© Tom Dingley

With cutesey visuals and an important message, YouTuber and children’s author Olly Pike has been educating kids on LGBTQ issues for years in a fun, easy-to-understand manner.

Olly’s work is available to view on the Pop’n’Olly website or his YouTube channel. He also recently launched a Patreon, with the aim of being able to create more inclusive fairytales and additional LGBTQ videos for his channel.

We caught up with the author and activist to see what the future holds, his current work in schools and to discuss beauty standards within the LGBTQ community.

Now that you’ve gone full time with YouTube, what can we expect?
If I’ve learnt anything, it’s just not to expect too much, just do what you love doing. And I love making the videos, I love making LGBTQ educational videos, I love drawing and writing books and being creative. And it’s kind of starting to work out for me. I think I’m just gonna go with my instincts, and continue doing what I’ve been doing which is making videos and putting out more books.

After your new Goldilocks & The Five Bear Families book, what else is coming up?
I might be turning my Waiting For A Princess story into a book. But I also want to do books about all different types of people. So I’d love to write a book about someone who’s intersex, or agender, or all these different identities that we know about and just making sure I reflect everyone.

What made you want to go into creating children’s books?
My background is in theatre, and as well as being in the West End and all that fancy stuff, I did a lot of children’s theatre and children’s television. So I’ve worked in that kind of world, and I just liked being in it. So I decided to stay in and build my brand around that.

Do you think your experience with pantomimes and Trapped helped in building your skills with children?
I’d like to think so, but on the other hand it might just be me, and I might have just stayed at this child level, which also helps. But it must have helped in some way.

Out of all your books so far, what’s your favourite?
My most popular one is Prince Henry, and I think that is my favourite one, because I feel like that one’s actually quite clever without me intending it to be clever. Everyone’s like, ‘It’s so clever with how you didn’t make sexuality an issue.’ And I was like, ‘Oh yeah, I meant to do that.’ But I don’t know if I did, because sexuality isn’t an issue for me. I just wanted to write a gay fairytale and that’s how it came out.

Do you think more gay media should go down that route, making sexuality not the most important thing about a character?
Yeah, totally. I read something today on Twitter, I can’t remember who said it, but it was something about how gay characters don’t need to have a point. A lot of the time, gay or LGBTQ characters are just put in there because their sexuality or identity is referencing the plot or storyline, but actually we just need them in there without any reason for them to be there, because that’s life.

At the start of the year you released your first-ever song, and after Eurovision you said you wanted to do more music. Is there anything coming up that you can tell us about?
Yes! I’ve got another song, and it’s all recorded, I’m just working on the music video at the moment, so hopefully I’ll be putting it out next year. When I do videos like that, that’s just me having fun. A lot of my channel is educational, but at the same thing I still want it to be fun. I like to think of my channel as Sesame Street, so you’ve got your educational segments, your story segments, and your fun segments as well.

Now that you’re committing full time, do you think you’ll be able to do more music or will it be yearly?
Maybe, a lot of it has been who I’ve met and who can help me do these things. I’m quite sufficient when it comes to the filming and drawing, because I pretty much do everything, but songs are the one thing I need a little help from other people for obvious reasons. But maybe I’ll meet more people and do more songs.

© Tom Dingley

What made you want to go into doing LGBTQ workshops?
It just felt like the natural thing to do, because now I’m a published author and kids love YouTube, and I want to make sure I educate a generation. I was getting invited into schools anyway to do things, and I was like, ‘I should actually do this more.’ That’s been really fun.

Are you getting good responses from the teachers at schools you visit?
Yeah, well it’s a legal requirement that schools are LGBTQ-inclusive places, and even Ofsted inspectors are looking to see whether primary schools are combating homophobia, biphobia and transphobia. Schools have to be doing this, they have to be inclusive of this education. And I think a lot of it is they’re not really sure who to turn to sometimes. They don’t know about the really great LGBTQ educational charities out there, they don’t necessarily know about my work, so it’s just about informing people, ‘Hey, I’ll come and do it for you.’

What’s the general response from the children and the parents to the workshops?
So the kids are more interested in how many subscribers I’ve got on my YouTube channel, which is really cool because the LGBTQ thing doesn’t really faze them. A lot of them have heard about it before, but it’s nice for them to see someone come in who they might see as cool, who’s a YouTuber and doing fun things, but also to learn that they’re gay and they’re happy and coming across in a positive way. So I think it’s really great for them to see that. A couple of times when I’ve been into schools, the parents haven’t been informed what the workshops are about, but then they don’t need to be because the school just needs to be inclusive. I think when some of the parents have found out that an LGBTQ person has come in, they’ve thought the worst and got on the phone to the school. But when the school’s explained that it’s age appropriate, like inclusive fairy tales, the parents are like, ‘Oh okay, we thought it was something else.’

Recently Pop’n’Olly shared on Twitter some inclusive fairytales written by children. What does that mean to you?
Things like that are happening more and more often, but it always takes me by surprise. The thought that anyone is watching my videos, or reading my books, or using any of my stuff is still bizarre. But it’s amazing seeing a group of kids get inspired by my work, and write their own stories. It’s quite incredible for me to be able to experience that, so I’m very grateful that they liked my stuff and felt inspired.

Your educational work is amazing. How did it feel to have that recognised with the Gay Times Honours nomination?
That was so amazing. Like, who am I? I’m just someone who’s made a load of little videos for YouTube and drawn a load of pictures in my room, and now I’m being shortlisted for Gay Times Honours next to people like Diversity Role Models, which is a whole charity. Sometimes things like that I can’t comprehend, it’s really bizarre and I really appreciate it.

Do you think the government’s new sex and relationship curriculum guidance is going to go far enough and how would you improve it?
I’m not sure, I mean it keeps getting delayed, it was meant to come out next year, but now it’s been delayed to 2020. So that’s not a great thing, because we need this now. I know people weren’t happy about it because it wasn’t inclusive enough and it left teachers or schools to decide for themselves what they want to teach about when it comes to LGBTQ education. I don’t think the government meant it that way, I think they just felt like, ‘You guys will be fine, just make sure you’re LGBTQ inclusive’, but the thing is a lot of schools don’t know how to do that, so they do need a little more help when it comes to that area. So I feel like they could have given slightly more, from what we’ve seen of the guidance so far, like a little bit more information. Even saying, ‘Here are some resources you can use, use Pop’n’Olly videos because they’re really good.’

Most of the time I go through the comments on your videos they’re really positive, but when you made the Gender Recognition Act video, it took a turn. Do you find that strange, the difference between  gay-positive videos and trans-positive ones?
Yeah, anything about gender gets people stressed out and I don’t understand why. Like, they’re really scared about it. I think because in a way some people feel threatened by it. And we’re not trying to threaten anyone, we’re just trying to be inclusive and make sure everyone feels comfortable. I think people like structure and like the system we live in, even though they complain about it all the time, and anything that challenges that ruffles feathers. But it’s fun to do!

Do you find that you get a lot of negative feedback on your work?
I don’t get as half as much negative criticism as my American counterpart Lindsay, from Queer Kid Stuff. She runs a channel, and the amount of hate and abuse she gets is ridiculous, compared to what I get, it’s like I hardly get anything. And I’m like why? I think the reason she gets so much hate is because she was assigned female at birth and the world hates women. It’s the whole patriarchy, misogyny thing that’s still creating a lot of harm.

© Tom Dingley

You watched Postcards From London the other day and you didn’t like its depiction of body image and diversity. What would you like to say about that?
I wanted to like the film, when I’m invited to see these LGBTQ films that are independent, I’d say they’re normally really really great and they blow my mind. But this one just irritated me. I don’t know whether the film was meant to be ironic and I just missed the point, but the theme of the film was about beauty. And I feel like if the theme of the movie is about beauty, and you’re setting it in the gay community, that’s such a great opportunity to explore the different types of beauty that are out there in our community, but I feel like the film just reinforced dated stereotypes of beauty in the gay community. And it annoyed me, because I feel like people like myself, and Gay Times, and so many other people are moving the bar on what’s considered beauty. And it’s not just the gay community, it’s wider society as well, lots of people are doing it. But sometimes things happen and it just sets it back a little bit and it’s unnecessary and it’s just a shame. I feel like my understanding of what ‘beautiful’ is has shifted so much in the past ten years, especially in the work that I’m doing and all the people that I’m meeting. I actually found my scale on the Gender Unicorn scale shifted to what I’m attracted to. Ten years ago, I would be like ‘Oh yeah, I’m gay, I’m only attracted to men.’ But now I don’t think I am because I’ve met so many attractive people who are genderfluid or trans or female and I am attracted to them.

How do you think that gay media, including magazines, can improve when it comes to beauty standards?
I think the shift we’ve seen in Gay Times over the past year, ever since the new revamp. Since then, even the choice of people they’re putting on covers is amazing and so different to what we’ve seen before, and it’s just little things like that that open up people’s eyes up to more diversity.

Do you find it weird that your fans comment on your social media sites people are commenting on your appearance, when you’re promoting your work?
I don’t know, everyone likes a little ego-boosting, I guess I don’t really notice it that much. Something that does annoy me is I’ll put a picture up of a video I’ve been working on for months, and it’ll get around 200 likes, which isn’t bad. But then I’ll put a picture up of my face and it’ll get close to 1,000. And I’m like ‘Guys, watch my work.’ I care more about you watching my videos.