From high school sweethearts to YouTube power couple
Ottawa's Dustin Wilson, Coralie Charles work together to carve out separate social media careers
CBC Ottawa asked people who make a living talking to the camera to share what it's like to be YouTube famous, in our series My YouTube Life.
Before he gained 4.7 million subscribers on YouTube, and before she became a successful Instagram fashion influencer with major brand collaborations, Dustin Wilson and Coralie Charles were just two teenagers who met in a Grade 9 art class at St Patrick's High School in Ottawa.
They started dating in Grade 12 and have supported each other through nearly 10 years of the ups and downs of internet fame.
Both say a career on social media was not the initial plan for life after high school.
"I didn't even have a laptop or a camera, and those are pretty much the two things you need to start on YouTube," recalls Wilson.
At the University of Ottawa, Charles did a master's in speech language pathology, while Wilson studied medicine and played defensive back for the Gee-Gees football team.
Meantime, the couple's friends were establishing themselves as YouTuber personalities, part of an Ottawa group of online pranksters known as Team Alboe.
Wilson began helping out behind the scenes, before peer pressure made him decide to start his own channel.
"My friends kind of forced my hand," says Wilson. "Thankfully, they did."
Wilson sold his drum set to be able to afford the equipment and made his YouTube debut in 2016.
In his first video, Wilson used 500 metres of aluminum foil to wrap around two posts, filming himself trying to break through the layers of thin metal with kettle bells. The high-energy video garnered over 9.6 million views and kickstarted a career filming over-the-top stunts, like when he filled a warehouse with Orbeez toys or tried to send his YouTube "play" button into space.
By 2018, Wilson had three million subscribers and began making a full-time living through advertising and sponsorships on his JustDustin channel.
Charles says her boyfriend's success inspired her to follow suit.
"I've watched him pour so much energy into everything he's done," Charles says, adding, "Dustin was taking YouTube seriously, and I thought, 'I just have to do this.'"
Charles graduated in 2018, then decided to pursue a less conventional career, shying away from jobs in her field and instead launching her own channel, and later an Instagram feed under the name Coralie's Closet.
"With school there's one linear path or a direct trajectory," she says. "YouTube and social media is a new industry and there's no straight cut line to be successful. You have to decide what avenue you want to take to get there."
Instead of pranks, Charles focuses on fashion advice, sharing inspiration alongside hair and makeup tips.
"I believe fashion can help your confidence."
She says she hopes her posts hep her audience feel good about the way they look and feel more confident overall.
Together in life, and on YouTube
The couple now makes a living off their social media platforms, and have added a third channel featuring their life together, where they do everything from picking out each other's outfits to competing for best pancake art.
"It can cause some clashes, because our styles are so different. But we make it work for both us. The third person in this relationship is … the audience," laughed Charles.
Both say although it's fun to work together, churning out constant entertainment for millions of viewers can be exhausting.
"Think about watching the credits at the end of the movie," says Wilson, explaining that most YouTube videos are directed, edited and put together by just one person, who also stars in the film and does their own hair and makeup.
Being tethered to a social media audience of millions could take a toll on many couples, but Wilson and Charles say working together on their channels has drawn them closer than ever.
"There is no path," says Wilson. "You're creating something that's never been done before. Having someone walk through the dark with you from ideas to emotional is huge."
"I am very happy for Coralie's success as well. It's shared success," he adds.
For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.