Millie Ford, The Poster Child Of Australian Nostalgia, On The Pressure Of Relatability

It’s Millie Ford’s birthday this week, but I could’ve sworn she was a Leo. An ex-theatre kid with a talent for character personas and more than 1.3 million TikTok followers screams Leo energy to me. But the soon-to-be 26-year-old admits that she is a Taurus. “I’m super stubborn,” she laughs over our video call.
Ford is easily one of the most recognisable and beloved Australian TikTok stars — holding the title of 2021’s TikTok Creator of the Year tells you all that and more. Her skit comedy travels from nostalgic experiences (like having your teacher make you line up again before entering a classroom because you were too noisy) to present-day innocuously relatable situations (like the power trip you get from turning off your GPS when you’re three streets away from home). Her range is wide and her humour is sharp — which has earned her over 61 million likes on the app. 
We all know Millie; we know her impressions and costumes, but do we actually know her? This is the question I pose to her off the back of the announcement that she has started her own podcast. 

"I think I got a little nervous because I have technically been hiding behind characters."

Millie Ford
“It was a little nerve-racking and when the [podcast] opportunity first popped up, I was like, ‘Oh, I don't know if that's for me,’” she tells Refinery29 Australia. “I think I got a little nervous, because I have technically been hiding behind characters. Putting yourself out there is always a scary thing [but] it got to a point where I was like, ‘You know what, I am so happy with who I am as a person.’” 
From that, Out Of Character was born. The Spotify Original podcast is cohosted with her cousin Celia Watkinson, but Ford stresses that she doesn’t want the show to feel like “another two girls that have a podcast”. 
“Each episode is based off a different type of personal character that I've come across in my life and I feel like most people would have come across as well. And then we kind of centre that as like the topic of the week… and share our stories,” she shares.
While it seems like Ford’s fame has skyrocketed from nowhere (her first TikTok video was posted in 2020), the Zillennial has previous experience in the space, having been a marketing and social media executive, and a radio presenter and producer.
With her increased popularity, it’s only natural that her lifestyle and content has changed with her. Words like ‘authentic’ and ‘real’ get thrown around a lot, but it seems that Ford's incredible popularity hasn’t gone to her head. 
I ask whether she’s nervous about straying away from her usual brand of being super relatable, and Ford admits it's something she’s thought about. 
“You’ve totally read my mind, I’m not gonna lie… When I started becoming that person that people went to for relatable content, my life was just so ridiculously mundane and relatable, that I didn't have to think twice about it,” she says, suggesting that there’s been a shift since. “While I do love watching the occasional aspirational person, [I] ultimately get the biggest laughs and I feel most happy when I'm watching people that I really relate to.”
It’s interesting to watch from the outside as a fan of Ford's. There seem to be two slightly conflicting identities fighting for attention. One is the self-proclaimed “klutz” who is “not a put together person” — one who lived without a fridge for three weeks by buying daily ice bags for her esky. The other is the self-assured and well-spoken woman who recently moved to Sydney’s East by herself and is living on a very comfortable salary.

"Accidentally falling into success is probably how I would phrase it… I feel like I'm living someone else's life."

Millie Ford
“Accidentally falling into success is probably how I would phrase it,” she replies when I bring this up. “[In] the most completely blunt way possible, I totally did not go into this experience thinking that this is how my life would look… I feel like I'm living someone else's life,” Ford says.
It’s the kind of answer that wins over the hearts of most Aussies — after all, we’re a bunch that has held on tight to Tall Poppy Syndrome. But it hasn’t all been sunshine and daisies for Ford. With a large chunk of her videos dedicated to the high school experience, I was surprised to hear that she was bullied.
“In the past, I've been a massive people pleaser. But I've just become so much more cutthroat, like, I've broken up with friends before [and] have literally sent them texts being like, ‘Sorry, this isn’t working out,’” Ford says. “You get a bit sick of it as a person. You're like, ‘Why am I being treated like this?’. So yeah, I'm proud of the circle that I've created. I've got the most amazing people around me.”
Boundary setting is something that Ford seems to have a handle on in her personal relationships, but when it comes to online fame and parasocial relationships, it’s not something she can easily control. Though she gushes about how supportive and funny her community and fanbase is — what she points to as the proudest accomplishment of her life so far — the entitlement and expectations from strangers on the internet can weigh heavy. 
“When people do feel entitled to something from you, they expect things. If I switch up my content by posting like a nice jumper that I bought, [some] people [are] like, ‘Hang on, this isn't funny, entertaining content’. And I'm like, ‘What do you mean? You don't know what I like, I'm allowed to post that,’” she says.
“I think I've got so much to me, I've got so much depth, I'm not just a surface-level person who is just an animal to like, entertain… I don't owe you anything.”

“I feel like I'm just completely myself online, and I don't have anything to hide behind anything.”

Millie Ford
Like many people, Ford's relationship with social media has been a journey, and her answer has been to respond by showcasing who she really is.
“I think the people that follow me, follow me because they can relate because I put myself out there authentically. It's so funny, because before this all happened, [my] relationship [with] social media was really toxic and I felt like I was putting out this version of myself that I didn't really like; it was contrived. As soon as I stripped it back, as soon as I was bold and I put myself out there, that's when things started happening,” she says. “I feel like I'm just completely myself online, and I don't have anything to hide behind.”
Millie Ford is getting out of character and coming into her own, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.
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