Ben Matthew Saunders, who was born in Fleet, Hampshire, had a dream or rather a vision of the path through life he wanted to follow from a very early age and that was quite simply to get as much out of life as possible.
Having just completed his GCSEs, he admitted that he was depressed. “I didn’t know where I was in life and what life was supposed to be about,” he told the Bulletin last week. “I remember asking my mum what I was expected to do now. Go to college, then university, get a job, get married, have a family and then die ... something like that, I was told.
“But that was not what I wanted to hear. Both my parents had worked for British Airways, so travel had always played a big part of my life and my mother had grown up on mainland Spain, so I guess I had a more open mind than other 17-year-olds at the time.
“Then, by chance, we were invited to see some friends who lived here in Mallorca and it was a real eye-opener for me. Having come from a rather small town, I didn’t really appreciate that Britons actually lived abroad, or at least I had never met people who did. I came to Mallorca and saw a great mixture of a deep and fascinating place, a beautiful island and such an international community with great infrastructure. I was immediately hooked and despite having spent just a week on the island I was so sad to go home to the UK; I decided that I wanted to return.
“I told my parents I didn’t want to continue with my education and wanted to travel back to Mallorca and take my chances. They eventually agreed but made it clear I had to support myself. So I sold everything I had from my computer to the car - I was learning to drive at the time - and raised 2,000 pounds. At the time I had a family friend living in Ibiza, so I headed there first and managed to find a room to rent on Facebook. I had already been working as an actor in the UK and I was able to keep up my acting career while in Ibiza. Through my UK agents, I was flying back and forth to the UK at least four times a month for castings, auditions and roles in various productions, which included series three of The Queen, the Downton Abbey movie, the live-action version of Dumbo and the latest edition of the Kingsman series, which has yet to be released, not to mention adverts.
“It was great, being based on a Mediterranean island and flying back and forth to the UK to work. But I have to admit it was a challenge. I was 17, it was Brexit part one, I had to take care of getting all my paperwork in order, resident permit, health care, etc.
“I still felt that I needed to further my drama studies. I applied to a number of schools and was accepted by one in Ireland but the verdict was still out. That said, I found out about the PQA in Mallorca and began flying over from Ibiza to attend classes at the academy and, through doing so, managed to make new friends in Mallorca. So, in April 2019, aged 18, I moved to Mallorca.
“I had already started producing my own YouTube videos about my life experiences and some documentaries but, to be honest, they weren’t getting much traction. I went back to the UK for Christmas still a bit unsure of what I wanted to do. I had six months before being due to start drama school in Belfast, so I decided to give Mallorca one last six-month shot. Back in Mallorca, I got into YouTube again but then I came across TikTok. At first I began producing short cheesy gimmicks, 15-second short comedy sketches, a bit of fun really, but within the first month I had attracted 10,000 followers. So I began focusing on more cinematography during which time I fell victim to an online flat rental scam which I set about investigating and resolving myself. That resulted in my getting my money back.
“All this I put on my TikTok posts, along with the challenges I had faced in leaving home and moving to Ibiza and Mallorca as a teenager, sorting out all the paperwork and the various loopholes which can help to make life easier. Before I knew it, I had received three million views and this changed my path.
“I not only continued to document my life’s experiences but also explore Mallorca. For example, with my friends we filmed short videos of an empty Magalluf and then began to venture out round the island, to the markets, local villages, to highlight the great beauty of the island, its attractions, hidden gems and its culture. I have averaged and continue to average 310,000 TikTok views on every video and also around 20,000 on Instagram, although the focus has very much been on TikTok.
“Along the way I guess I developed into an influencer to whom people of my generation can relate. That has led to leading global brands of all sorts of products, in particular clothing or drinks, approaching me to place their brands. So that began to generate income and also lots of free clothes, etc. What was going to be one last summer in Mallorca has now turned out to be my life and I intend to stay here and expand what is becoming a business on TikTok.
“My followers are from all around the world, so for many I am explaining what Mallorca is all about, what a wonderful island it is - everything being so close together and that Mallorca is not all about Magalluf, whether it is open or closed.
“I’ve broadened young peoples’ minds about the island and the feedback has been extremely positive. People asked me if I missed British food, so I went and filmed at Nice Price, for example, to show that if you do miss a home treat, they are readily available here in Mallorca. The island’s got everything.
“Obviously around 80 per cent of my followers are in the UK, but the United States is my second biggest market, not to mention elsewhere in the world. I suppose that having achieved what I have so far at such an early age has served to inspire other young people and made them realise how dreams or plans can come true, and I want to expand my videos further. I want to start producing more of my own material, possibly venture into music and festivals, be they on social media platforms or for real on the island.
“But the big project stems from a small one I organised in Alicante last year. In between windows in the pandemic I found a 10-bedroom villa for cheap rent and decided to gather ten of the best British young influencers together for a TikTok social media summit, if you like. Before we knew it, we were featured on Spanish TV and written about in the media, including business publications. The concept of the JetHouse was to work with brands to co-create content to entertain; engage and connect with Gen Z. It was a huge success and led to even more brands coming on board.
“So, what I am working on now is organising the first ever reality show for leading influencers, which will stream live on social media, primarily TikTok, and I want to hold it here in Mallorca. The idea would be to bring a group of different influencers together for a kind of Love Island meets The Apprentice show.
“I will give them tests and challenges to carry out around Mallorca, give them local projects to develop, immerse them in the local culture, introduce them and therefore a global audience to the delights and excitement of Mallorca. Not only will it be great fun for those taking part in the glorious Mallorcan sunshine, it will also provide those taking part with the opportunity of expanding their audiences and developing new ideas.
“Influencers come in many shapes and forms, but I think the key to the growing popularity of influencers, what ever their ages, is trust. Our followers not only like our content, but trust us because we are of the same generation. Therefore, viewers are more likely to listen to and take advice from people of their own generation.
“Obviously, as influencers, we have a big responsibility because of the trust our audiences have in us, while we also have to comply with the wishes of our brands. There are some who like to offer long-term sponsorship deals but that can get rather complicated and restrict an influencer’s freedom.
“But this is how the world has changed and probably even more so during the pandemic with so many people, in particular young people, wondering what’s going to happen to them in the future and what the future is going to hold, having been locked away at home for such a long time.
“What we have noticed is that celebrity influencers are losing traction - they don’t seem to garner the same level of trust as young individuals do and I think that’s because the general public have a problem with honestly relating to celebrity figures. Yes, they work on Instagram, but there is only so much one can say or transmit on Instagram; TikTok is the perfect platform and is growing in popularity at a rapid pace.
“Since I’ve been doing my Mallorca TikToks I’ve become known on social media as ‘the guy in Mallorca’ and I have even been recognised by young people in Mallorca.
“I am working on my Spanish, it’s not quite perfect, but I’m getting there and that will also eventually open a new door for me. I have become passionate about Mallorca and it’s vital to be able to speak the language, or languages, spoken on the island, and I tell that to everyone thinking about coming here. I guess I am educating people about the island, introducing them to things they never knew.
“That said, post-Brexit and the restrictions of movement for UK nationals, it’s going to be very tough for young people to move around Europe to work and study. Even for me as a resident here in the Balearics, I can only spend a limited number of days elsewhere in the EU because I am still a UK passport holder, although I’m pretty convinced that once I am entitled to, I will take out Spanish citizenship. It will make life so much easier.
“And with all this going on, I still intend to pursue my acting career. I am looking for a new agent right now because I want to move on up and expand my range as an actor, get bigger roles. I have come to realise that what I am doing on social media platforms like TikTok and going to auditions is very much the same.
“On the one hand, it’s all about selling oneself and on the other giving the producers something, or rather someone, who is marketable and they can sell. So right now, I wouldn’t be in any other place than Mallorca.”
To watch Ben on TikTok, visit @beninternet