, this could be something amazing'.

"I've got this pressure now of making every single video, to try and be good and try and hit the same as it's done on every other video, and when I was in lockdown, I didn't really know if people would know me... because I'm not used to seeing anyone who knew I was.

"It didn't feel real because all I know is just my phone screen."

And while he isn't entirely sure what has caused him to become a household name, he says it is "hopefully because I make them laugh and cheer them up and stuff like that".

He now dreams of appearing on TV, and hopes his exposure can help.

"I'd love to branch off into the performing world still alongside what I do," he explained.

"I probably wouldn't have been approached in that way if I didn't have the platform that I have here. It has opened quite a lot of doors and events I never even thought happened before."

Maddy Lucy Dann - NHS doctor - 713k followers

Doctors have had it tough over the last two years, with the nation's health and morale placed squarely at their door.

For doctor Maddy Lucy Dann, she saw the app as a chance to address users face-to-face on everything from her general musings to combatting vaccine misinformation - and is now represented by one of the biggest talent agencies in the country.

Dr Dann said she first started noticing how big of a deal it was after one of videos began to get thousands and thousands of viewers, and is now regularly asked for photographs when people spot her.

She was also taken on by Insanity, an agency which looks after the likes of Jo Whiley, Jessica Plummer and Martin Kemp - underlining the power that this app has for its content creators.

"It was all a bit surreal, really... because I didn't have the real world impact of the videos," she explained.

"It's hugely flattering to have somebody see potential in you... So I definitely felt the pressure from it, too, especially since there was never any end goal in mind.

"When I started doing anything on social media, I was just genuinely having a really fun time doing it and really enjoying the feedback I was getting and really enjoying making stuff.

"But also I found I was a bit like, 'OK, let's let's not get carried away. Let's think about what this will mean, what this will mean for the future and various things'.

"If I did any paid promotion type stuff, I was sort of arranging it myself.

"Initially I thought, well, I'm going to get this myself, why would I pay commission to somebody?

"But actually the amount of work I'm getting is so worth it."

Since her finding fame, Dr Dann has done TV appearances on comedy shows, and stepped out in to the world of comedy - all while continuing as a doctor.

"That is who I am as an entire person. I've always tried not to be defined by one part... I just got all these things that make me up."

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