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GK Barry: ‘The word ‘‘influencer’’ makes my toes curl’

The TikToker turned TV star on quitting vaping, vodka cranberries and falling headfirst into festival season

GK Barry in a sleeping bag
Photograph: Jess Hand for Time Out
Photograph: Jess Hand for Time Out
Chiara Wilkinson
Written by
Chiara Wilkinson

It’s not easy having an alter ego – especially when they have a tendency to overshare intimate details about your love life to an audience of millions.

‘Sometimes I get the fear about stuff I’ve said,’ says Grace Keeling, better known as her online persona, GK Barry. ‘I get so embarrassed talking about sex and stuff to my friends, so it’s absolutely wild what I say on a podcast to thousands of people. But it’s also fine: it’s not me saying it, it’s GK Barry.’

If you don’t yet know who GK Barry is, it won’t be long before you do. The 24-year-old podcaster, content creator and rising TV star has amassed a following of more than 4.5 million on TikTok, Instagram and YouTube combined, created a chart-topping weekly podcast and has a new BBC series in the works. Last year, she launched her own edit with fast-fashion company Pretty Little Thing and presented on the Brit Awards red carpet for Spotify. She’s no stranger to going viral: you’ve probably seen her on your For You Page, dressed in sunglasses and a hoodie, slouching on her sofa in front of Real Housewives. Her confessional, spill-it-all clips, unconventional interview style and #relatable British humour have charmed millions, earning her a spot at the table with a new generation of media personalities who aren’t afraid to do things their own way – shaking up the status quo while doing so. 

GK Barry wearing a red helmet with gin
Photograph: Jess Hand for Time Out

We’ve just wrapped up her Time Out cover shoot and have arrived at Max’s Sandwich Shop, a cosy, wood-panelled sarnie place in Crouch Hill, Finsbury Park. Wearing a baby pink tracksuit (‘I can’t dress myself – if I can only wear joggers, I will only wear joggers’) and in full glam, she speaks to me over a glass of tap water as the rain beats down in a typically British manner ahead of the May bank holiday weekend. It’s a different scene to her usual interview set up, which sees her in a pink-painted Hackney studio, a mock neon halo above her head and a tabloid-y star like Rylan Clark, Katie Price or Nella Rose in the chair opposite, ready for a grilling. 

There’s also a notable difference in Grace herself. Rather than rolling off her signature dramatic pauses, chaotic anecdotes and sniggers at her own jokes, she seems – dare I say it – chilled out. She answers questions fast and firmly, she doesn’t raise her voice, and while she is still objectively hilarious, the punchlines sneak out gently, subtly. She’s patient, professional, and speaks with an honesty that can only come with having spent a few years, and no more, in the spotlight. 

In other words: she’s different because she’s here as Grace, here to spill the beans on GK. And spill them she does. 

Bringing it back 

Grace was leading shifts at Costa Coffee Mildenhall when her TikTok started to take off back in 2020: posting skits about the pandemic, rants about potential love interests and run-ins with family members. ‘If I was serving a good looking man, the latte art would be a penis – just as a nice little conversation starter,’ she says. ‘That never worked out.’ 

She’d been studying filmmaking at Nottingham uni with hopes of becoming a camera operator, living the quintessential British student life: broke and spending what little money she did have on booze. ‘I wasn’t very academic, so I was always told that I was really stupid and I probably wouldn’t ever get a good job or whatever,’ she says. ‘I honestly thought they were right.’ She came up with the name GK Barry – her initials, plus her best mate’s surname – so people from her school couldn’t find her TikTok account. ‘I remember thinking people from school would find it and be horrible to me,’ she says. ‘People respect you when you finally get big. But until you get big, it’s this whole thing like, ‘‘oh, what is she doing?’’ I’m someone that really cares about stuff like that.’ 

GK Barry on a Time Out cover
Photograph: Jess Hand for Time Out

It was when people started coming into her work and asking for photos that she realised something had changed. ‘I remember I went to the Co-op to get wine, and the girl at the cashier was like, ‘‘oh, my God, are you GK Barry?’’’ she says. ‘It was literally like that Cheryl Cole meme: ‘‘I can’t even pop to the shops for a pint of milk’’.’ The numbers crept higher and higher, and she soon found herself having to turn down opportunities to film ads because she was working such long shifts at Costa. It wasn’t easy to make the jump into content creation full-time – not least because being a ‘TikToker’ wasn’t seen as a career. ‘No one had a job from TikTok when I started, it wasn’t a thing,’ she says. ‘My parents just don’t get it – they made me do a master’s degree. It’s only now that I’m able to support them that my mum’s fully on board.’ 

No one had a job from TikTok when I started – it’s only now I’m able to support my parents that my mum’s on board

These days, she describes herself as a podcaster and creator rather than a ‘TikToker’, even though she owes her entire success to the platform. ‘The word influencer makes my toes curl up,’ Grace says. ‘I just don’t see myself in that. I sit on the internet and chat and that’s sort of it.’ 

Going out-out 

‘I’m just laughing at myself,’ says Grace, pointing at the pictures flashing on the computer monitor. Her hair is piled into Coke-can style rollers, the false eyelashes are on, she’s wearing a pair of Hunter wellies and is carrying a bottle of Cava in her French-tipped fingers like a glamorous, bewildered alien who has landed in Worthy Farm. It’s 9am. 

‘What’s your drink of choice?’ I ask, when she sits herself down on the folding chair of our makeshift campsite shoot to mark the start of festival season. ‘Anything,’ she says, eyes lighting up when I bring out a can of Red Stripe for her to pour into a martini glass. She looks right at home: but while Grace is undeniably a party girl, she’s more into pubs and bars than fields and tents. ‘With festivals, there’s nowhere to plug my hair straighteners in,’ she says. ‘I’m unsure, but I do like the vibes.’ She lists Chris Brown, Doja Cat, Sexyy Red and Temz as her dream Glasto headliners, so it’s unsurprising to hear that the last festival she went to was Wireless – but she’s not necessarily in a rush to go back. 

GK Barry sitting inside a tent
Photograph: Jess Hand for Time Out

‘My ideal night is going to the pub, getting really drunk, then going to a bar and ending the night with a kebab – a chicken one, not a döner one, because they smell like feet – then going to bed and waking up with fear and regret,’ she says. ‘Last time I got drunk, I got a cherry tattooed near my vagina.’ She recounts the story with drama, outrage, self-depreciation: like a best friend sharing some juicy new gossip about an ex. Her podcast episodes tend to race through similar anecdotes, usually involving too many vodka cranberries, getting blackout drunk and spewing her guts up the next day (or, as in the most recent episode, spending £1,500 on a bottle of vodka in a central London club).

Chaotic energy is very much the GK brand – but does she ever worry that she’s glamorising binge drinking, especially with such a young impressionable audience? ‘Sometimes I’ve heard that,’ she says. ‘But I was a uni student, so I drank as much as most uni students do. And I’m literally telling everyone the next day: guys, I was on death row. I absolutely hate my life. So, if anything, it’s a warning that you should never be like me. Anyone that looks up to me: don’t do it. You’re going to have an awful time.’

The gift of the gab

‘Take a break!’ 

Grace shuffles in her wellies and a bubblegum-blue tulle dress towards the door. ‘Vape time!’ she says, smiling, in a lowered voice. Like any self-respecting Gen Z-er, she’s trying to quit the vapes (according to her most recent podcast episode, she averages about three Crystal bars a day), but she’s not quite there yet. ‘Health is wealth,’ she sagely acknowledges, when I ask about it later. ‘However, it is proving difficult. One day I will give up, but today is not the day.’

She’s been releasing new episodes of her podcast, ‘Saving Grace’, every Wednesday since it launched back in April 2022. ‘Back then, not many TikTokers had podcasts,’ she said. ‘The first episode went to number one for like, five or six weeks.’ Usually, she’ll interview a guest –  Paris Hilton, Khloé Kardashian or ‘anyone from ‘‘Selling Sunset’’’ are the dream – or get fans to send in their dilemmas for her (extremely flawed) agony aunt segment. ‘So many people have worse stories than me, it makes me feel so much better about my life,’ she laughs. Back in March, she sold out all 2,200 seats in the London Palladium for a live show. ‘I prefer doing it live,’ she says. ‘You can hear people’s reaction, so I know what I said was funny.’

I’m going to be the next Alan Sugar – Alan Sugar with tits

The GK interview style is littered with squeals, anecdotes about UTIs and confrontations about cock size. ‘I can tell a few people just don’t get it, because I’m so open,’ she says. ‘I think some people are taken aback. During the episodes they ease into it, but I can be a lot if you don’t know me.’

She works in a similar vein to other latter-day character comic interviewers: like Amelia Dimoldenberg’s awkward chicken shop dater, or Bobbi Althoff’s deadpan, verging-on-rude interrogator. It’s not to everyone’s tastes, but there’s a reason why these creators are standing out in a saturated market, landing brand deals with fashion houses and, in Amelia and Grace’s case, presenting from major red carpet events. ‘You don’t have to be really professional – you can just do it how you want to do it,’ says Grace, about her interviewing technique. ‘If I say something embarrassing that I’ve done, they feel more comfortable, so they’re more likely to share.’ 

GK Barry eating chips
Photograph: Jess Hand for Time Out

She’s all for breaking down stigmas, especially around sex, relationships and the female body (‘It needs to be normalised – I wish someone was saying all that stuff to me when I was younger’), but she does sometimes worry about taking it too far. ‘My future partner, or kids, can go on the internet and be like, ‘‘Mum, what’s scissoring?’’’ she says. ‘Horror.’ And that’s not the only case of over-sharing. There’s also that heart-shaped bomb she dropped on a recent episode of ‘Saving Grace’, which led to a string of gossip articles in publications like The Sun and OK! magazine. ‘Big news everyone,’ she said. ‘I’m off the market... I’ve got a spring in my step. It’s the lesbian glow.’

That’s right: GK Barry is wived. ‘I made a mistake putting that on the internet,’ she says, when I bring it up. ‘The reaction to that was absolutely horror. I didn’t realise so many people would be that invested and try to find who it was. It just stressed me out and scared me a little bit.’ It’s not the first time it’s stressed her out, either: she admits revealing ‘too much’ about her previous relationship online, to the point where their breakup was trending before she’d announced it to fans. This time, she knows to do things differently. ‘People know that I’m with someone, they will know no more,’ she says. ‘But if we want to go to Butlins, we’re gonna go to Butlins. It’s about online. Hopefully, people can respect that.’

The bigger screen

Grace is no stranger to the capital – she travels in pretty much every day – but she still couldn’t see herself living here. ‘London stresses me out,’ she says. ‘Everyone here is, like, too busy. There’s smog, I’m not into it. But I grew up in the countryside. The smell of horse poo comforts me.’ She’s been living by herself since November: her parents had to ‘physically push her’ to leave home. ‘But I absolutely love it [now],’ she says. ‘I can wake up when I want. If I want pasta every night, I can have pasta every night. Sensational.’

GK Barry holding a red stripe
Photograph: Jess Hand for Time Out

It seems like TV is the natural next step for Grace, who lists Stacey Dooley (‘She’s so common and normal’) and Olivia Attwood as her role models. Career highlights so far include filming a bungee jump for Stand Up To Cancer’s ‘Don’t Look Down’, and her own BBC Show, ‘Boss Pitches’, which is set to hit screens in June. It’s a Gen Z, women-only version of ‘Dragon’s Den’, which sees budding entrepreneurs pitch ‘out there’ businesses to GK and YouTuber Nella Rose. If the pair like the ideas, they’ll give them a boost on their all-important socials. ‘I’m going to be the next Alan Sugar – Alan Sugar with tits,’ she says, looking at her chest. ‘Well, barely.’ This year, she’s also looking to do another podcast tour, and is working closely with the Teenage Cancer Trust and Pride of Britain, where she’s the official social media presenter. 

‘I definitely have impostor syndrome, where I’m like, this isn’t gonna last,’ she says. ‘I need to make the most of it because you just don’t know with social media. One minute, you’re liked, one minute you’re not. It’s fickle.’ In other words, it seems she’s still in awe at what has come out of filming silly videos from her bedroom during lockdown. What would she say to people who are trying to work up the courage to post more online? ‘Just do it,’ she says. ‘It’s never actually that deep. What I’ve learned now is that it doesn’t really matter what people’s opinions are – so many people in life don’t like you anyway. They’re not paying my bills though.’ 

You can listen to Saving Grace via all good podcast providers now.

Photographer: Jess Hand @jesshandphotography
Design Director: Bryan Mayes @bryanmayesdotcom
Senior Designer: Jamie Inglis @818fpv
Photo Editor: Laura Gallant @lauramgallant
Stylist: Charlotte Malley @charlottemalley
Hair: James Jameson @iamjamesjohnson
Make-Up: Lielle Neury @@lielle_mua
Location: ARK Studios @arkstudios_london
With thanks to Mountain Warehouse. 

In look one GK Barry is wearing a vintage @burberry coat, @missoni sweatshirt, @topshop jumper, @viviennewestwood skirt, boots by @hunterbootsuk and bag by @thenorthface.

In look two GK Barry is wearing a @dreamsisterjane dress and @hunterbootsuk.

In look three GK Barry wears a @rubyloot top, @amormia_studio skirt, shoes by @simmishoes, @hotfutures sunglasses and a @baggu hat.

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