Five-figure brand deals, online hate and manifesting a marriage proposal: meet Manchester's influencers
'If they could, people would know every single thing about me, because they want to'
Dear readers — influencers are everywhere, but they’re especially everywhere in this city (presided over by patron saint of social media success, Molly-Mae). So how do they make it work? And how do they carve out any time for themselves? Mollie Simpson spent some time with Manchester’s biggest online personalities to understand what their lives are really like.
But before that, we have an extended news roundup including essential details from the final report from the Manchester Arena Inquiry. If you’re a free subscriber, you’ll only be able to read a little taster, so consider signing up to get the whole edition, support the future of independent journalism and pitch in to our lively comments section.
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The latest episode of The Manchester Weekly is out. Darryl and Jack unpick the final report from the Manchester Arena inquiry. Plus, we return to Manchester's Eastern European community one year on from the invasion of Ukraine, and hear how Northenden Labour's candidate selection process is sparking an interesting debate about all-women shortlists.
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Your Mill briefing
The third and final report of the Manchester Arena Inquiry was published yesterday. It found that MI5 missed a “significant opportunity” to stop bomber Salman Abedi by not acting on intelligence that indicated terrorist activity, and that Abedi’s family held “significant responsibility” for his radicalisation.
On the security services, the inquiry’s chair, Sir John Saunders, said a “realistic opportunity” to prevent the attack was missed. A “communication breakdown” between MI5 and counter terrorism police meant that two key pieces of intelligence were not shared. The report doesn’t describe the nature of the intelligence — parts of the hearings were kept secret for the sake of national security — but says MI5 were wrong to interpret it as relating to “non-terrorist criminality”. It found that the service’s position on the intelligence didn’t reflect that of its officers, who testified that it was of “potential national security concern.” Acting on said intelligence could have led to Abedi being stopped and interviewed when he returned from Libya four days before the attack. Saunders also said that, had intelligence been acted on, Abedi may have been followed to the car where he was storing the device and “the attack might have been prevented.”
On the radicalisation of Abedi, Saunders heard evidence about five key areas of his life: family, friends, social media, education and the mosques he attended. The inquiry found the Abedi family held “significant responsibility” for Abedi’s radicalisation. The inquiry found “noxious absences and malign presences” attributed to his radicalisation. Ramadan Abedi, Salman and Hashem’s father, was linked to the Libyan Islamist Fighting Group and was close with members of the group who were accused of making bombs for Al-Qaeda and plotting attacks in Tanzania and Kenya. The inquiry found Ramadan, Salman’s elder brother Ismail, and his mother Samia all held extremist views. It is likely that Salman and his younger brother Hashem — the latter currently serving life in prison for helping plan the attack — were influenced by this, and radicalised each other by feeding off one another's ideas.
Response: In a statement yesterday, the families of the victims said:
Today’s report has been deeply painful to read, but also eye opening. On the issue of the preventability of this attack, inevitably the report provides less information than we would have wanted. But it is now very clear that there was a failure to properly assess key intelligence about Salman Abedi; a failure to put it into proper context; and — most catastrophic of all — a delay in acting on it. As a result of these failures, at the very least, a real possibility of preventing this attack was lost. This is a devastating conclusion for us.
Director general of MI5, Ken McCallum, said: “Gathering covert intelligence is difficult — but had we managed to seize the slim chance we had, those impacted might not have experienced such appalling loss and trauma. I am profoundly sorry that MI5 did not prevent the attack."
There have been some interesting developments in Northenden this week, where the local Labour group still need a candidate for May's local election. Its original candidate, Sarah Judge, stepped down for personal reasons. What’s interesting, you ask? Northenden Labour members originally had an all-women panel of possible candidates to choose from, but have asked that it be opened back up to male candidates, too. That was rubber-stamped on Monday night. Speaking to those with knowledge of the decision, The Mill has been told members wanted a broader choice of candidates so they can be sure to choose one who knows the area and can hit the ground running, seeing the short timeframe they’ll have to mount a campaign before May. But, the more sceptical among them don’t feel that explanation washes, seeing Northenden is such a safe Labour seat already. Others have mentioned a feeling that, with Manchester City Council now a majority female council, some men that are interested in seats are finding it difficult to get selected. All-women shortlists were introduced by Labour in the 90s to help resolve the (far more notable) gender imbalance that existed on councils before then. We plan to report more on this. If you know anything about it, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
GMP misconduct latest: Wesley Bishop, a former police officer serving in Manchester City Centre, has been added to the College of Policing’s barred list after he messaged a sex worker while on duty. A hearing was told Bishop contacted the sex worker for prices and services. Chief Constable Stephen Watson, accepting Bishop wasn’t pursuing a sexual relationship, described his actions as brazen, reckless and a “significant deviation” from what is expected of an officer. "Had he not already resigned, Bishop would have been dismissed without notice," he said.
HS2: The rail line connecting Manchester and Crewe under HS2 plans is rumoured to be at risk, according to the BBC, who report that delays to the already-delayed masterplan are being considered to help curb rising costs. In 2010, the cost was expected to be £33bn, it has since risen to at least £71bn, although one estimate puts the total cost at over £100bn.
By Mollie Simpson
“Anyone who is an influencer and is successful is a workaholic,” Leila says. She’s wearing an off-white sweatshirt with matching joggers, chunky white trainers and lip gloss. “All day, every day, I’m sat on my phone doing something, because if I'm not, I feel guilty.”
Leila Layzell is an influencer in her mid twenties. She lives in Deansgate with a chihuahua named Theo, and posts fashion and makeup videos on TikTok, where she has 200,000 followers and has frequently gone viral (over a million views). Her income is split roughly 50:50 between brand collaborations — when fashion brands approach an influencer with a mass audience to promote a product — and TikTok’s Creator Fund, which rewards creators with huge audiences.
Most of the influencers I speak to are naturally shy about revealing how much they earn, but an insider at a large Manchester-based fashion brand tells me an influencer can earn between £1,000 and £5,000 for a single sponsored Instagram post, even if they have less than 100k followers. “Influencers create heat around a product,” they say. “If you work with influencers, your brand gets double the exposure than if you work with a model.”
There are a lot of assumptions about influencers — that it’s an easy ride, that all they do is go on holiday, that they’re just a series of pretty faces. Is that a fair assessment?
Most of them would argue no. When Libby Faulkner had 25k Instagram followers, she would spend entire days shooting outfits to demonstrate to advertisers that she could be a valuable marketing tool. She still has a mental list of all the best toilets in the Northern Quarter to get changed in (or as it turns out, toilet singular: Feel Good Club’s, if you’re interested). “We’d go out in the car with five different outfits and we’d go around the Northern Quarter shooting outfits all day,” she remembers. “I used to do that a lot when I was building an audience. Whereas now, because I have a really strong engaged audience, they’re just interested in whatever I’m up to.”
Now 27, Libby has 100k Instagram followers. She earns around 90% of her income from brand collaborations, and a further 10% from affiliate sales — purchases made after an influencer posts a link to a product. On a sunlit day in February, we’re taking photos outside the small townhouses on Hilton Street in the Northern Quarter. She turns her head to the right, flicks her hair and smiles. Then her boyfriend approaches, holding a latte in one hand and her face lights up.
It’s Valentine’s Day, and they’re going to head back to their house in Stockport for dinner and a bottle of wine. There will be a few moments she’ll want to capture for her Instagram story, and then the rest of the evening will be spent relaxing. Such is the luxury of being a top-tier influencer: she can afford to withhold a bit more of herself and switch off.
Ten years ago, influencers didn’t exist, at least not in the way we know them now. They tended to be fashion bloggers, sharing their life with a small audience of fans. It usually signalled a lack of income: girls who were bloggers wouldn’t make money off their content, instead aiming to become models or marketing executives off the back of it.
Today, the opposite is true. Instagram has exploded in popularity, and influencers stand to make a lot of money off social media, enough to sustain a career without supplementary income from, say, a social media marketing job at THG or modelling for Boohoo. They don’t shout enthusiastically into the void, but exist as mid-tier celebrities with the help of talent managers who secure lucrative brand deals with high street and designer fashion brands.
The Manchester influencer scene is competitive. Most of them live in Deansgate and Salford, and hang out in flashy restaurants like Rosso, Australasia and Menagerie. There are regular influencer parties for informal networking and drinks, but Leila doesn’t particularly enjoy them. “Some of them I really get on with,” she says. “But I think the influencer scene in Manchester particularly can be quite superficial at times. Some people can be quite closed off or if you don’t have the right amount of followers or if they don’t know who you are, they can shun you.”
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