Gay YouTuber Riyadh Khalaf on the vital lessons he’s learned form lockdown and his top tips for keeping sane during coronavirus

Gay YouTuber Riyadh Khalaf. (Instagram)

Scurrying around his south London home, Riyadh Khalaf is so determined to keep his life business-as-usual that he prepared for an interview by spritzing himself with aftershave.

Cooped up in his home with his boyfriend and cat, the gay YouTuber and author is, like so many dotted across the world, doing what he can to clench to that plastic normality everyone took for granted before the coronavirus happened.

The sieging pandemic may have cratered his workload, but Khalaf, 29, remains optimistic. He’s one of countless queer content-creators managing anxiety, stress and boredom while sheltering inside four walls, jerry-rigging recording equipment out of oven trays and bed blankets.

In gamely coming out to the world – millions of his invisible family, his subscribers, watching at all times – Khalaf, from Dublin, Ireland, has emerged as a prominent figure in the LGBT+ YouTuber scene.

Years on, and he’s set to take part in a YouTube Originals special Stream #WithMe, dropping April 30 at 4pm. It will star Riyadh Khalaf alongside a star-studded roster of other YouTubers sharing tips on staying upbeat alongside taking part in whimsical challenges.

Stream #WithMe will encourage viewers to donate to support National Health Service Charities Together, the latest in a wave of artists collaborating for digital telethons that call for inspiration, empathy and perseverance.

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Riyadh Khalaf gave PinkNews the debrief of his life under lockdown, from cooking upside-down pineapple cake to what queer teens trapped in quarantine with unaccepting parents can do to cope.

PinkNews: Tell us a little about your day-to-day lockdown life. Has isolation changed your routine that much? How are you handling it?

Riyadh Khalaf: I’m kind of treating myself like a dog who’s under training. I’m being really strict with myself.

I’m trying to wake up without an alarm, and, you know, shower and get dressed and I’m kind of wearing what I would wear according to the weather as if I was going somewhere and I find it really helps. Like, even for this call, I sprayed myself with aftershave, I feel it gives me a mental boost, “I’m ready now.”

I feel like lockdown has inadvertently turned me into a domestic goddess! I cooked an upside-down pineapple cake, cooking all sorts of Michelin star dishes for dinner and I’m growing little marigold seedlings on the window ledge.

And I think the other side of it is that you know, like everyone out there, I’m really missing a hug and a cocktail with a mate and at least a face-to-face catch up.

I feel like we took all that for granted, so I’m dying to meet up with a few people in particular when this is over.

I didn’t realise I missed live music so much – people coming together and enjoying a performance, like a musical. I got an email yesterday that my tickets to Sister Act: The Musical have been postponed.

Of course, you know, I’ve gotta wait and I want to be safe, and I can wait another 365 days for my dose of Jennifer Saunders.

What would be the first thing you do once lockdown is over?

I’m probably going to have like a 10 person giant dinner with gallons of red wine and just catch up for hours and hours and hours.

So, where are you in the world? Are you isolating with loved ones?

I’m lazying around my house in London, so I’m here with my boyfriend Josh Harrison and my cat Claire – our little family.

We’ve worked to make it our new normal.

Josh and I will make sure that he’s working in the front room and I in the bedroom. We give each other that space and then the evenings are all about eating together, trying not to have the TV on and we actually talk.

We try to segment the day so it’s not moulded into one. And even trying to stay connected people, but, you know, it’s hard.

I guess I’m lucky because, just before lockdown, I got a couple of gigs with the BBC that I was able to do from home.

A lot of queer content creators are struggling under lockdown. Has the pandemic impacted your work?

I think things are definitely more… quiet.

I’m about 80 per cent down on workload and I’m trying my best not to freak out about that and to instead enjoy the sun and this kind of impromptu holiday.

But when you’re in a situation like this, it is hard to motivate yourself to actually pick the thing up and make the content.

When I did just wrap recording a new podcast series for BBC Sounds, Obsessed with… Normal People, that was really fun and a reason to communicate with a human being from the outside world each and every day.

So, I got creative and I erected a makeshift sound booth studio in the spare bedroom out of cushion, duct tape, blankets and an oven tray and it worked just as well as if I was in the broadcasting house.

What kind of ways have you been motivating yourself?

What I try to do, even pre-lockdown, is make a physical handwritten list – paper and pen – and go through it one by one, listed in order of importance of what you want to achieve in that day.

I can’t tell you the buzz I get from striking a line across that.

It sort of gives you a real sense of achievement, completion and contentment.

And then another thing I would do is don’t let the things that you normally do outside of lockdown slip away. Shower, if you put make-up on, out make-up if it makes you feel good, get as much natural light as you can.

The quarantine measures have forced countless queer teens to stay in homes where they might not be out to their parents or guardians. Do you have any advice for kids isolating at home who might not be out or whose loved ones may be anti-LGBT+?

That’s something that I’ve I’ve written about it in my book [Yay! You’re Gay. Now What?].

I think you have to sort of look at the situation and try and figure out how can you best find harmony in this unharmonious setting.

I think you do that by, number one, picking your battles. So if you have this urge to come out of the closet but you know a parent is likely to react badly, ask yourself: Is there any way that maybe you can put that moment on pause and revisit it once we’re out of lockdown?

Once you have the ability to have space from that family member and they can have space from you to digest that news.

If you’re already out, and you’re living in a hostile environment, I think the best thing that you can do is to try and think back to what are the small or maybe significant things about your relationship with that individual that wants to grow up out of collective joy?

Did you have a specific TV show that you both adored watching together? Did you enjoy gardening or cooking or going fishing together?

The things that you enjoyed most, and if it is possible to these things while in lockdown, it might rekindle a little bit of that admiration and affection between the two of you and separate from your gender identity or sexuality because remember that gender identity and then sexuality is is only a part of the whole view.

And although this family member isn’t where we want them to be in terms of acceptance, there are other facets of your being that I’m sure both if you can find some common ground.

One thing I write in the book is to try your best not to fight fire with fire. If a family member you know is coming at you with rage and anger, it’s so hard not to retaliate in the exact same way.

But if you can, try and speak back in a cool, calm, collected way, in very easily understandable terms about how you feel, who you are, your identity, your struggles, how long it’s taken you to get to this point.

And it might just help discharge the situation.

The main point is, don’t expect miracles and do what you can to find your happy, safe place.

If you’re feeling unsafe in your home, then, you know, that’s the worst kind of feeling and it’s the one place where you should have that feeling that nothing can touch you.

If you do have private space, maybe a bedroom, or even a bathroom, use private time to reconnect with people that do accept you to remind yourself that there is another world beyond the four walls of your home, where there’s a chosen family, and there are other people going through the same struggle but that that love appreciates you.

Use social media, follow a bunch of really uplifting queer people that give you the kind of motivation you need.

Tell me a little about Stream #WithMe. What is it about and what are you hoping people take away from it?

We’ve seen things like One World Together which have been such amazing, huge successes at raising so much money and awareness about making people feel like they’re connected again. The YouTube community feels it’s their time to sort of step up and help.

Streaming #WithMe is essentially 20 UK YouTube content creators coming together. One mega live stream over about four, four and a half hours, where each of us are being set individual challenges that we won’t know until we’re live.

So, the camera will turn on, we’ll be there in our living room, our bedroom, our kitchen, and then we’ll be given the go-ahead to open the mystery box and reveal what we will do over the next 10 minutes.

But overall, what we’re trying to do is just have a bit of fun, a bit of entertainment for all done people watching.

Because I think, sometimes, the content that we see on traditional TV might be not be consumed by a younger audience and they might miss them. But they’re just as important in this fight in terms of knowing how to protect themselves.

And in the meantime, we’re raising funds for NHS charities and hope to speak to NHS staff and key workers to get a real feel for a younger audience, what it’s like to be on the front line.

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