Back in 2005, I was 14 turning 15 years old. I didn’t have anyone around me that I could identify with and the reality of my surroundings was become more and more bleak. I was different. I stood out, even when I tried to be normal. I wasn’t the ‘chic’, club-kid kind of different you hear about in songs and see in movies… I just didn’t really fit in with anyone. The popular kids thought I was weird, the alternative kids didn’t acknowledge me and everyone else just didn’t really get it.
David Bowie and Madonna had made being ‘different’ seem so seductive, but all I was getting was verbal abuse and dirty looks. People would be nice to my face but I’d catch them giving each other looks as I walked past or spoke with them. I had always been incredibly aware of my surroundings – and it did nothing but hurt me. I wished that I wasn’t so aware sometimes. I got beaten up a few times, pushed around a lot in hall-ways, mugged of my first flip-phone (which I’m still pissed off about) and earned the nickname ‘tranny’ which people would then prank call me shouting.
Well Hall Road in Eltham. My first home.
I grew up in South-East London in a town called Eltham. My home town has a reputation for a few things; bad behaviour, ‘white trash’ people, racism and general xenophobia. Stephen Lawrence (an 18 year old black male) was murdered in Eltham back in 1993 when I was three years old. The murder happened outside of my childhood house on Well Hall Road. It’s one of the highest profile ‘racial killings’ to ever happen in the U.K, changing the way people looked at Eltham, and racism in general. I’d tell everyone I was from Greenwich.
I didn’t like my home town. I used to get so frustrated that no one ‘understood’ me that I would sit in my room and just cry. The frustration used to tingle in my body like I was on drugs and I’d have little spasms. A mix of teenage hormones and being picked on had totally dominated my life. I was extremely introverted and didn’t like attention. I used to dread the queue at lunch time, as you’d have to stand next to all the kids that were seated and eating. But at the same time, I didn’t want to be like the popular people in my year. I didn’t really know what I wanted but it wasn’t ‘this’.
Good old Myspace.
My brother had always been heavily into alternative music from Death Metal through to Grunge and Punk. I used to watch MTV with him and felt a connection to these ‘outcasts’, identified with their lyrics and I loved the way that they dressed. Through MTV I discovered the show ‘The Osbournes’ where I saw these colourful people that reminded me a bit of myself. I used to browse online forums for news on Ozzy and I saw a pinned post about Jack and Kelly Osbourne apparently being on a website called MySpace. I clicked through to MySpace and signed up. Apparently there’s a subculture of ’emo’ happening, and they all looked so pretty (at the time). This kind of worked for me. The boys looked like girls, so I was already half way there.
Little did I know, that this website was about to change everything.
The format was to upload a pouty, posey photo of you and give yourself an ‘edgy’ name. I picked xDear Diary My Teen Angst Has A Body Countx (a From First To Last song, the lead singer is now a little-known producer called Skrillex) and I began posing for my webcam. My hair wasn’t long enough to be considered emo yet, so I tied a black bandana around my forehead. In other pics I’d grab my blonde hair and pull it as hard as I could to create a fringe. I uploaded a few pics, sporadically sent around friend requests around to pretty people and kind of forgot about it.
My first ever Myspace selfie. 2004.
A few weeks later, after checking my Hotmail inbox I noticed that I’d had a few friend requests and ‘picture comments’. I was bracing myself to read something really nasty, due to a bad experience where some kids from younger years in my school posted about me on a slut-shaming site that launched on the internet. It caused –all- the drama in Year 10. There were girls in my year that had a lot worse, with photos being posted. But all I noticed was the few lines insulting the way I looked and insinuating I put worms up my butthole. Yep.
I logged into Myspace and noticed I’d gotten a good amount of attention, and surprisingly enough… all positive. I always remember that someone had commented ‘hawt’ and I had to do an internet search to see what it meant. It meant hot. Wow.
One thing led to another and over the next couple of months I built up quite a strong ‘friends list’ (no-one I’d actually met in real life, of course) and a selection of photos that assured I appeared as mysterious and androgynous as possible. My ‘About Me’ was full of angst and was completely contrived, where I described that no-one would understand me anyway… so why bother. Over time, I got used to being told I was attractive. I had NEVER been told that by anyone but my mother. This was incredibly strange but the buzz I got was addictive. Though, in the beginning I was never sure if it was sincere or not. Either way, I felt happy that I’d finally found a tribe for myself.
Mine and RibenaXcore’s photoshop skills.
One day, I was endlessly browsing through high-rated profiles and one called ‘RibenaXcore’’ who was a girl from Hassocks (near Brighton) who appeared to be ferocious, intimidating and argumentative. She scared the shit out of me, and I loved it. I nervously sent her a message and friend request, she accepted and we ended up on MSN Messenger that night chatting for hours. We instantly got on like a house on fire, as she appreciated my ability to clap-back at any comment she had for me. She told me that at the end of the month, her and a group of kids were meeting in Camden Market, and would I like to come? I was invited to sit with the cool kids. Her name was Emily, she looked emo and we were actually friends. We were going to meet in real life. Was I going to be a cool kid now, too? I was terrified.
When that day came, I remember speaking with my parents in the morning and desperately explaining how scared I was. I didn’t HAVE any emo clothes. All of my Myspace profile photos were of my face and shoulders. I had done my research and found that the ‘brand to be seen in’ was Famous Stars & Stripes, which was not cheap. I found out that there was a shop in Camden market that sold it and I absolutely must get a black hoodie with a red bleeding heart on it. It had to happen. I didn’t feel confident enough to wear tight jeans as my hormones had given me thick thighs and a big bum, something I HATED back then. Now, it’s a different story. Mum and Dad gave me a £50 note to go to Camden that day, (which I would never have expected, as we didn’t have much money) so I could buy the hoodie and have money left over for McDonald’s or whatever else I found.
I got to Camden early that day and found the market shop selling Famous Stars and Stripes. I got the hoodie and it looked good on. I instantly felt better. I slowly walked down to Camden Town station and saw Emily with a group of cool looking emo looking kids walking past. I panicked and hid behind a phone box. I couldn’t handle the pressure in that moment. I don’t think I’ve ever told them that I hid from them – there you have it.
The day I met everyone in Camden. 2005.
I walked through Camden alone to try and build up some confidence, until I reached the food market in the stables. That’s where I heard a girl scream “TOPHER!” and spun around to look. It was Emily. RibenaXcore. This was it! I put on my bravest face and decided to act as confident as I had pretended to be on the internet. Emily was in a group of people and, to this day, I remember all of them; Yaz, Mog, Hannah, Adam and Holly Enright. I spent hours talking with these people I’d never met before and identifying with them in ways I’d never experienced. They weren’t like the ‘grungers’ at my school as they were very socially aware and wanted to look good. They seemed like a blend of everything I’d seen on TV and I liked it. It didn’t take long for me to have to stop pretending and just be myself. Other than a few tweaks here and here. As you do.
We ended up getting on a bus to Tottenham Court Road and stopping at Virgin Megastores. Downstairs in this huge shop (now a Primark) was a Costa Coffee. We joined a group of boys in a band and Emily had sneaked vodka into a Ribena bottle and was sharing it with me. I found myself (for the first time in my life) dominating conversations with an audience. We got thrown out of Costa that day and migrated over to Soho Square, where we joined a group of older alternative kids that were covered in tattoos. One was a guy called Mike Duce, who now fronts a band called Lower Than Atlantis. I was completely intimidated by all of them, but wouldn’t dare to show it.
Some of the Myspace gang at The Astoria (now demolished) in 2005.
Over the next couple of months, I went from barely leaving my bedroom to being in Soho every single week. Each day I was receiving 10’s and sometimes 100’s of friend requests. We’d become popular through word of mouth, mostly because of our loud behaviour at gigs and house-parties. Over time I earned a reputation for being nasty and cutting. I guess I was angry at people for kissing my arse when I’d achieved nothing. Maybe it was a post-bullying thing, where I took it out on the people around me. My turn to give it back? I’m not proud of it and I still (to this day) cringe when someone says they knew me from MySpace days. I could psycho-analyze myself for hours but who knows? All I knew was I felt powerful, had people buying me drinks and agreeing with everything I said.
Alcohol fueled teenagers with easy access to box dye.
Most of our time on MySpace is such a blur because we all went from nobodies to extremely popular at light speed. We weren’t as famous as Jeffree Star, Forbidden, and the other big names but we were very popular. More importantly, we were accessible unlike them. You could easily come to Soho on a Saturday and see us behaving badly. People seemed to want to be around us and we knew it. We drank litre bottles of Lambrini like it was water and there was always drama to observe. I carried a lot of guilt due to my behavior, but at the same time, I’d never felt better. I had finally found a scene that suited me and I had risen to the top of it. I didn’t dare tell anyone that I didn’t listen to emo music. I breathed a sigh of relief when electroclash happened. It was associated with the same scene and I loved it. Phew. No more avoiding conversations and awkwardly miming along to songs I didn’t know.
We got up to so much mischief and encouraged each-others bad behaviour. My memories blur from using hairspray in Soho once, when Lyndon light a cigarette which set my hair on fire; through to being carried by my armpits out of the Astoria for being too drunk, then swapping outfits with Emily so that I could get back in. My friend Holly describes the first time she met me. She approached a pair of legs hanging off the edge of the fountain (now demolished) at Centre Point in Tottenham Court Road. When she tapped the legs, I flipped up soaking wet from the water, put my hand out and said “Hi, I’m Topher” pretending that nothing had happened. I have no recollection of this. Emily’s behaviour had become notorious. You’d often find her with a handful of pashmina’s and a plastic pirate sword, running through piss-alley (the alleyways behind The old Astoria and Mean Fiddler venues), stealing drinks from poor, unsuspecting emos.
There had been a trend for girls (and boys) to put in wefts of black and blonde hair extensions, if they didn’t want to wait for their hair to grow. All of us were dying and cutting our hair all the time, so it never had time to grow. Lots of people had committed to that bowl fringe (we will come to that soon), without thinking it through. Emily was endlessly irritated by these hair extensions, so created ‘The Extensions Blog’. Now… to say that this blog caused drama would be an absurd understatement. This blog ripped through Myspace like a forest fire and earned thousands of comments from angry girls (and boys) who’d found that their photographs had been used. Or that Emily had just boldly name-checked them. She wasn’t shy, that girl and the blog earned her (and me, by association) lots of attention.
The Nipple Shot and ‘THE Milk Picture’ by Titus Powell. 2006.
My photos became more and more provocative. I would confidently pose in underwear, dye my hair different colours, cut it different ways and be overtly sexual in a way that the other boys wouldn’t dare. Most people were confused by my sexual preference and boys were confused by how female I looked (pre-facial hair). I was treated differently from the boys and differently from the girls because I had earned my own position somewhere in the middle and protected it fiercely.
I broke my own attention-seeking records when I agreed to do a photo shoot with a photographer in Ealing called Titus Powell. I had come up with an idea to drink milk standing in front of an open fridge door and letting it drip down my neck and clothes. I imagined it looking like I’d woken up during the middle of the night. I posed in a Dodgers T-Shirt, green and white starred H&M underwear and nothing else. I was 16. That photograph changed everything for me. It ended up earning over 2,500 picture comments and being posted all over the internet. A company in America used it to promote milk-drinking in schools and it also graced the windows of a gay bar called Vavoom in Brighton. Within a couple of days, other boys had started imitating it. Within a few weeks it was everywhere. The truth was, I couldn’t sing, I couldn’t play any instruments, I didn’t have (or want) any tattoos, but I definitely knew how to create a strong image. I used my aesthetic and my manipulation of it to my advantage. I lost all insecurity in my appearance.
Me, Val and Craig. 2005.
In 2005, we (as a group of about 25) went to Give It a Name, a music festival day, at Alexandra Palace. As soon as we arrived, the atmosphere was electric and continued throughout the day. Myspace people from all over the UK (and some from Europe) had traveled to the event, so it was a time to show off and further promote your internet personality. I looked around me and everyone had the same black and blonde hair cuts which was driving me crazy because I felt like a clone. This was not the day to ‘blend into the crowd’. My friend Lyndon Blue was there with his hair dressing scissors, so I asked him to cut in a ‘bowl’ fringe for me. He did it on the spot in front of everyone, I was sitting next to my friend Mari and people were giggling as he cut away at my (now very long) fringe. I remember a guy looking in my face and laughing at me, a few minutes after it was done. A few weeks later… he had the same fringe cut in. I won’t mention his name as we are friends now but I saw you, bish.
Weeks later, I was stood with Emily (RibenaXCore) in Soho Square, also known as ‘my office’, when a young blonde girl came running up to me with a little notebook on a key ring. She asked me for my autograph. I got asked for my autograph. I actually got asked for my autograph. I’ll never forget that moment because we could tell she was being sincere. I wasn’t sure whether to be flattered or if I felt sorry for the girl. One of my friends was quite nasty to her and I definitely didn’t prevent it. I couldn’t tell you why, as it eventually turned into a little bit of an internet bullying situation. I’m not proud of the way that we behaved.
The Bowl Cut fringe by Lyndon.
Soho Square had become ‘the place to be seen’ if you were on Myspace. Its reputation wasn’t just prominent in London, it was known all over the UK. Everyone who came to London would come to Soho Square. But would they be welcome there? That was always a different story. Over the 2-3 years where Myspace dominated the internet, this was where we made our plans, had our fights, met new boyfriends, girlfriends and made memories. I remember a (pre-fame) Adele sitting with us, as Lyndon had brought her out. She was warm and friendly, and I think I remember asking to sit on her lap. Lyndon put her song ‘Daydreamer’ onto a Myspace profile and she’d been discovered by a record scout. What happened next is history. The Adele story doesn’t need to be explained, but it was exciting to see someone we knew, become a world-famous megastar.
The Myspace effect had completely altered all of our friend groups, personal lives, music tastes and confidence levels. I got free guestlist to shows, bought drinks (I was 15+), I got sexual attention, I had both ‘I hate Topher Taylor’ and ‘I love Topher Taylor’ Myspace groups. I encouraged both groups as I appreciated the attention.
Perfectly contrived attention-seeking shots for Myspace. 2006.
People I’d never met would engage in public conversations about how disgusting I am, how I bullied people and how I looked ‘nothing like my Myspace pictures’. I’ve lost count of the amount of people that still approach me to this day who thought they’d had an online friendship with me when it actually turned out to be someone using my photos. People made fake profiles to attack my looks and my words. My email account and profile got hacked countless times, I got my page deleted twice and people used to use my photos to catfish other people.
I remember when my friends were queuing for a My Chemical Romance show at The Astoria, I got into an argument with a group of boys who’d made a homophobic comment about me. The next day, I received messages from a blank profile telling me that a group of kids in High Wycombe had a bounty over my head and that I’d be dead within 365 days.
Whilst that queue was happening, the My Chemical Romance production team had informed the crowd that they were filming extra footage for the concert DVD and they were going to be driving a hearse down past the crowd. We were asked to look moody. Fuck that. As soon as that vehicle came within metres of me and Emily, she ran and jumped on the boot, sat gracefully and waved like the Queen to the crowds. All you could hear in Soho was me screaming laughing, cackling and trying to follow the hearse but I was doubled over in tears of laughter. That was the first time I pissed myself laughing.
On Soho street next to ‘my office’ 2006
It was a lot. I didn’t know why anyone gave a fuck about me, but I certainly enjoyed it. Sometimes I wonder if I dreamed everything or if I am exaggerating. If anything, I don’t think I’m doing it justice. How do you go from being a nobody 14-year-old to some sort of D-list internet celebrity? It was a very weird time and I really wasn’t aware of the extent of our popularity. I was too young to appreciate the effect my words and behaviour would have on people or on the internet. Thankfully, this was pre-screen shotting days so I could learn from my stupid mistakes without becoming the internet’s most hated person.
I was still in Secondary School for the first 9 months or so of Myspace. My online behaviour had become common knowledge and people knew that I didn’t ‘need them’ anymore. This invited quite a lot of negativity and in some cases, jealousy. Some of my childhood friends felt alienated by my new friend-group and found it hard to understand who this person was. The unfortunate truth was, I’d found something that had put me on the path to discovering (and accepting) the ‘real me’. It took me another 10 years to really understand who I was and what I wanted from life.
My office! Also known as ‘Soho Square’.
I didn’t go to my prom because I went to Lyndon’s 18th birthday party at Popstarz in Kings Cross. I was 16 years old and woke up the next day in Ealing, at a girl called Kylie’s house. During Give It A Name, I’d met Kylie who’d recognised me from Myspace and she instantly felt like a big sister. Our friendship opened up new doors. But I’ll save that for the next blog.
Myspace had a profound effect on my life, my confidence and the way I looked at myself. I’d developed a strong sense of humour about myself, a confidence in my appearance and an understanding of people from all walks of life. Where I’d felt rejected by the gay scene, the south-east London scene and more, I’d found acceptance from goths, scene-kids and emos. I am so grateful to that website for helping my develop a circle of friends, which built into a network of contacts that I’ve used over the years to develop in work and in confidence.
Sometimes I wonder where my life would’ve gone if Emily hadn’t found me in Camden that day.
Part 2 coming soon.