28 Jun 2024

The Times


The man posh girls love — he’s 26 and seriously funny

Henry Rowley has 1.3 million followers on TikTok, many of whom are the butt of his jokes: privately educated, privileged party animals who don’t take themselves too seriously. Georgina Roberts meets him

By Georgina Roberts


First, it was Joanna Lumley and Jennifer Saunders swigging Bolly in Absolutely Fabulous. Then, it was the Kings Road glamazons of Made in Chelsea with their blazing arguments and bed-hopping. Most recently, in Emerald Fennell’s dark aristo romp Saltburn, Rosamund Pike’s Lady Elspeth Catton asked her husband, “Darling, where’s Liverpool?’’

Now, the latest generation of posh young things have a new avatar: the 26-year-old British comedian Henry Rowley. He has gone viral on TikTok thanks to his sardonic impressions of husky-voiced posh girls who start most sentences with “literallyyyy”, shout raspily, “No, seriously, guys, where the f*** is my vape?” and drawl, “No, no, no, I’m not even that posh.”

The first time a friend sent me one of Rowley’s videos and said, “This is so us,” I laughed and then squirmed. He was parodying me — with painful accuracy. In one sketch titled POV: The Posh Girl on a Hangover, viewed 152,000 times, Rowley lies face down in a bed and says in a husky voice, “I’m not even being dramatic, like, I think I’m gonna die. Like, I really want a Maccies [McDonald’s].” Stumbling to a sauna he says, “Oh my God! My sweat is literally pure Whispering Angel. I’m literally sweating out rosé.”

Rowley says his characters are “an amalgamation of every friend I made at Bristol Uni” ROMAS FOORD FOR THE TIMES MAGAZINE

I have definitely said something along those lines after a heavy night out, and the voice he puts on is a dead ringer for mine (after years of smoking and vaping). And I’m not the only one. “Henry’s videos personally attack me, but they are priceless. Unfortunately, I relate to the posh girl character the most. He takes the piss in a witty way, which makes me laugh at myself,” says Lara Mutafyan, 29. “One girl was talking about her pony at my friend’s hen do — she was definitely a ‘Minty’ [Rowley’s name for his posh-girl alter ego]. His hangover uni sketches really remind me of when me and the girls tried to cure our hangovers by drinking rosé.”

I am meeting Rowley for breakfast at Caravan in King’s Cross, near his home. He’s wearing all black, from his boots to his leather jacket, and a knitted sweater vest that reveals tattooed arms. He is bedecked with silver rings, earrings, bracelets and necklaces.

He comes across as faultlessly polite, self-deprecating and funny. When I drop my notebook on the floor, he pretends to read my notes and asks, “Why have you written ‘twat?’ ” He slips in and out of his characters’ voices during our conversation as he nibbles a giant pain au chocolat.

On Instagram he is followed by former Made in Chelsea stars including Louise Thompson and her I’m a Celebrity-winning brother, Sam, Sophie Hermann and Miles Nazaire. Posh people like them (and me) clearly don’t mind laughing at caricatures of themselves, while his other followers love to hate poshos. “A lot of my audience are like, ‘Yeah, f*** all them poshos.’ Then there are loads of people who are like, ‘That’s so me.’ ”

So who are Minty and her friends in real life? I suppose you could call us “the new posh”. My poshest friends don’t wear red chinos, own labradors or go horse riding. They live in Hackney in east London, deejay in their spare time, love Houghton and Glastonbury festivals and drink natural (“natty”) wine at wine bars in Dalston. They are more comfortable at a drum’n’bass rave in Tottenham than they are at Ascot races.

Rowley pictures most of his characters living in east London too. Even Tatler, “the posh people’s bible”, declared Hackney to be the new “borough du jour” in May. “Once upon a time, it was all about west London,” the magazine stated. “But now, the glitterati have swapped Portobello for Broadway Market.”

I am that stereotype. I grew up in southwest London and went to a private girls’ school in Hammersmith before moving to Dalston after university in 2018 because I thought it was cool. I have both been and met Rowley’s characters. “The relatability is definitely a key factor. With characters like the Soho House ones or posh people or DJs, it’s things we’ve all experienced,” he says.

Rowley’s audience is mostly aged between 18 and 35, but he has a surprisingly large following among the over-fifties too. Who are they? “Posh mums,” he says, smiling. “I did a show recently and there was an army of six really good-looking posh mums. Afterwards they were like, ‘Oh my gosh, we love you so much. We always send our kids your stuff because they’re at uni and they’re just like your characters. Can we get a photo?’ ”

It’s no surprise that Rowley’s posh characters parody me so accurately. He says they are “an amalgamation of every friend I made at Bristol Uni”, where I also studied. We overlapped there for a year and both did English. He jokes that we were probably dancing in the now defunct Bristol nightclub Blue Mountain at the same time.

In the year I graduated, my hall of residence, Badock, was crowned “the poshest hall” by the student newspaper, The Tab, after it revealed that 56 per cent of its residents that year were educated at independent schools.

“Bristol girls” like me gave Rowley the inspiration for Minty’s raspy low voice. “There was a girl in my first-year English class who had the huskiest voice I’ve ever heard. I remember thinking, ‘It’s freshers week; she’s just got a sore throat.’ But over three years it never went,” he says. “There were more and more people like that. I was like, is this a thing? Have people smoked too much? Are they born like this? I found it hilarious.” His followers will all have met a posh person like Minty at some point. “Across generations, for people who went to unis like Bristol, there was always someone like that.”

One of his most relatable sketches for me, a vaping addict, is called Posh Girl Loses Her Vape. The skit was based on a real friend losing her Juul vape on her birthday. “She was going mental. Like, ‘Where the f*** is my Juul? Who’s stolen my Juul?’ It turned out she was sitting on it. The next day I made a video.” Did his friend not mind? “She loved it. People don’t get offended.”

Rowley’s Bristol friends call him by his surname, which is a very boarding school trope, but he went to a private day school in Leicester. “I was the least posh in the school. But I was the only one of my mates in Leicester who went to private school, so they called me ‘the posh boy’,” he says. “Then I went to Bristol and suddenly I was like a street urchin. Students there were like, ‘Oh wow, do you know how to roll a spliff?’ ”

He was born in Leicester to a doctor father and therapist mother (who did “really good impressions”). In school, he says he was “cheeky-chappy naughty”. His “parents had this horrific divorce”, which meant he “misbehaved a lot” and “partied”.

Growing up, he always wanted to be an actor, and still does. He did theatre productions as a youngster at Curve Theatre in Leicester and constantly sends out tapes for acting roles. He was desperate to go to drama school but his father wouldn’t allow it. He said, “There are so many people who don’t make it. No, you’re going to university.”

As we talk, it becomes clear that some of the groups he sends up are people who initially “intimidated” him. “The first time I went to Soho House, everyone was so cool. I sat there really trying to fit in. I was ordering picantes,” he says of the private member’s club’s signature drink. “Then I looked around and realised everyone’s doing this. I need to separate myself and make a video on it.”

Similarly, his fellow students at Bristol overawed him. “There were so many cool guys who were trying so hard. I was really intimidated in their presence,” he says. “When I left uni, I began to realise there’s so much pretence behind that.”

For the past five years he has lived with a “loaded” university friend whose father bought him a flat in London. “I’ve not had stuff handed to me. But objectively I am posh, and I’ve had opportunities that other people won’t have,” he says.

Has he dated a Minty? “I dated a really posh Chelsea girl. I’ve definitely had ‘situationships’ [flings] with Minty types. But the Mintys of the world go for the finance ‘rah rah rah’ boys.”

I know plenty of women who fancy Rowley. Ladies, I’m sorry to report that he has been in a relationship for six months. Is he aware of his heart-throb status? “No. I get told I look like Rumpelstiltskin from Shrek a lot in TikTok comments. They’ve got a point.”

Rowley met his girlfriend on Instagram. She messaged a year ago. “Then she just blanked me. It turns out she just wanted to say my video was funny, but wasn’t trying to chirpse [make sexual advances].” He is now “absolutely in love”.

Rowley’s dating videos, which riff on being on dates with “creatives”, finance bros, musicians or know-it-alls, also rack up thousands of likes and ring true. In one, the “creative” boy gets a book from his bag and says, “That’s embarrassing. I’ve brought out my Meditations by Marcus Aurelius… Do you want to come back to my place? It’s just a mattress on the floor, but I’ve got some really cool artwork pieces of naked women that I’ve drawn myself and a towel that’s not been washed in four years.”

My single female friends have been on Hinge dates with the men depicted in Rowley’s videos. They present themselves as arty, well read, feminist, sensitive souls, but, in nearly all cases, end up “ghosting” my friends after they get a shag.

“The date is such a relatable and cringey circumstance. I hear these horror stories from friends about boys being like that on dates,” he says. His biggest audience is young British women, partly because “the dates are from the female perspective. It’s not as relatable for men and they may feel more attacked by that,” he says.

Is his sketch POV: You’re on a Date with a Creative based on him? “I was on the dating scene and it’s probably inspired by me, but made to be the absolute worst,” he says. “In dating, you always want to show the best sides of yourself, saying stuff like, ‘So, I actually love to read.’ ”

He read a manual on scriptwriting that advised if you want to write about someone in a negative way but don’t want them to raise a court case about character defamation, just give them a tiny penis. “Because no one’s going to say, ‘Yeah, that’s me. I’m the one with the tiny penis,’ ” he says. “It’s like that with these characters. You make them so horrendous that no one wants to claim it.”

His other dating series, called POV: On a Date with the Walking Ick, is almost too cringe-inducing to watch. An “ick” is slang for an immediate turn-off. Rowley’s “walking ick” says, “Mmmm, you’re wearing the same perfume that my sister wears,” or, “God, it all looks so scrummy,” or, “I do a bit of spoken word in my spare time. Would it be weird if I read you some, like right now?”

At 26, Rowley sits at the older end of Gen Z. Is he typical of my cohort? Is he addicted to his phone? Does he love vaping? “My screen time is not too bad — four or five hours. I hate vaping. I do smoke when I drink though.” That being said, later he asks me, “Is it forward if I ask for some of your vape?” and puffs on my peach Elf Bar. “But obviously, I am Gen Z. I mean, my job is ‘TikToker’. I can’t say I’m not. Who am I kidding?”

The night before, he played a stand-up gig in Maidenhead, Berkshire. “The average age of the audience was, like, 90,” he says. “I was thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, I’ve got a whole sketch dedicated to willy jokes. This is not going to work.’ ”

He’s returning to the Edinburgh Fringe this summer. Last year he “sensed hostility” from the established stand-ups, when he and other TikTokers played Edinburgh’s Cabaret Bar. “I felt so hated. They were looking at us like, ‘Oh, TikTokers,’ because they’ve worked all their lives to get to where they are.” They relaxed when he told them, “I’m actually really shit. I’m nothing like you guys.”

Rowley tells me he has a tennis lesson to get to, so we hug goodbye and I tell him I’ll see him at the photoshoot “in the arvo”. He laughs and repeats “arvooo”. He’s probably recording his next skit about posh girls who say “arvo” right now.

Henry Rowley: Just Literally is at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival Pleasance Courtyard Beside from July 31 to August 26, ahead of an autumn tour of the UK and Ireland from October 16-November 29